DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — With some drivers suggesting so, is it time for NASCAR officials to call cautions before it rains at oval tracks?
Daniel Suarez said that NASCAR should have thrown a caution for rain before at least 15 cars crashed in Turn 1 because of a wet track at Daytona International Speedway. Denny Hamlin cited the need for “better officiating” after being involved in that accident.
Sunday’s race marked the third time since October 2020 that rain contributed to an incident on an oval while a Cup race was under green flag conditions.
In October 2020, Kevin Harvick hit the wall while leading at Texas in the mist. Hamlin’s car lost traction and went up the track without hitting the wall the lap before Harvick’s incident. Cole Custer slid up the track and nearly hit the wall a few laps after Harvick’s accident. The race continued for a few more laps before rain stopped the event.
In July 2021, Kyle Busch, who was leading, and Martin Truex Jr., who was second, both slid in Turn 1 in the rain at New Hampshire on the sixth lap. Hamlin’s car also spun. Busch told NBC Sports after the incident that the race started in a mist and “never should have went green to begin with.”
Sunday at Daytona, storm clouds could be seen near the track and radar showed rain nearby.
“We knew the rain was coming,” Suarez said. “It was raining next door. It’s just a matter of time. Why wait for it? I don’t know.”
Hamlin said: “We’ll learn from this, I’m sure.”
Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, told NBC Sports: “We were on top of the weather, monitoring with all of our turn spotters, in touch with the spotters up top, the pace car. We had all the information that we thought. We had been dodging a little bit of weather, obviously, for a little while. Nothing had hit. All of a sudden there was that shower.
“The pace car, sitting down there on the inside, it was still dry when they wrecked. If you watch the in-car (camera), you can see that some rain definitely started right before they wrecked. We really couldn’t do anything about that, and it was not something that you can predict when it is going to start raining.
“Just a super-bad situation for everybody.”
— Dustin Long (@dustinlong) August 28, 2022
That three such incidents happened within two years raises questions about how lenient NASCAR should be to allow racing in any wet conditions, especially with how NASCAR has reacted to rain at road courses.
Series officials were criticized by drivers last year at Circuit of the Americas when rain and the spray from the cars blinded drivers and created multiple accidents. Harvick called it “the most unsafe thing I’ve ever done in a race car by a lot.”
At Watkins Glen earlier this month, cars were on track preparing to start the race despite puddles. While some drivers said they were for starting the race, officials sent the cars back to pit road to allow for more work on the wet track. Engines were re-fired about 25 minutes after cars were brought to pit road.
“Had we gone green while it was raining, probably would have been difficult like it was at COTA,” said Watkins Glen winner Kyle Larson. “It was nice they brought us down pit road and kind of waited for the rain to stop and blew that layer of thick wetness off the track.”
Lesson learned from COTA. Is there a lesson to be learned after Texas, New Hampshire and Daytona? That rain impacted races on a 1.5-mile, 1-mile and a 2.5-mile speedway shows the need for vigilance at every style track.
It would be no fun for fans to see a race under caution if there had yet to be any rain on the track or merely raindrops, but NASCAR’s No. 1 responsibility is to the safety of the drivers.
Every driver in the incident caused by the rain at Daytona was cleared from the infield care center, but that didn’t mean the impacts were light.
Already this season, drivers have talked about how they are feeling the impacts more the new car even as data shows the hits aren’t any harder than with last year’s car. That suggests drivers are feeling more of the hits and that can cause injuries. Kurt Busch will miss his seventh consecutive Cup race this weekend at Darlington because of concussion-like symptoms suffered in a July 23 accident at Pocono Raceway.
Hamlin said his impact in Sunday’s crash hurt.
“My whole body, literally my jaw hurts,” Hamlin said. “I feel like my jaw was one of those boxers who gets his whole face demolished. That was certainly the first real big one I’ve had in this car. Everything they’ve been telling us (about the impacts), all the other drivers, it’s true.”
#NASCAR … I asked Denny Hamlin what can be done about that incident (caused by rain)
Denny: “Better officiating”
More of what Denny said after exiting the infield care center … pic.twitter.com/cLOqLIpfjk
— Dustin Long (@dustinlong) August 28, 2022
It’s easy to see how a few seconds or decisions changed the financial status for some teams by potentially millions.
Had NASCAR called the caution for rain before the field entered Turn 1, then maybe the top 15 cars don’t crash. If so, Austin Dillon doesn’t go from 16th to the lead.
Dillon went on to win and earn a spot in the playoffs, guaranteeing that he’ll finish no worse than 16th in the points.
With the charter system, teams earn money based on multiple categories: Entering a race, historical performance over the past three seasons, the traditional points fund and race results.
Dillon’s win means he’ll make the playoffs for the second time in three years. His team will be entitled to more money in upcoming years the further he goes in this year’s playoffs.
“It can be, for sure, a $1 million day,” car owner Richard Childress said after Dillon’s win.
Just as Richard Childress Racing celebrated a win and a financial boost, Martin Truex Jr.’s Joe Gibbs Racing team will feel the pain of missing the playoffs for the next three seasons.
Truex had finished second, seventh and second in points the past three years, making the historical payments to the No. 19 team among the best in the sport, raising the value of the team’s charter.
With 14 cars eliminated by the accident caused by the rain, that allowed Ryan Blaney to move ahead of those cars despite being laps down after his car was damaged in an earlier incident. Truex also had damage from a separate incident. Truex started the final stage 10 points behind Blaney for what would be the final playoff spot.
With so few cars on track, it made it harder for Truex to be 11 positions ahead of Blaney to earn the playoff spot. He fell three points short and now cannot finishes better than 17th in the points. That will impact the historical payment to the team starting next season.
It comes in a season where Joe Gibbs Racing has yet to announce a sponsor for the No. 18 car for next year. Mars Inc., which reportedly pays $20 million or more to fund the car, is not returning after this season. That leaves Kyle Busch’s future with the team in doubt.
Had NASCAR decided to call the race after that accident, instead of waiting 3 hours, 19 minutes to resume the event, Truex would have been in the playoffs and Blaney out. Truex was fourth at the time, while Blaney was 18th.
By running the final 21 laps, Blaney — despite being six laps down — passed those cars that could not continue and finished 15th, while Truex fell to eighth with his damaged car.