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MARTINSVILLE, Va. – On Friday night (April 14), during the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race on the half-mile short track of Martinsville Speedway, history was made.
NASCAR, for the first time in its 75-year history, raced in rainy conditions on an oval.
The evening began as a warm and humid evening as pre-race ceremonies went underway during the 200-lap event’s originally scheduled time. However, only mere moments after the 36-truck field’s engines were commanded to fire, a perfectly timed lightning bolt struck in the nearby area of the Virginian short track.
With that, the field fell silent and teams, fans, officials and all of the evening’s attendees were forced to take shelter for an extended period of time while the Appalachian thunderstorms came and went.
However, the track was only partly dried when NASCAR officials made the call for teams to whip out the treaded Goodyear tires and prepare to race on the wet racing surface.
It was the first time in the sport’s history that NASCAR has ever made such a call, and post-race, it was met with mixed emotions.
“I’m not a fan of driving the wets on the road courses,” Stewart Friesen told Frontstretch. “But it was really cool to kind of start. It was different. It was unique.
“It was just as different as racing dirt on Bristol [Motor Speedway].”
“They seemed ok for me,” Tanner Gray told Frontstretch. “I can see a lot of people around me struggling, but I think that if we would have got another shot at them, a lot of people would have figured him out a little bit quicker, realized that there was maybe a little bit more grip there than what you expected.
“I don’t know. It was actually pretty dry,” Ty Majeski told Frontstretch. “It was a little bit wet down the straight away, but corners were dry. So, it was just less grip up with the rain tires obviously being rain tires.
“And the biggest thing is that they’re actually just road course rain tires, so they don’t have any stagger. So, we were just super, super tight.”
I mean, honestly, I was doubtful at first going and doing it,” Taylor Gray told Frontstretch. “I didn’t think it was going to work. I thought it wasn’t going to be a good show, but it really wasn’t that bad.
“I mean, the track team did a good job drying the racetrack and getting it to where they really said it was damp.”
Regardless, prior to the 2023 season, NASCAR had announced its intention to utilize rain tires on short tracks in the case of precipitation, and that was a word they meant to keep.
When the green flag finally dropped, the field traveled 26 laps – that’s 13 miles – on the treaded eagles before finally reaching the scheduled competition caution, and yes, they did it without a single spin.
Afterward, the track was dry enough for NASCAR to allow the field to change to the slick rubber they are accustomed to. They continued racing in their usual conditions.
Until the rain returned. On lap 67, NASCAR brought the field back to pit road for the race’s first red flag of the night that lasted only moments before race officials deemed the track safe to race on again.
But that too, was fleeting. The race finally came to a halt on lap 124 when it was all said and done. By then, NASCAR had enough fighting mother nature and officials ended the event short and declared Corey Heim, one of only three leaders in the race, the winner.
Then, the strangest thing happened. The drivers started asking for more.
After the 26-lap trial run of the treaded rubber proved that the new tires could be used in the damp conditions, many drivers protested that the show should go on with the wets.
“Honestly, I think we could be racing right now,” Ross Chastain told Frontstretch. “I know this [rain] is a little heavy maybe, but like, let’s try it. I don’t think the spray is going to be bad here. We could have kept going. Put rains back on.
“You know,” Friesen continued. “These things aren’t purpose-built race vehicles or anything else other than racing around these tracks and putting on a show for the people and the fans watching on TV.
“I think we could have put on a lot better show if we just would have raced in the rain.”
Despite all of the chaos rain racing has produced in NASCAR road course races in the past, for better or for worse, oval racing in the damp produced decent results according to most drivers.
And according to a Chastain, a NASCAR Cup Series regular, perhaps it’s time to build on it.
“Let’s keep learning,” Chastain said. “And I think if they get the feedback, we all had plenty of grip on the rain tires. Let’s continue to evolve here.
“I think we could be racing right now.”
About the author
Dalton Hopkins began writing for Frontstretch in April 2021. Currently, he is the lead writer for the weekly Thinkin' Out Loud column and one of our lead reporters. Beforehand, he wrote for IMSA shortly after graduating from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019. Simultaneously, he also serves as a First Lieutenant in the US Army.
Follow Dalton on Twitter @PitLaneLT
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