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Toby's Take: While Not Perfect, Plenty of Positives Came From NASCAR's Loudon Wet-Weather Experiment

There's still work to do for wet-weather racing to be perfect at oval races, but the fact that we got the entire USA Today 301 plus an overtime finish in on Sunday is an incredible victory for the sport, and the fans.


hero image for Toby's Take: While Not Perfect, Plenty of Positives Came From NASCAR's Loudon Wet-Weather Experiment

I'll be the first to admit it, I fully expected NASCAR to call it a day when weather forced Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series USA Today 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway into an extended red flag situation.

And as the cars sat there on pit road, following the first wave of light rain, for about 30 minutes until the really hard rain and lightning arrived, I was fuming angry. It felt like we were headed toward the same rain-shortened fate as last month's Coca-Cola 600.

Why weren't they using the highly-hyped wet weather tires while we waited for the frog-strangler of a storm to arrive? It was frustrating. Absolutely frustrating. And it seemed like while the call hadn't come yet, we knew exactly where things were heading.

But NASCAR never made the call to end the race. The sanctioning body got the window it desperately needed to get the 1.058-mile track, which doesn't feature lights, dry enough for teams to bolt on the wet-weather tires to give them all a shot to race it out over the final 82 laps of the race.

In the end, we actually got 86 laps run as the race finished with Christopher Bell in victory lane after an overtime finish. Which very likely would have been what the end result would have been had the race not been interrupted by rain to begin with. Sure, it's a bummer for Tyler Reddick, who happened to be leading due to strategy at the time of the red flag, but for the fans, and anyone that enjoys races making it to their scheduled distance (I'm pretty sure that's just about everybody) Sunday was a massive win.

I can't say enough how happy I am that NASCAR didn't throw in the towel, that New Hampshire Motor Speedway didn't throw in the towel, and to their credit, the television partner -- NBC -- didn't throw in the towel either.

With Rick Allen's voice on life-support, the USA Network broadcast stuck with it for the duration of the weather delay. They brought excellent interviews with drivers while the weather situation played out, and while I didn't always agree with the opinions being levied by Jeff Burton and Steve Letarte in regards to the lack of use of the wet-weather tires heading into the two-plus-hour delay, they had great conversations, which could keep the viewer engaged.

Well done by all parties. In my opinion, this is how a rain-delayed race should be treated. Every action should be taken to restart a race if it's at all possible. It's what made the decision to pull the plug so quickly on the Coca-Cola 600 so frustrating. Sunday was a complete 180-degree flip of what we saw last month, and that needs to be celebrated.

Now, while there were great things about Sunday, and the overwhelming thoughts following the USA Today 301 are positive ones, there were downsides to what we saw play out, and obvious areas where things could be improved from a wet-weather racing standpoint.

The most glaring issue was NASCAR completely neutering the conclusion of the race from any and all strategy. I understand this is the first time we've run a points-paying race in the wet on a track over a mile in length in the NASCAR Cup Series, and I understand the apprehension to let the teams make those calls in unprecedented situations -- but, at the same time, it'll always be an unprecedented situation if you never let the teams try to figure it out.

Teams were allotted three sets of Goodyear wet-weather tires on Sunday, and they had 82 laps to manage those three sets. However, NASCAR made the call on which caution periods that teams were able to bolt on a new set of tires.

It should not be a sanctioning body's call as to when a team can use the tires that they have been allotted. That should 100-percent be a team's call. Following the race, NASCAR's Elton Sawyer agreed, and says that is the end goal once everyone learns what the wet-weather tires can and can't do at ovals.

"There's still some things we're learning through this process, and in all honesty, we'd like to be out of the tire business," Sawyer explained. "We'd like to just turn that over to the teams. But as we continue to take small steps, and we learn, eventually, we'll get there. We just want to do this in the safest way possible."

And while the strategy was a frustrating piece of the final 86 laps of the race, without the wet-weather tires, which caused NASCAR to feel it had to take over the strategy calls for the teams, we wouldn't have had the race reach it's scheduled distance.

Hopefully we can get enough data points plotted, where NASCAR feels that it can relinquish control of how to manage the sets of tires to the teams, but overall, the race ran past it's scheduled distance which was a very welcomed change from similar situations we've seen play out in the past.

When given the options of more racing or less racing, I will selfishly take more racing every single time. We got to see that on Sunday, and for that, I am grateful.

Photo Credit: Damin J. Sawyer, TobyChristie.com

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