Carl Edwards with his wife Kate, waiting out the rain at Watkins Glen International (Photo:Getty Images for NASCAR)
By Mike Mulhern
Sunday a nagging light rain, which persisted much of the afternoon, forced NASCAR to postpone the 220-mile Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen International and to reschedule it for Monday at 10 am ET…even though the weather forecast isn't much better.
And a 10 a.m. Tuesday backup plan seems in the book.
Better believe there's been a heck of a scramble to get hotel rooms in this sparsely-served area of upstate New York.
Sunday's wet weather began just a few minutes before drivers were to get in their cars for the 1:05 pm start.
The rain let up around 3, and NASCAR sent jet dryers out on the road course.
But rain again at 4:15 pm led NASCAR to call it a day….and stock car crews were suddenly scrambling to find hotel rooms for the night.
The rain-out naturally raised the question again of why NASCAR doesn't race in the rain.
Other series do race in the rain on road courses like this, and even NASCAR's Nationwide series has raced in the rain, at Montreal two years ago: http://bit.ly/de3jAa
But, yes, that Montreal race was sloppy wet and a miserable experience all the way around. Fogged up windshields, wipers that didn't work…..
Racing in the rain is more than just slapping on a set of rain tires.
However Sunday's weather here was much different than at Montreal – just a light sprinkling. And that's just the precise weather – 'wet' rather than sloppy rain – that Goodyear designed its stock car rain tires for.
And – isn't it ironic -- that by 5 p.m. Sunday the weather cleared, the sun was out, with blue skies. And sunset isn't until after 8 p.m…
But making calls like this isn't easy, particularly given the variable mountain weather here.
When it comes to racing in the rain, there are many different types of 'rain.'
There is the heavy downpour, which has race cars cutting huge rooster tails in the air.
And there are lighter rains, considered 'wet.' That is a much more raceable situation, for drivers as well as fans.
It's been some 15 years since Goodyear designed the specially grooved rain tires, at NASCAR's direction, during planning for Cup exhibition races in Japan, where postponing the event because of rain would have been highly inconvenient. In fact drivers did qualify once in the rain in Japan, though they didn't actually have to race in the wet.
Cup drivers tested those rain tires here briefly, but no driver felt very enthusiastic about it. That was because this track did not drain well, and puddles of standing water created hydroplaning situations….quite scary.
Still, for some 10 years NASCAR required Cup teams to mount up a set of rain tires for every race at Watkins Glen (and even for the Sonoma race, though it rarely rains in that part of California).
NASCAR eventually dropped that requirement for Cup, though it has kept it for the Nationwide series.
NASCAR executives don't feel comfortable with having Cup drivers racing in the rain, in large part because of traditional resistance from Cup drivers themselves, and in part because of fan comfort – it's just not much fun to sit in the rain to watch a race.
Certainly racing in the rain is quite different from racing in the dry. The 'line' is quite different, for one, and the approach to corners is quite different too.
The rainout comes as drivers are debating whether or not NASCAR should add a road course like this one to championship playoffs.
Jimmie Johnson, who is probably on the inside of a lot of NASCAR news, says the Sprint Cup championship playoffs not only need to feature a road course but he says it should be a Canadian road course.
There are two major Canadian road courses, the Montreal Formula 1 course, which is owned by the city, and the Mosport course, which is owned by racer Ron Fellows. Mosport is about 50 miles east of Toronto.
Of course the weather in Montreal (five hours or so north of here) and Mosport (three hours or so northwest of here) is similar to here.
(BTW, whatever happened to Jeff Gordon's planned Canadian race track…..)
Jeff Gordon: "I've always said that in order to make the championship fully complete and find out the true best team and driver, the only thing we're missing in the chase right now is a road course.
"The chase has about everything right now, from short tracks to superspeedways to intermediates. But if you wanted to look at just one little thing that was missing, it would be a road course.
"I guess as exciting as the road courses have been here lately with these double-file restarts, I think the fans would be for it as well. In the past, you haven't seen that kind of action; so most people would say that a road course isn't as traditional as the ovals are in our sport, so why have one in the chase. But I could see one in there."
Meanwhile, in other NASCAR news:
-- Todd Berrier -- the star Sprint Cup crew chief for so many years with Richard Childress, first with Kevin Harvick, lately with Jeff Burton -- could be headed to the Toyota camp, according to those familiar with the situation. Perhaps some division of the huge Michael Waltrip empire, which include the Tad Geschickter team, as well as Pastrana-Waltrip.