Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud at Atlanta: There’s a Damn Good Reason Why NASCAR Waited for the Rain

What Happened?

HAMPTON, Ga. – William Byron found himself in the lead on lap 185 when NASCAR finally brought out the race-ending red flag for rain at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday night, July 9. He was followed accordingly by Daniel Suarez, AJ Allmendinger, Michael McDowell and Kyle Busch to complete the top five.

Atlanta is now the first track Byron has multiple NASCAR Cup Series wins at. Also, Byron’s victory marks the most wins the No. 24 has earned in a single season since 2014 with Jeff Gordon.

See also
The Big 6: Questions Answered After Mother Nature & William Byron Win Atlanta

But What Really Happened?

Everyone once in a while, NASCAR officials make some questionable calls that opens a gate of criticism from fans and the talking heads of racing media alike. One such call includes what happened at Daytona International Speedway in August of last year.

On Sunday night, that is what NASCAR was trying to avoid.

On lap 179, when the final caution flag waved for a multi-car crash involving Bubba Wallace, Ryan Preece and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., the clock was already ticking for the rain cell that was moving closer and closer to the area.

We’re not talking about a short sprinkle, either.

But only moments after that last yellow flag, rain was already being reported by officials in turn 1. After what happened at Daytona in August of last year, can you blame them for wanting to hold off on restarting the race while full-well knowing that there are parts of the track that are becoming wet already?

Plenty of people gave the sanctioning body grief when it didn’t throw the caution at Daytona when rain first started falling in turn 1 and caused a big pileup that resulted in millions of dollars in damage to race teams.

Myself included.

If NASCAR had decided to restart the race knowing the track was already wet – even only a little bit – they’d catch even more grief than last time from the same people.

Myself included.

For years we have been asking race officials to learn from their mistakes in the past and become better from it. Well, this is what it looks like. This is what everyone screaming after Daytona had asked for.

A vast majority of fans on Sunday night surely wanted to see how the race was going to play out had it gone the scheduled distance. After all, from what we had seen so far up to lap 179, it was setting up to be a fun finish that could have seen an unlikely winner come out on top.

But ask yourself, is that worth the risk of race teams potentially crashing multiple cars on a wet racetrack costing millions of dollars and maybe even injured drivers?

No. It’s not. Just ask those drivers.

Who Stood Out?

Almost every Ford in the field with the exception of one team.

And no, that’s not referring to Rick Ware Racing.

Out of the 185 laps run total on Sunday night, a Blue Oval led the field for 145 of them. After the manufacturer’s performance in the previous Atlanta race in March, where they led 221 of the 260 laps and won with Joey Logano, followed by them sweeping eight of the top 10 positions in qualifying on Saturday, a Ford domination probably wouldn’t have surprised many people.

What is surprising is Chevrolet still bested the Fords in the end with Byron. That said, they still swept both stages with two of the most dominant drivers of the night with Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski who both led a combined total of 39 laps.

Then there’s the other RFK Racing car of Chris Buescher, who led the second-most laps of the night with 39 alone. Additionally, there were the two Front Row Motorsports cars of McDowell and Todd Gilliland, with the former earning his first top five of 2023 by finishing fourth and the latter finishing 16th.

Then, there’s JJ Yeley.

At the end of the night, Yeley was credited with a seventh-place finish – his best in the NASCAR Cup Series since New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2008 and his first top-10 result since the 2013 Daytona 500.

It was RWR’s first top 10 since Riley Herbst placed 10th at this year’s Daytona 500 in February.

Yet despite most of their successes, not every Ford team had something to smile about when the race was finally called.

See also
JJ Yeley Earns Best NASCAR Cup Series Finish Since 2008

Who Fell Flat?

Alright, enough is enough. What on earth is wrong with Stewart-Haas Racing?

With all of the speed the Fords showed during the weekend, the 400-miler was probably the team’s best opportunity to finally earn a solid result for all of its drivers and maybe even earn a win.

And at first, it looked as though it may happen.

On Saturday, the organization finally had something it could hold its head high about in what has been an abysmal season for the four-car team. Aric Almirola had earned the pole, and the team had qualified three of its four teams in the top six. Only Ryan Preece qualified outside in 13th.

But it certainly didn’t end that way. Out of the six Fords that finshed outside of the top 15, Stewart-Haas Racing was four of them.

Both Chase Briscoe and Preece were involved in separate incidents that they never recovered from, and both finished 22nd and 24th, respectively. Briscoe has not placed in the top 15 since Talladega Superspeedway almost three months ago, and Preece has still yet to earn his first top 10 with the team.

Polesitter Almirola actually went on to lead the most laps of the race with 46 before eventually fading near the end of stage one and never being heard from again. He finished 18th – the highest finishing of the group.

Finally, there’s Kevin Harvick, who was honored shortly before the beginning of the race as his former team owner Richard Childress paced the field in the same car Harvick won his first career Cup race with in 2001.

But he too experienced trouble late in the night and found himself spinning with no caution to help save him. He finished 30th – the lowest of the four team cars.

Only Preece and Almirola earned stage points the whole night. They both earned one point for finishing 10th in stages one and two.

Better Than Last Time?

It was until it wasn’t.

You might be hard-pressed to find somebody that doesn’t like the new Atlanta race being held at night. Believe it or not, the cooler temperatures actually made the cars harder to drive and gave the race a little more of a night-time shootout vibe.

The two – and at times, three – wide racing that we got to see on Sunday produced some fun stuff for fans to enjoy. There is something to be said for the old pavement surface and how it would have performed with the Next Gen car, because it probably would have done well.

But at least this new configuration won’t put you to sleep, either. That’s for sure.

Of course, having the threat of rain on the way had a huge impact on how drivers acted in those final few laps.

But how did it do competitively? There were 13 lead changes with 10 different drivers by lap 185 four months ago. On Sunday, there were 18 changes with 12 drivers so there was a slight uptick in competition.

That said, it’s hard to accurately depict how drivers would have raced differently had March’s race been shortened to 185 laps because of rain. We likely would have seen a lot less single-file racing and more three-wide battles in the daytime.

Of course, that was during the day, and when comparing to a night race, the nighttime is always the right time.

Paint Scheme of the Race

It’s not often we see a giant brand name like Coca-Cola adorn a Cup Series car nowadays, much less we see them make a complete paint scheme out of it.

But, after the positive feedback it got one year ago, the soft drink giant returned one year later at the Atlanta summer race as a paint scheme for Coca-Cola racing driver Denny Hamlin.

On what was an absolutely sweltering day in the southeastern state of Georgia, seeing the familiar bright red and white colors probably had plenty of fans wishing for some form of soft drink refreshment.

However, it’s a shame we very likely won’t get the Joe Gibbs Racing car in diecast form at any point.

What’s Next?

The sport heads to the northeast.

The NASCAR Cup Series returns to New Hampshire Motor Speedway for its annual trip to the mile-long circuit. Qualifying for the Crayon 301 will be live on Saturday, July 15 at 12:50 p.m. ET with the race being televised live on Sunday, July 16 at 2:30 p.m. ET on USA Network.

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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12 Comments
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janice

it’s still raining here in ga! i think they wanted to get out of town.

be interesting to see if the northeast dries out enough to race.

Shayne

There is no reason why a lapped car should win a race if the driver never passed the actual leader to earn the lap back.

NASCAR and their version of a mulligan.

Greatest drivers in the world? What other form of professional motorsports does this? It sucks for any driver that stays on the lead lap the entire race. No one should lose a race and/or positions to a lapped car.

It’s not for safety reasons. NASCAR is still dropping the ball in that regard.

If you want your lap(s) back, pass the damn leader.

gbvette

While not a “Lucky Dog” rule, both Formula 1 and Indycar have their own variations of a wave around rule, allowing lapped cars to pass the pace car (and leader) under caution to get a lap back.

Lowell Johnson

By the radar shown on TV, this was a large storm and NASCAR had to know it was coming. Why not move up the starting time an hour or so to have a better chance of running the distance. In this case the “winner” was a joke who wouldn’t likely have even been in the top ten in a full race.

janice

that was my thought but everytime i complain about the late start people make fun of me. not like race was on nbc. usa could had stopped airing law & order suv and moved the race up an hour. it still would had ended in dusk/dark instead of being rain shortened.

Kathleen Kulesza

I agree with you start times should be flexible if rain is in the forecast. I live in Massachusetts and there is rain in the forecast on Sunday.

Steven

Ever go to the Boro Kathy? 1982?

Echo

I’ve always agreed with you on start times because you are exactly right. I would almost swear I see Brian with a finger in the pie. If not his clone is younger but exactly like him.

DoninAjax

I imagine Brian was falling off his bar stool multiple times when the Chicago event went with single file starts.

Kurt Smith

I passed on watching this one, to protest the s***ty pack racing that is Atlanta now and the 7:00 PM start on a Sunday night. From what I’ve read I made the right decision.

I will continue to avoid watching (on TV which is supposedly what matters) late starting races. I’ll read about them on the Frontstretch. I’ve had enough of NASCAR and the networks not giving a damn that I have to get up on Monday morning.

What difference does it make to everyone who won, anyway? It’s not like the winner and his team was going to earn it here. Teams should just put scrubs in the racecars at Atlanta, Talladega and Daytona. Results will be the same.

Dan

The only good thing that can be said about the winner is that at least he did admit he was lucky to do so.

Kicks

Had the race started at 1:00 EDT the race would have beat the weather. Sunday night races when people heave to get up for work on Monday will probably kill viewership over time.

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