Race Weekend Central

Historic Debut of Wet-Weather Tires Deemed ‘Success’ at Richmond Raceway

The rain persisted throughout Sunday (March 31) afternoon at Richmond Raceway.

Nevertheless, by just past the scheduled green-flag time, the weather had slacked off enough for NASCAR to make a historic call: wet-weather tires would be used for the first time on an oval in a points-paying Cup Series event.

With the sun setting behind a veil of patchy clouds, the sky a vibrant blue-orange and a fleeting shard of rainbow beyond the turn 2 grandstands, the 36-car field took the green flag despite a looming threat of more rain.

“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,” NASCAR Vice President of Competition Elton Sawyer said after the race. “We could have been sitting there another hour getting everything dry like we have in the past.”

That rain held off until after the race and Denny Hamlin‘s victory, when a few intermittent drops fell while Sawyer spoke to media. He considered the race, and what was essentially the first true test of the tires, a success.

“First of all, credit to Jim France,” Sawyer said. “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 was a success.

“We were able to get the race started pretty much on time. 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.”

The tires endured for the first 30 laps, after which a competition caution was called and noncompetitive pit stops were instituted due to the still-soaked pit road. Air Titans were deployed to try to help dry out the pit lane, but could only do so much. After the stops, the field was stopped in the turns to ensure the correct restart order was set.

NASCAR has seen wet-weather tires put to task before, but primarily on tracks with slower speeds and both left and right turns. Ovals had only been attempted with the tire on two occasions — last spring, with the Craftsman Truck Series at Martinsville, and last summer at North Wilkesboro Speedway, during the heat races. This was the first premier series points race in which they’d been put to the test.

“Unlike road courses, when pit road is wet and we would allow the teams to make the decisions whether to put drys or wets on, on the short ovals, we’re still not to a place where we feel comfortable doing that,” Sawyer said. “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.

“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.”

The race played out like many Richmond events before it, with strategic calls and typical short-track chaos factoring into the outcome, but the wet-weather tires

I thought all in all it was a great race […] that had a lot of strategy, green flag stops and we had a restart, so I think we had a little bit of everything tonight.”

Sawyer was also briefly asked about a pair of judgment calls the sanctioning body made: the caution for Kyle Busch swinging wide and hitting the wall during the second stage, and the final restart.

“We reviewed that, we looked at it,” he said. “Obviously, the [No.] 11 was the control vehicle. It was awful close, but we deemed it to be a good restart.”

As for the Busch caution, Sawyer elaborated on both that incident and the cause for the final yellow, where Kyle Larson slid down into the frontstretch infield.

“If you look at the [No. 8] when he went down into [turn] 3, it looked like either he had a right front down or maybe brake failure. Wasn’t real sure. That was really the deciding factor and why to throw it there. And then obviously the [No.] 5 at the end, he’s [spinning] on the front straightaway, driver’s side [to] oncoming traffic. That’s a no brainer. You’re gonna throw that every time.”

About the author

Adam Cheek joined Frontstretch as a contributing writer in January 2019. A 2020 graduate of VCU, he works as a producer and talent for Audacy Richmond's radio stations. In addition to motorsports journalism, Adam also covered and broadcasted numerous VCU athletics for the campus newspaper and radio station during his four years there. He's been a racing fan since the age of three, inheriting the passion from his grandfather, who raced in amateur events up and down the East Coast in the 1950s.

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Deacon Blues

Interesting to learn about the wet weather tires – great coverage and glad the science behind the tires worked!

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