RACING

Should NASCAR issue warnings before it rains to avoid incidents?

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – With some drivers suggesting it, is it time for NASCAR officials to urge caution before is it raining on the oval tracks?

Daniel Suarez said NASCAR should have issued a rain warning before at least 15 cars crashed into Turn 1 due to a wet track at Daytona International Speedway. Denny Hamlin spoke of the need for “better officiating” after being involved in this accident.

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Sunday’s race marked the third time since October 2020 that rain has contributed to an incident at an oval while a Cup race was in green flag conditions.

In October 2020, Kevin Harvick hit the wall as he drove into Texas in the mist. Hamlin’s car lost traction and raced up the track without hitting the wall the lap before Harvick’s incident. Cole Custer slid on the track and nearly hit the wall a few laps after Harvick’s crash. The race continued for a few more laps before rain brought the event to a halt.

In July 2021, Kyle Busch, who was leading, and Martin Truex Jr., who was second, both slid into Turn 1 in the rain in New Hampshire on lap six. Hamlin’s car also spun. Busch told NBC Sports after the incident that the race started in a fog and “should never have gone green to start.”

On Sunday in Daytona, thunderclouds could be seen near the runway and radar showed rain nearby.

“We knew the rain was coming,” Suarez said. “It was raining nearby. It’s just a matter of time. Why wait for it? I do not know.”

Hamlin said: “We’ll learn from it, I’m sure.”

Scott Miller, senior vice president of NASCAR competition, told NBC Sports, “We were on top of the weather, watching with all of our corner spotters, in touch with the spotters up top, the pace car. We had all the information we thought. We had been dodging the weather a bit, of course, for a while. Nothing had hit. All of a sudden, there was this shower.

“The race car, sitting there inside, was still dry when it wrecked. If you look at the car (camera) you can see that the rain definitely started just before they wrecked. We really couldn’t help it. do about it, and it wasn’t something you can predict when it’s going to start raining.

“Just a very bad situation for everyone.”

The fact that three such incidents have occurred in two years raises questions about how lenient NASCAR should be in allowing racing in all wet conditions, especially with how NASCAR responded to rain on road routes.

Series officials came under fire from drivers last year at the Circuit of the Americas when rain and spray from cars blinded drivers and created multiple crashes. Harvick called it “the most dangerous thing I’ve ever done in a race car by far.”

At Watkins Glen earlier this month, the cars were on track to prepare for the start of the race despite the puddles. While some drivers said they were for the start of the race, officials sent the cars back to pit road to allow more work on the wet track. The engines were restarted around 25 minutes after the cars were brought onto pit road.

“If we had gone green while it was raining, it probably would have been tough like at COTA,” said Watkins Glen winner Kyle Larson. “It was good that they got us out on pit road and kind of waited for the rain to stop and blew that thick layer of moisture off the track.

Lesson learned from COTA. Is there a lesson to be learned after Texas, New Hampshire and Daytona? This rain impacting racing on a 1.5 mile, 1 mile and 2.5 mile fast lane shows the need to be vigilant at every style track.

It wouldn’t be fun for fans to see a race under caution if there weren’t any rain on the track yet or just raindrops, but NASCAR’s No. 1 responsibility is driver safety.

Every driver involved in the incident caused by the rain in Daytona was evacuated from the care center on the ground, but that does not mean that the impacts were light.

Already this season, drivers have spoken about how they feel the impacts of the new car more, although data shows the hits are no harder than with last year’s car. This suggests that drivers feel the blows more and that it can cause injuries. Kurt Busch will miss his seventh straight Cup race this weekend at Darlington due to concussion-like symptoms suffered in a July 23 accident at Pocono Raceway.

Hamlin said his impact in Sunday’s crash hurt him.

“My whole body, literally my jaw hurts,” Hamlin said. “I feel like my jaw was that of those boxers who get their whole face smashed. That was definitely the first real big one I’ve had in that car. Everything they told us (on the impacts), all the other pilots, it’s true.

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Trackhouse Racing owner Justin Marks tweeted Sunday’s race “Costs the teams collectively about $4 (million).”

It’s easy to see how a few seconds or decisions changed the financial situation of some teams by potentially millions.

If NASCAR had called the rain warning before the field entered Turn 1, then maybe the top 15 cars wouldn’t crash. If so, Austin Dillon does not go from 16th to the lead.

Dillon went on to win and earn a playoff berth, guaranteeing he would finish no worse than 16th in points.

With the charter system, teams earn money based on several categories: race participation, historical performance over the past three seasons, traditional points fund, and race results.

Dillon’s victory means he will make the playoffs for the second time in three years. His team will be entitled to more money in future years as he progresses through this year’s playoffs.

“It can be, for sure, a million dollar day,” said car owner Richard Childress after Dillon’s victory.

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 historic payouts to the No. 19 team among the best in the sport, boosting the team’s charter value.

With 14 cars eliminated by the rain-caused crash, it put Ryan Blaney ahead of those cars despite laps behind after his car was damaged in an earlier incident. Truex also suffered damage from a separate incident. Truex started the final leg 10 points behind Blaney for what would be the final playoff spot.

With so few cars on track, it was harder for Truex to get an 11-position lead over Blaney to earn the playoff spot. He lost three points and can no longer finish better than 17th in points. This will impact the historical payment to the team from next season.

It comes in a season where Joe Gibbs Racing has yet to announce a sponsor for the #18 car for next year. Mars Inc., which would pay $20 million or more to finance the car, will not return 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 and 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.

Running the final 21 laps, Blaney – despite being six laps behind – overtook the cars that could not continue and finished 15th, while Truex fell to eighth with his car damaged.

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