Motorsport News

NASCAR’s Tire Call Was the Silver Lining at Loudon

2024 Cup New Hampshire pack racing V - Christopher Bell, No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota (Credit: NKP)

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, the 2024 USA Today 301 would have ended with 82 laps to go, after the skies opened and dumped torrential rains over New Hampshire Motor Speedway just after the conclusion of lap 219.

But not this time.

The story actually starts the day before, when rain washed out Cup Series qualifying and all but a few minutes of practice (keep that in mind) before the NASCAR Xfinity Series race. The track still damp, NASCAR made the decision to start that race on wet-weather tires for a couple of reasons.

One, a full field of cars racing at speed will finish off track drying quickly. Two, New Hampshire doesn’t have lights thanks to a local ordinance, so time was of the essence. 

The track was very nearly dry, and after 10 laps, teams came to pit road and bolted on racing slicks. That was that and the race finished under normal conditions. But NASCAR and tire manufacturer had a full field’s worth of tires to study and learn from.

A couple of things about wet-weather tires: they’ve been an option on road courses for a while, but the design for ovals is newer. They’re not designed for racing in even a light rain, but rather for a track that’s free of standing water but not dry enough for slicks.

Calling them rain or wet-weather tires is a misnomer.

Once cars start producing rooster tails, it’s too wet for them because that impacts visibility even with windshield wipers — think driving on the highway during wet weather and how visibility is affected even at relatively lower speeds. This crash happened as a direct result of a track too wet to race on:

Data on wet-weather tires on ovals is limited because there haven’t been a lot of good opportunities to test them. 

Also, they aren’t a viable option on every track, but have been looked at as a solution for some short and flat ovals. Higher-speed intermediates would still be unsafe in wet conditions.

Back to New Hampshire.

Sunday’s Cup race started a half hour early, but that wasn’t enough to avoid a line of strong storms that rolled through the region in the late afternoon. The rains came with lightning, so while many criticized NASCAR for not putting on the wet-weather tires when the rain started off lightly, the precipitation wasn’t the only concern. The line of storms brought with it tornado warnings as well as rain and lightning. The rain also…

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