When the already-delayed Coke Zero 400 was ended early for rain on Sunday afternoon, some fans and even some drivers were left puzzled by the decision. After all, it wasn’t even six months since NASCAR had pledged to race late into the night to complete the scheduled distance of the Daytona 500, and there they were, calling this race before 3 p.m.
For some, that left a bit of a sour taste. That’s understandable, because when rain ends a race, fans miss out on seeing a competitive finish, and teams miss out on a chance to race for the win.
In other words, one driver, his team, and his fans leave happy, and everyone else leaves dissatisfied.
Brian Vickers finished second when the Coke Zero 400 was called, so it’s no wonder that he’s frustrated with the decision. On Tuesday, Vickers spoke with FOXSports.com , saying that NASCAR needs to let teams and fans know how long they’ll wait. Vickers added that the sanctioning body needs “some guidelines in place to say, ‘Listen, at this track on a Sunday, we will race until this time. On a Monday we’ll race until this time.’ Just kind of knowing that going in, because you may make different decisions.”
On the surface, it sounds like Vickers has a raging case of sour grapes.
But what the driver says has some merit. When rain comes, nobody really knows how long NASCAR will wait to make a call to postpone a race or end it early, leaving fans and teams in limbo. Sometime they’ve waited hours for the skies to clear, others, especially if the race is already past halfway and therefore official, the decision comes very quickly.
Predicting weather is not an exact science, and most people understand that. It’s possible to wait for an expected end to rain only to have the bad weather continue, and it’s also possible for rain to clear when it’s been forecast to continue. That’s not NASCAR’s or anybody else’s fault, and it’s a mistake to balme anyone.
But some basic guidelines wouldn’t be an unreasonable request to help teams plan, especially if a race is already delayed by a day. Fans would probably appreciate at least having an idea of how long they’ll sit in the rain before hearing an announcement.
NASCAR knows heading to each track what the challenges are. For instance, some tracks don’t have lights, which means that rain would have to end with enough time to dry the track and then complete the scheduled distance, or as close to it as possible. Others are in towns or cities with noise ordinances which don’t allow racing after a certain hour, or the start of a race after a certain hour. But, calculating backwards, it’s not hard to know when the rain has to end in order for track drying to be complete.
Just for example, if lack of daylight will end a race at 8 p.m., NASCAR can calculate how long it will take to run the necessary number of laps, and know that racing would have to resume by 6:30. If, on a cool, rainy day, the track will take two hours for Air Titan to dry, the rain would have to end by 4:30 p.m. An hour or so before that, forecasters have a pretty clear picture of what’s coming, so at that track, NASCAR could reasonably make a decision by 3 or 3:30.
Why not let teams and fans know you’ll wait until 3:30 to make an announcement? At the very worst, if it looks like it will stop, NASCAR could let them know it’s still hopeful for a restart. If the forecast is not promising, the race could be called.
Even at tracks with lights, like Daytona, NASCAR could let everyone know the latest hour they would restart and work from there.
No, NASCAR can’t please every fan and team all the time. But there are some steps which could be taken to make rain delays more bearable and less arbitrary. Knowing whether they’ll have to wait out the weather for two hours or five before hearing some word from NASCAR will make the decision to stick around easier, especially for fans who may face a long trip home or need to find a room for another night.
While Vickers’ words were spoken out of frustration at not having the chance to race for a win, they also make sense. Why not have a more concrete time frame for making these decisions. Sunday’s call, while ultimately the right one, did raise some valid questions because of the long waits to restart races earlier this year, especially since, at the time of the call, it did appear as if there might be a window for racing (that later disappeared).
These are questions to which there are no easy answers, but there is a solution that could make those answers less frustrating for the people waiting to hear them.