We’ve seen the XFINITY Series race in the rain before, but Saturday’s race at Mid-Ohio was on a whole ‘nother level.
Drivers spun out left and right, others fought non-working windshield wipers, and still others made pit stops and put on slicks hoping that when the rain ended they could zoon out to the lead. When all was said and done, it was Justin Marks standing in victory lane for the first time in his NASCAR career.
For many, the rain added even more intrigue to the road-course races that have become so popular over the past few years. And for others, it marred what should have been a great race as the rain really kept drivers from going all-out against each other. Rather than racing the competition, drivers were forced to race the track, and when some pushed too hard (Sam Hornish Jr. comes to mind in multiple instances), they lost their track position at best and caused a caution at worst.
So who was right? Did the rain make for a good race? Should NASCAR run in the rain at all? Remember, Sprint Cup runs under the same rules as NXS – if it rains on a road course, they’ll race. Chris Buescher’s win at Pocono was already met with some backlash. Imagine if a driver snagged a win by passing others as they spun out in front of them?
LEAVE THE RACING TO DRY CONDITIONS
I’m prepared for the backlash for holding this position. I’m not even sure I agree 100 percent with what I’m about to say, but I think there are some valid points. So here goes:
NASCAR racing and rain don’t mix. Never have, never will.
It looks cool, but there are two major reasons why NASCAR should file wet racing in the same cabinet at the Car of Tomorrow: fan perception and driver safety.
NASCAR drivers are supposed to be the best in the world. They have insane car control. They are daredevils. But on Saturday, drivers were spinning out left and right. It wasn’t just Hornish that had issues – Owen Kelly spun out, Bubba Wallace, T.J. Bell … if the best drivers in the world can’t keep the car on the track then the issue should be revisited.
It says a lot that the drivers that seemed to take to the rain better were the drivers that have extensive road-racing and wet-racing experience. We saw Alon Day up front. Andy Lally. Marks. They might not have had the finish to show for it – Marks excepted – but the three of them led a combined 46 of 75 laps. The “best drivers of the world?” They figured it out eventually but were still spanked by Marks.
It should be noted that Marks has run half the season so far, so he’s not your Ron Fellows-type road ringer. He’s your AJ Alllmendinger or Boris Said contemporary. That is to say, he doesn’t do much outside the road courses. His best non-plate or road course finish? 12th at Kentucky. Not shabby, but definitely not your top-tier NXS driver.
Slipping and sliding is fine. There’s a fine line though, between that and not having complete control of the car, and that line was crossed on Saturday.
Which is an issue for drivers. They know the risks of strapping into a car, but adding the rain and the lack of control compounds those risks. There were multiple instances where cars went around on Saturday and slid through the grass. As many drivers can tell you from experience, wet grass does nothing but help keep you moving forward at about the same speed, making hits into the wall much more violent.
Given the lack of SAFER barriers at road courses, this could be disastrous. Gravel pits do a great job at slowing cars down, but all it takes is one driver finding the spot without any way to slow down – and cars will always find those spots – and a nasty hit comes. It isn’t worth a driver’s safety to run in the rain at all.
I agree that the race was fun to watch, but when drivers are billed as the best and don’t perform as such, it makes it just a little harder to enjoy. And with safety, there should be no exceptions.
File the race under the “I’d watch again” category, but don’t do it again.
RAIN IS A GOOD THING
As far as my knowledge, there have only been four NASCAR national series races that featured the cars driving through a rain storm. Three of them have occurred in the past 8 years, all on the XFINITY side. Many drivers were, and are, ill-prepared to race in the rain and it was exciting to watch.
That race on Saturday was the most exciting, most action packed XFINITY series race all season long. It was a disaster – in a good way! A train wreck that has people talking. Cars were going off track in just about every turn. The only two drivers on track who didn’t seem to have any problems with the rain were Andy Lally and race winner Justin Marks. Two drivers driving for two teams that are not powerhouse XFINITY teams like Gibbs or Childress, who have dominated for much of the season. Different drivers up front in a series that has had just a bit more parity these last few seasons than Formula 1 is always a positive.
The more varied conditions throughout the race made it more interesting than the typical clear weather than we see at most races. When Lally, for example, was involved in a mid-race accident, he went to dry slicks, gambling that the track would dry up throughout the next run. That’s a strategy that we don’t hear of at all in this sport, and while the crew chiefs probably can’t take more strategy in a sport full of high pressure calls, it makes it interesting to watch.
A race in the rain at Sonoma or Watkins Glen in the Cup cars would be unmissable. It could be a train wreck or it could be another exciting road course race as has been par for the norm the last few seasons, especially at Watkins Glen. Just think: if last Saturday’s race were ran without a cloud in the sky and Sam Hornish won by five seconds, what would there really be to take away from the race? Sam Hornish needing a full-time ride, which we all already know he deserves? With the rain, there’s a buzz surrounding this race now for next year and for Road America next week. With how easy Cup cars have always been able to run off the track at Watkins Glen, a race in the rain there would probably look the same as Mid-Ohio. And an occasional race like Mid-Ohio is a good thing.
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