Competing on a new, technical road course for the first time has challenges of its own. Throw in the roughly 50-50 potential for wet-weather driving during some of NASCAR’s inaugural weekend at the Circuit of The Americas, and the degree of difficulty gets another turn of the ratchet.
NASCAR’s three national series each get the benefit of extra track time with brief practice and qualifying sessions during the tripleheader weekend, which kicks off Friday at the 3.41-mile Austin, Texas, venue. Unlike oval-track events, NASCAR’s road-course contests feature the opportunity to race in the rain. Any inclement conditions could alter the focus of those sessions and each of the first-time events.
“Some of it’s going to depend on the elements,” said Dave Rogers, crew chief for Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18 Toyota in the Xfinity Series. “If it’s raining and it looks like it’s going to rain during the race, then that’s just as unique as a dirt race at Bristol.”
Further complicating matters is the potential for rain on one on-track day and not the next, a scenario that could minimize the benefit of wet-weather practice, scuttle any early reads on race strategy and increase the possibility for mistakes.
“You try to limit risk, for sure, so you’ve got to assess the entire situation and say what am I getting out of every lap on the track, how is it going to contribute to the weekend’s performance,” said Chris Gabehart, crew chief of JGR’s No. 11 for Cup Series points leader Denny Hamlin. “And certainly, every time you’re on the track in the rain, there is a higher level of risk, so it does depend on that Sunday forecast as to how motivated we’d be to get out there, and that’s really a situational thing, for sure.”
With an eye on how Mother Nature might impact the COTA debut, here’s a handy refresher on wet-weather procedures, the rain-tire situation and NASCAR’s history of dealing with the elements on road courses.
Race rules and procedures
In the event of inclement weather, each series‘ race director can declare a “wet” start or “damp” start, according to the NASCAR Rule Book. A wet start means that the entire racing surface is covered in moisture; a damp start means that the track has areas of moisture, but that other areas are dry. The race director can also declare the conditions not race-ready, if heavy downpours cause puddles and impaired visibility.
For a wet weather start:
All vehicles must mount rain tires, activate their rear flashing light and have a working windshield wiper installed.
Normal starting procedures follow.
For a damp weather start:
All vehicles may elect to install rain tires at the crew chief‘s discretion. The rear flashing light must be activated, and windshield wipers may be installed.
Any team making a pit stop for rain tires on subsequent pace laps will forfeit its starting spot.
After the green flag, teams are permitted to change tires — to treaded rain tires or dry-weather slicks — at the crew chief‘s discretion.
Goodyear rain tires
If conditions warrant, Goodyear’s wet-weather radials will be available to teams in all three series. NASCAR Cup Series teams will have up to three sets of rain tires for practice and qualifying and up to five sets for the race; Xfinity Series teams will have five sets of wet-weather tires available for the weekend, capped at a maximum of four sets for the race; Camping World Trucks teams will have four sets of rain tires available for the event, a maximum of three sets for the race.
The treaded wet-weather tires will be further distinguished by white “Goodyear Eagle” lettering instead of the customary yellow on the sidewalls.
The Circuit of The Americas forecast calls for a 40% chance of showers and thunderstorms Friday afternoon, a 50% chance of showers and thunderstorms Saturday and a 40% chance of the same on Sunday. The thunderstorm advisory carries the potential for a 30-minute hold on at-track activity should a lightning strike occur within an 8-mile radius of the venue.
For further updates, please check NASCAR.com/weather for at-track conditions and hourly forecasts.
The NASCAR Xfinity Series has the most experience with wet-weather racing, running eight times in damp conditions since 2008. Three of those instances happened last season, Aug. 8 at Road America, Aug. 15 at Daytona International Speedway’s road course and Oct. 10 in a rain-soaked running of the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval event.
The Cup Series got its first taste of rain-tire racing in NASCAR’s modern era during the Roval weekend last fall, and teams briefly navigated a rain shower on the Daytona Road Course in February. When the Cup Series ran its only event at Road America in 1956, some of the race was contested in wet conditions, but the cars were not equipped with special rain tires.
Camping World Truck Series teams began their event at Daytona’s road course last February under wet conditions.