The newly configured Atlanta Motor Speedway has provided NASCAR with the symbiotic effect of having joined Talladega with Bristol, making one of the most exciting, nerve wracking and visually impressive races on the schedule.
Add in racing into the night peppered with thunderstorms, and you have a recipe for controversy. The third stage and ultimate end of Sunday’s (July 9) race was watching William Byron idle around in the lead for what seemed like an eternity while the pits were closed.
Did NASCAR make the right decision with how it handled ending things early?
This week, Chase Folsom and Wyatt Watson give their perspectives in 2-Headed Monster.
Why Wait for Rain to Win? Let Them Race
Mother Nature was not going to be denied on Sunday night, a fact that was evident before the green flag fell.
Surely NASCAR could have done something to provide fans a race to the checkered flag or a final restart before the rains really came. There’s no doubt the series officials were in a tough spot Sunday night in Atlanta, part of which is their own doing for even scheduling a Sunday night race, but that’s a discussion for another day.
Before all else, let’s lay out the facts of the situation. The caution flag flew for Ryan Preece and Bubba Wallace spinning through turn 3 with 83 laps to go. More than 10 minutes later, the field was brought down pit road with 75 laps to go. Byron was the beneficiary, picking up his fourth win of the season while Daniel Suarez, AJ Allmendinger and Michael McDowell were forced to settle for second, third and fourth, respectively, all still searching for their first win of 2023.
Brad Keselowski, who won stage two and looked to break an 81-race losing streak, was sixth.
In my opinion, the fans paid the money to go watch a race on a Sunday night. NASCAR is compelled to do everything and anything in its power to avoid the finish to what had ben an amazing race. Riding around under caution for 10 minutes anticipating something happening didn’t exactly seem equitable for the fans or competition.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I know the safety concerns regarding racing into the rain. We all remember last year’s Daytona race in August, as the field stormed off into turn 1 to be met by a wall of rain, and the entire field pretty much wrecked.
However, neither of those should have happened in the first place.
At Daytona, you could see the rain. Drivers and spotters alike were yelling on the radio, “It’s raining.” The yellow should have been thrown. At Loudon, that race should have never gone green in the first place, as drivers such as Busch and Truex were already complaining about the rain under the pace laps.
This was a different situation.
For starters, a major policy change was made following the incident at Daytona, with people now being placed all around the track for this exact situation. Why not put your new policy changes to use? Prove that you can run this thing as long as possible and when the rain hits in turn 1, that guy standing there can get the word up to the tower that “hey, it’s raining.”
This clearly isn’t the first time we’ve raced with rain approaching in 75 years.
This situation, in my opinion, is actually much closer to the 2019 July race at Daytona, rather than either of the other two examples provided above.
Just like Atlanta last Sunday night, the racing intensified with rain on the way, which led to a wreck and a caution. On that day, the pits were opened, everyone pitted, except Justin Haley, who stayed out and was the immediate beneficiary when lightning struck just miles from the track, putting the field in a delay.
Then the rains hit, and he won the race as that race was never restarted. However, the attempt was made, and while some were unhappy at how that ended, it still presented a different issue than Sunday night.
If NASCAR knew that weather was going to affect the middle to end of the race, why not move up the start time by half an hour? NBC was on the air with pre-race at that time. Perhaps they could have called audible a half hour earlier and told teams that stage 2 would be the end of the race with rain and lightning approaching the speedway.
Those options aside, and with little to no cleanup needed after the incident between Preece and Wallace in turn 3, that race could have been back green in four laps time. As soon as the field is bunched up, at least make an attempt and open pit road.
By opening pit road, you show the fans that you are making an active effort to give them the finish they deserve. The crew chiefs up and down pit road get paid the big bucks to make the right calls, so why is this situation any different? They all have a radar, it was pretty obvious it was going to rain. If the pits were going to remain closed to prevent anyone from putting themselves in an unenviable position, they had already made the decision the race was over.
Hopefully, NASCAR learns from this and adjusts the end of the race earlier in the event if weather is going to be an unavoidable factor. – Chase Folsom
NASCAR Avoided Another Daytona and Made the Right Call
NASCAR had been on a bad streak of not making the right call when it came to rain. Who could forget the chaos that took place at last year’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona that took out most of the field, or in 2021 when NASCAR didn’t throw the caution at New Hampshire, which led to race leader Busch wrecking his car and then teammates Truex and Denny Hamlin spinning as well?
We can also look at how NASCAR handled last week’s Xfinity Series race at the Chicago street course, finishing the race before halfway when the option of finishing the race on Monday was still on the table.
Even though it was extraordinary circumstances, NASCAR could have at least tried to finish the race on the much clearer Monday instead of calling the race a few laps away from halfway. Additionally, we can also go back to the infamous 2001 All-Star Race where NASCAR threw the green flag despite rain washing out turn 1, relegating many teams to their back-up cars for the race.
NASCAR desperately needed to make a big rebound next time rain threatened to stop or end the race, and they did that this week at Atlanta.
NASCAR did get a blessing in disguise with a caution coming out for Preece and Wallace spinning out with 83 laps to go. Instead of waiting for the rain to bring out a caution, the rain started during caution laps and before the pits opened up.
With the imminent rain approaching and reports of a drizzle in turn 4, NASCAR chose the wise and safest option by continuing caution laps to see if the drizzle would stop, or if it would bring about the eventual rain. NASCAR could have gone even more conservative and went down pit road sooner to cover the cars, but with the amount of rain falling at the time, it wasn’t quite necessary.
NASCAR has caught a lot of heat over the last two seasons with the number of drivers sustaining concussions in the Next Gen car, coupled with the rain incident at Daytona last year.
As a body that has been focused on safety since the loss of Dale Earnhardt, and the race being held the night before Adam Petty‘s birthday, you can appreciate their desire to quit while everyone is ahead and avoid anything tragic and preventable.
I have attended a rain-shortened race: fall Texas Motor Speedway in 2016, where Carl Edwards won his final race. Even though the rain cut the race short, as a fan, I still enjoyed the experience that I had watching the field race to the rain. Both races had similar qualities in terms of how NASCAR handled the impending rain.
NASCAR made it to the standard length of calling a race official. The rain was inevitably going to end the race, and NASCAR made a correct call that didn’t compromise the integrity of the race by keeping the cars moving under caution even with the slight rain on track.
I applaud NASCAR’s decision, and it gives me a little more confidence it will make the right decision in the future. With rain threatening next weekend’s action at New Hampshire, we will see if NASCAR can be consistent with its decisions regarding rain. – Wyatt Watson
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