Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Rain Tire Debate: Post Montreal

Last week, I was watching the NASCAR Nationwide qualifying show on Speed and they were offering a moment to reminisce about the NAPA Auto Parts 200 at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. It was either Larry McReynolds or Jeff Hammond (Forgive me if my memory hasn't remained sharp to recall for certain after a week but I'm about 80% sure it was Jeff Hammond) provided some personal commentary about the Nationwide cars racing in the rain during the final laps of the August 30th race. During the telecast, one of the legendary crew chiefs turned TV analyst expressed their disgust with NASCAR not calling the race once the track got wet and said the racing in the rain would never work in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series. Respecting their opinions, as a fan I could sure argue against a decision to end an event when the technology exists to run the race to its true conclusion. Besides, by the way the ended with Carl Edwards (a driver from a short oval track background) claiming victory over the race's dominator Marcus Ambrose on the final corner of the final raced lap would have never been possible without the brilliant work of Goodyear and NASCAR's Nationwide series directors. It's a shame that NASCAR's Sprint Cup series hasn't considered the proposition of being able to provide a competitive and entertaining spectacle to the fans.

He continued to cite the wild road course frenzy to the conditions created by the rain and the belief that the cars were so uncontrollable to that these drivers were unable to race cleanly. Really? I've watched a multitude of road race in NASCAR in perfectly dry, sunny climate and drivers still manage to find ways of playing bumper tag in the final laps. In fact, all but 2 of the 2009 NAPA Auto Parts 200 race's 11 cautions flew under dry track conditions. Please, don't underestimate the greediness of a race car driver at the race's end. The 2009 field was packed with talent drivers. Road race pros wanting to win on their own turf, Nationwide series regulars wanting to secure high points paying positions, and Cup series regular doing likewise but also seeking to fill their trophy cases with another conquest.

While this is my opinion, I understand that NASCAR crew chiefs has never been too accepting of road course racing in the first place. Many Sprint Cup crew chiefs would prefer if the two races at Infineon and Waltkins Glen could be stricken from the schedule. Being more dependent on driver's road racing skill, a crew chief needs to look at the car and race much differently then their accustomed ovals. It might be easy to assume that many groups in NASCAR tend not to react well to change. But then again, NASCAR has certainly been doing so many things right in the past 61 years that some are probably afraid that little changes can ruin the formula. The COT car in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series might be a key item supporting this viewpoint. However, there have also been cases where changes to the racing has proven to stimulate the sport (ie. the lapped car free pass).

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