This past weekend wasn’t great on NASCAR’s credibility. Their love for full course cautions can work on a ovals, but it needs serious work on road courses.
The Daytona International Speedway road course, at which all three NASCAR national series raced this past weekend, is 3.61 miles long, which makes it the second longest track the sport is set to travel to this year behind Road America (4.048 miles).
Road courses are the new big thing in NASCAR this year — we are, after all, set to go to six more throughout the rest of the 2021 season.
Road courses undoubtedly deserve their place in the sport, as they have produced insane racing for decades. But there are two things that NASCAR gets wrong, things that so many racing leagues which are dedicated to road courses always get right: rain and cautions.
First, the rain. It took so long for NASCAR to embrace the wet weather on road courses.
It took one damp race in Montreal in 2008, which wasn’t even a Cup Series event, for them to realize that it isn’t so bad. So NASCAR has brought rain tires to every road course event as a cautionary measure. It took 12 years since Montreal for the Cup Series to finally stick rain tires on the cars at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval last year.
But they didn’t just let the teams choose when to put the rain tires on, because that would be too simple. A caution is called to allow all teams to come down pit road and put on those tires.
Maybe it’s for safety, maybe it’s for show. I’m not too sure why. But, if it’s for the first theory, I understand — kind of.
But how can Formula 1 and IndyCar, to an extent, keep the races running when Mother Nature opens the floodgates, yet NASCAR can’t?
Back to this past weekend. There was rain; there is no doubt about that. But did it rain so much that teams needed to have rain tires on?
Chase Elliott didn’t think so. When spotter Eddie D’Hondt called the caution and said “NASCAR two is wet”, Elliott immediately rebutted with “No, it isn’t”, which sent fans abuzz with tinfoil hats and chalkboards filled with so many formulas that you’d think they were university chemistry teachers.
NASCAR knows how rain affects a race and a track. I’m sure of it. So I pose this question to leadership: what is the official reason why a caution needs to be called when it rains on a road course?
Speaking of cautions, why does action around a 3.61-mile road course need to be stopped in full when one car goes into the barrier 15 feet from the actual track?
Safety is, has and always will be the first priority. But could local cautions be a much more efficient way?
When Corey Lajoie was turned by Chase Elliott, it was at turn five, the hairpin turn before turn six and going into “NASCAR One”.
If a caution was called between turns four and six, meaning cars going through that area have to slow down and no passing can happen (just like in Formula 1), then the racing can continue and not feel bogged down like it did throughout the entire final stage of Sunday’s race.
Both rain and cautions on road courses are something that the sport hasn’t quite figured out yet. This isn’t something that officials can get complacent about. Road racing is unique to them, and it should be treated that way.