Using Rain Tires for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Race Made It “Historic”

Nascar Media/Getty Images/Sean Gardner

Sunday’s NASCAR race, the USA Today 301 on New Hampshire Motor Speedway’s relatively flat just-over-one-mile oval, was supposed to be one of the Cup Series’ shortest of the year, running 318.46 miles (which is 301 laps) instead of the usual 400 or 500 miles.

But every time the broadcast crew aired the grim weather radar for the area, which was a lot, it was clear it might be a long day.

Indeed it was: The race typically averages just over three hours, but thanks to a lengthy rain delay, this one took more than six, and it required an innovative grandstand play by NASCAR to get the race finished, important since the New Hampshire track doesn’t have lights, and it was getting late. Extraordinary measures were called for.

New Hampshire Motor Speedway clouds
Nascar Media/Torey Fox

Tire supplier Goodyear had mounted up some rain tires—they have tread, which means they will work better on a wet track than the usual slick tires. But they aren’t ideal; the rain tires use softer rubber, which will blister more quickly than the slicks. And the tires are slower, at New Hampshire by about four seconds per lap.

NASCAR originally drafted a rain tire plan for their road course races (on tracks such as Watkins Glen), and for street-course races (such as July’s race in Chicago). The NASCAR-owned IMSA sports car series regularly runs in the rain, and the cars are equipped with windshield wipers and lights to improve visibility.

But NASCAR also thought the rain tires might work on shorter ovals where the Cup series races. They had only tried that once, earlier this year at the start of the Cup event at Richmond Raceway, a three-quarters-of-a-mile oval, where they ran 30 laps on rain tires before switching back to slicks.

The NASCAR Cup cars at New Hampshire had neither lights nor wipers, so there could be no racing as the rain was falling. But they could race on a wet track.

New Hampshire Motor Speedway caution
Nascar Media/Getty Images/Jonathan Bachman

Here’s what happened: At 4:32 p.m., with 220 of the scheduled 301 laps in the book, rain sent the cars to pit lane under the red flag. There was persistent rain, though it was lightning that really slowed the program—once lighting is spotted near the track, it is NASCAR policy that all work, including track-drying efforts, comes to a stop for 30 minutes. And every time subsequent lightning is reported, that 30-minute clock resets.

About two hours and 15 minutes later, at 6:47 p.m., NASCAR sent the cars back out wearing rain tires. Under the caution flag, with the field running about 60 mph, Kyle Busch hit the wall, and Corey LaJoie spun out, further delaying the green flag, and causing some trepidation about how the cars would survive at race speeds.

To everyone’s surprise, including NASCAR’s, they raced just fine, completing 305 laps (a few past the race’s official length, due to an “overtime” finish). There were crashes, yes, but arguably no more than we would have seen on a dry track with slick tires.

New Hampshire Motor Speedway blur action
Nascar Media/Getty Images/Sean Gardner

NASCAR deemed the rain-tire experiment “absolutely” a success, according to Elton Sawyer, NASCAR senior vice-president of competition. Otherwise, “We’d have been done with 82 laps to go. It gave us an opportunity to get back green.”

The rain tire program was a pet project of Jim France, the chairman and CEO of NASCAR, Sawyer said. “This was Jim France’s vision of what wet-weather tires could do. We ran 301-plus laps today. Went into overtime. Our fans got to see some great, exciting racing.”

For the most part, the NASCAR Cup drivers supported the rain-tire choice. Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., driver of the No. 47 Chevrolet, said the treaded tires actually improved his finish. “Our day was all over the place,” he said. “We were really bad on dry tires and just struggled all day. And then when we went to the wet weather tires, we had really good runs. There at the end, we were able to battle back from 25th and drive up into the top-10.”

The wet-weather tires seemed to favor the Cup drivers who had dirt-track experience, and were used to sliding around. That included race winner Christopher Bell, who called the win “historic;” Chase Briscoe, who finished second, and fourth-place finisher Kyle Larson, who said it “was fun. I think when it’s like that, you see a lot of the dirt racers kind of migrate to the front.”

Briscoe agreed. “The rain saved us for sure. We were terrible in the dry.”

NASCAR’s Sawyer said they’d take the data back to the NASCAR R&D Center and analyze the results. “We’ll get back and we’ll look at all the things that transpired today.” Bottom line, he said: “Kudos to our teams, our drivers, our owners, and especially Mr. France for his vision.”


Check out the Hagerty Media homepage so you don’t miss a single story, or better yet, bookmark it. To get our best stories delivered right to your inbox, subscribe to our newsletters.

Click below for more about
Read next Up next: The Gordon-Keeble GT: A Tortoise on the Nose but a V-8 under the Hood


    I was all geared up and waiting to watch Indy Car with a little early diner appetizer, fortunately , they moved the race over to CNBC while they were doing the race delayed ‘will they won’t they’ interviews and ads. Then Force took one of the hardest hits I’ve seen in years in Funny Car. I think he really “saw Elvis ” this time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *