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NASCAR Boast Their Ingenuity As Their Initiative Saves Richmond From a Horrendous End

Published 04/01/2024, 8:36 AM EDT

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USA Today via Reuters

The weekend at Richmond Raceway delivered more drama than anyone could have imagined. Whilst Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr’s tussle was the highlight of the race, the Toyota Owners 400 also marked a historic occasion for NASCAR. As rain ended up playing spoilsport just before the race commenced, the organization opted to run the wet weather tires for the first time in a points-paying race on an oval.

Usually, the entire field would have to patiently wait for the rain to dry out or even postpone it in extreme cases. But this time around, NASCAR truly outdid itself by getting the race to start as quickly as possible. Looking back on the ‘real’ debut of the Goodyear wet weather tire, NASCAR’s vice-president of competition Elton Sawyer deemed it an irrefutable success.

NASCAR official proudly emphasizes their prompt response to rainy weather

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The moment NASCAR fans found out that the Toyota Owners 400 would commence regardless of the damp conditions, they knew they would be in for a treat. Soon enough, NASCAR called the competition caution on Lap 30, triggering drivers to pit and change over to slicks while maintaining their track positions. So while the tires didn’t create for some action-packed moves, it certainly was better than watching the 36-car grid remain parked up in the pits.

For Sawyer, the biggest sign of success came from the time it took to start the race despite the rain delay. He was quoted by Adam Cheek for FrontStretch, “I think if you look, we had a scheduled 7:12 p.m. green flag and we went green at 7:31 p.m. I believe, so [only a] 15-minute [delay], which is huge,” Under usual conditions, the grid would have to wait for nearly an hour, according to the official, before the track was ready to race on. Seeing how the sport had managed to cut that time down by more than half, the executives were delighted.

With the Goodyear wet weather tires finally hitting the ground running, Sawyer took a moment to commend the man responsible for it all. He shared with reporters after the race was over, “First of all, credit to Jim France. This was his vision a couple of years ago. He tasked the R&D center and Goodyear to come up with a tire that we could run in the damp, and tonight was a success.”

But it wasn’t just Jim France’s idea that led to the introduction of the tire. After all, the OEM had to manufacture it to perfection. Sawyer concluded, “The guys did a great job with the tire, Goodyear did a phenomenal job. We called the competition caution at lap 30. That was about where we needed to be. Looked like we might have been able to go another five or so laps, but the main thing is we were able to get the race started.”

Speaking of the competition caution that forced drivers to change to slick tires, Sawyer also revealed why the officials didn’t allow the teams to plan out their pit windows for slicks.

Here’s why NASCAR was overtly cautious at Richmond this weekend

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For the first proper debut of the slicks on ovals, NASCAR took every precaution necessary. So while some fans may have been disappointed that they didn’t get to see any major action for the first 30 laps, it was all for good reason. Speaking to the media, Sawyer revealed that NASCAR has to take a different approach to ovals owing to the lack of experience with such tires on those tracks.

He shared, “We’re looking out for the safety. This is only our third event that we’ve actually run wet-weather tires […] so now we have another data point.” After all, ovals do require a lot more grip, and having data from the Richmond Race would be crucial for the sport to help decide how to allow teams to engage in their own strategy-making. Ultimately, that was the end goal.

Sawyer concluded by putting the community at ease with the future of such races. He shared, “That’s one thing we want to work hard on. We want to be able to start the race, put all the competition in the team’s hands and strategy — when to put tires on, when to take them off — and the sanctioning body not being in the middle of that decision-making. I think we’ll get there sooner than later.”

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While it’s safe to say NASCAR is finally using the wet weather tires at ovals too, it will take some more time before we can expect action in damp conditions to pick up pace.

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Written by:

Kabir Bajaj Ahmed

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Kabir Bajaj Ahmed is an F1 & NASCAR Writer at EssentiallySports. Known for his storytelling and extensive research skills, he has covered multiple stories on Dale Earnhardt Jr and his legendary dad, allowing readers to relive the thunderous days of 'The Intimidator'. Being a racer himself, Kabir can resonate with the motorsport world better than most.
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Edited by:

Ariva Debnath