By admin | August 6, 2008
By Richard Allen
The most important television network going into this week’s race in Watkins Glen may not be ESPN or SpeedTV. Instead, it could be The Weather Channel.
This past weekend the NASCAR Nationwide Series raced in Montreal, Canada. Normally, there might be some debate about a race being run outside the United States. However, this time the talk surrounding this race had to do with weather.
For the first time in NASCAR’s history, one of the sanctioning body’s top three divisions ran a points paying race in the rain on rain tires.
The race began in the dry, but shortly after the start the rain came. NASCAR put out a red flag to allow the hardest of the rain to subside and to allow some of the standing water to be swept away. Then, the Nationwide Series rode off into history.
When I first heard NASCAR was going to go ahead with rain tires I thought they had opened the door to a second week of criticism regarding the running of a race. However, the race went better than I ever thought it would. There were very few incidents and off track excursions until the rain finally set back in again in the race’s late stages.
In my opinion, NASCAR got very lucky, especially after the Indy tire fiasco of the previous week. With drivers and cars not meant to race in the rain this race could have been another disaster.
Weather is always a factor in NASCAR. The reason it is more of a factor for this week’s upcoming Sprint Cup race is that the Watkins Glen facility is a road course. Those type tracks are the only ones in which NASCAR would even consider having its competitors race in the rain. So, this is the only remaining chance this year for the Sprint Cup division to follow the lead of the Nationwide Series.
The Montreal race was unique and it provided some interesting drama. However, racing in the rain is not something I would like to see in NASCAR on any sort of a regular basis.
Come Sunday, there will be only five races remaining to qualify for the Chase for the Championship. Should it rain at Watkins Glen that would mean those attempting to qualify for the Chase would have had to do so by competing in a race plagued by unprecedented tire problems, then, two weeks later having to race in the rain for the first time in Sprint Cup history.
Following the nightmare at Indianapolis this would leave too much of the teams’ fate to be determined by factors outside their control.
Other forms of racing compete in the rain. However, there are a number of factors why this is a bad idea for NASCAR.
NASCAR race cars are far too heavy for such racing. A stock car is a big brute compared to a Formula 1 car. In the rain the ability to go fast is not nearly as important as the ability to stop, or at least slow down, when the need arises. It does not take a genius to figure out that the heavier the car the harder it is to stop.
Also, the drivers driving those heavy cars are not accustomed to racing in the rain. Experience plays a major factor and having so many drivers out there at one time who have no experience in a given circumstance puts each of them and the other drivers at risk.
Finally, racing in the rain is not really racing, it is simply surviving. Laps were being run in the Montreal Nationwide race at a pace thirty seconds per lap slower than normal. Drivers were tip toeing around the track and just trying to stay on track and away from each other.
NASCAR has enough issues with follow the leader, single file racing. Why add another element to only create more of it?
If it were up to me, I would rather wait an extra day to see the cars and drivers race the way they are supposed to. This Sunday I will be rooting for the weather man as much as any driver.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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