NASCAR vows to learn from lessons of racing in rain

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AUSTIN, Texas — A senior NASCAR official conceded that the sanctioning body could have reacted sooner as conditions deteriorated in the rain Sunday at Circuit of the Americas.

Instead, visibility issues contributed to crashes that eliminated five drivers and led former champion Kevin Harvick to say: “I’ve never felt more unsafe in my whole racing career. Period.”

Scott Miller, NASCAR vice president of competition, said that series officials will learn from Sunday’s race.

“I would kind of own the fact that maybe we did let it go a little bit too long before we did something,” he said. “It’s a learning experience for all of us. We will learn. We will be better next time. I think probably your original question is would we the pull the plug earlier? Probably so.”

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Changes didn’t come soon enough for Harvick and a few others on Lap 19.

Harvick was eliminated when he was rammed from behind by Bubba Wallace, who couldn’t see because of the spray of water from cars ahead. Harvick was slowing for an incident ahead. Christopher Bell couldn’t see Ryan Blaney slow because of the spray and rammed the back of Blaney’s car.

“It’s the most unsafe thing I’ve ever done in a race car by a lot,” Harvick said of the conditions. “You can’t see anything down the straightaways. These cars were not built to run in the rain, and when you can’t see, my spotter said, ‘Check up, check up,’ because he thought he saw two cars wrecking. 

“I let off and the guy behind me hit me wide-open because he never saw me. It’s unbelievable that we’re out there doing what we’re doing because we’re in race cars that aren’t made to do this, and if you can’t see going down the straightaway it’s absolutely not safe, not even close.”

Asked if the sport had any business being on track in those conditions, Harvick said:

“We don’t have any business being out in the rain, period. All I can say is this is the worst decision that we’ve ever made in our sport that I’ve been a part of, and I’ve never felt more unsafe in my whole racing career, period.”

Asked about Harvick’s comments, Miller said:

“Harvick has his right to his opinion, obviously. I don’t think that’s probably an opinion that is universally shared among the drivers. We certainly don’t want to put anybody in harm’s way out there.

“It’s a tough job for us to balance — competitive event, a good show for the fans and with the drivers’ best interest. It’s a tough job. I think rain at a race points out the fact that everybody in this business has a hard job. … We have a hard job. The drivers have a hard job. Everybody’s got a tough job.”

NASCAR stopped the race after an incident involving Martin Truex Jr. and Cole Custer that brought out the caution on Lap 26. Custer — not able to see Truex’s slowing car — slammed into the rear of Truex’s car and lifted it in the air.

“I got hit so hard that I was 10 feet in the air,” Truex said.

Before NASCAR resumed the race, it sent its Air Titans to remove some of the water from the track, allowed teams to clean the windshields and mandated single-file restarts for the rest of the race.

The rain abated before returning later in the day, leading NASCAR to call the race after 54 of a scheduled 68 laps.

“Obviously as the race continued on in the final stage and kept raining harder and harder,” Miller said. “We were monitoring the visibility for the drivers on the back straightaway there.

“It was getting really, really tough to see again over there. Lots of spray. We were going to make one attempt at running the Air Titans (on the backstretch) like we have before to see if we could kind of get back going again, and it just didn’t look like it was going to happen at all with the volume of water that was coming down. It was time to call it.”