Rainy forecast for Cup elimination race leaves many questions

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The first time the Cup Series races in the rain could be Sunday’s elimination race at the Charlotte Roval.

Think about that. The race that determines if reigning series champion Kyle Busch advances to the Round of 8 could be held in less than perfect conditions. A reigning Cup champion has never been eliminated this early in the playoffs since the current format debuted in 2014. Busch says he will “fight like hell” to make up the 21-point deficit he faces to secure a transfer spot.

But his biggest challenge — and the same for the other competitors — could be rain. The wunderground.com forecast calls for an 80% chance of rain at the start of the race and more than a 65% chance of rain throughout the scheduled time for the event. Goodyear will have wet weather tires available (teams are allowed up to four sets each). Cars can run in the rain unless it is puddling, the rain is severe or there is lightning in the area.

Only three times in Cup history have rain tires been employed. Dale Earnhardt and Mark Martin used them in a test in 1995 at Watkins Glen. Teams practiced and qualified on rain tires at Suzuka in 1997 for the exhibition race in Japan. Rain tires were last used in Cup for a practice session at Watkins Glen in 2000.

Aric Almirola, who is in a must-win situation to advance in the playoffs, says he’s all for the rain because “the more chaos the better” for him.

While NASCAR and teams have the tools to run in rain, should an elimination race be held in such conditions?

“If you’re asking me is it crazy? Yes, it’s crazy,” said Joey Logano, who holds the final transfer spot. “There’s no doubt about that, but it is fair. Everyone has the same opportunity. 

Cup teams can use up to four sets of Goodyear’s rain tires. (Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images)

“Everyone has the same opportunity to score a bunch of points leading up to this point. Everyone has the same opportunity to score a bunch of points during a possible rain race at the Roval, although it is something we’ve never done before.

“I’ve been trying to figure out what to do in this case and making sure we’re prepared and all that, but it’s not like it’s an unfair advantage for somebody. Maybe someone that has some rain experience might have a bit of an advantage, but that’s because that person put them in a spot to get that experience at some point in their career. So, it’s hard to say it’s not fair. It’s fair, it’s just crazy.”

Logano said he talked to Team Penske Xfinity driver Austin Cindric, who has raced in rain, for tips.

‘Dude, tell me the insight,’ ” Logano said he asked Cindric about racing in the rain and taking care of rain tires. “What do you do? What do you look for? How does it drive the car? When do you change rain tires? Do rain tires wear out? I don’t know. Do they wear out when it’s raining?  When it dries out I know they come apart pretty quick, but at what point do you go from wets to dries if it stops raining?”

Of course, Logano has other questions.

“At what point, and the question is for everyone right now with NASCAR, ‘At what point is it too much rain?’ Is standing water or running water across the racetrack where you can hydroplane what is the line? What is the drainage like at that racetrack through the infield road course? I don’t know. I’ve never really looked around when it was pouring rain to see how that road course drains, so there are so many questions that we have no answers to.

“We just have to expect the unexpected at this point.”