How NASCAR had “a lot of fun” with wet weather oval racing at New Hampshire

Christopher Bell mastered the mixed conditions to win in New Hampshire

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When Mother Nature decided to rain on the NASCAR Cup SeriesUSA Today 301, however, the sport finally found the opportunity to try something out. New Hampshire Motor Speedway, unlike most ovals, has very little banking in the corners.

NASCAR has a stigma of being averse to racing in the rain, especially on oval tracks. The load that cars face on higher banking are too much for a specially designed wet weather tyre to survive, while previous attempts to race even in the lightest rain have had disastrous consequences.

The rain arrived at Lap 220 of 301, well into the third and final stage. Matters seemed bleak for the race resuming, especially as lightning struck nearby which prevented NASCAR from deploying track drying equipment. Since the race had crossed the halfway point, the sanctioning body had every reason to simply end the race there, which would have given Tyler Reddick the win as the leader at the time of the delay.

Over two hours later, however, with the rain gradually dissipating, NASCAR decided to gamble with their rain tyres. They had been used at Richmond in April for a brief moment, but the track was shorter and had higher banking than Loudon, which when compounded with the Next Gen car’s maligned short track package made for a poor racing product.

It was far from a perfect race, but for 80 laps, the drivers seemed to make it work as best as they could. This included racing styles rarely seen at Loudon such as driving along the apron, which Christopher Bell’s crew chief Adam Stevens said “shocked me” to see.

While those like Erik Jones would rather “wish we could have just run on the dries and ran a normal race,” others like Chase Briscoe more than welcomed it. Briscoe lost to Bell in overtime.

“I always joke that this is one of my worst race tracks so to run second is kind of surprising to be honest with you. The rain definitely helped us,” said Briscoe. “If it wasn’t for the rain we were going to literally run 24th probably. We had a couple of good restarts and the guys did a good job of understanding the rain balance. I think we learned a lot when we did it at Richmond. We needed a good turnaround day and it definitely didn’t start that way but I am glad that it ended up that way for sure.”

Winners enjoyed wet racing

Besides his second win at New Hampshire, Bell enjoyed a weekend sweep as he also claimed the Xfinity Series race on Saturday. The Oklahoman has dominated at Loudon in the lower division, having won all four of his Xfinity starts there. But Sunday’s Cup race is one that he will remember the most.

“It was just so fun to get to experience that, run 80 laps in wet tyres and wet, damp conditions. Just a lot of fun. That was so much fun,” commented Bell. “For NASCAR to run in the rain like that—or not in the rain, but run in the damp conditions on an oval, it ended up being hopefully a good show. I had a blast. It made it different.

“That’s what the key is to having successful races and entertainment. Hopefully that was entertaining because it was something different, something new, and nobody knew what to expect and what to do. The guys that figured it out the quickest were the most successful.”

Bell felt there were similarities in racing in the wet to his usual trade of dirt track racing. This was especially the case as the Next Gen car is advertised as being more difficult to drive than its predecessors, which he noted was evident in the rain.

Christopher Bell celebrates victory at the NASCAR Cup Series USA Today 301 in New Hampshire | NASCAR
Christopher Bell celebrates victory at the NASCAR Cup Series USA Today 301 in New Hampshire | NASCAR

“What we’ve lost in the Next Gen car of being able to slide the car around and run the car really loose, I can’t describe it better than that, but we get that back on the rain tyres,” he continued. “Whenever the track is damp, you’re able to slide the car around more and drive it hanging out more, drive it on the right rear more. It’s a lot of fun doing that for sure.

“I was probably the biggest skeptic when they said they wanted to run wet at the ovals. I thought they were crazy, and they proved me wrong for sure.”

Stevens echoed his driver’s sentiment. NASCAR has experimented with ways to race in the rain over the years, including as far back as a rain tyre test at Martinsville in 1995 that went poorly. As NASCAR began to embrace rain racing at the turn of the 2020s, Goodyear refined its tyre compound to get to where it is today.

“[NASCAR] did a really good job of coming up with a plan methodically of how wet was too wet. We tried all those gizmos with the wipers and the blinking lights and the mud flaps that didn’t do anything,” added Stevens.

“They figured out once they got the water off the race track that you could run in it, you know, and that was probably the best way to dry the track too. Those are all boxes I never thought we would have checked from the way that that whole project started out, but kudos to them for being visionaries in that regard and Mr. (Jim) France for pushing the limits.

“I don’t think there was probably a lot of support for that, but as we’ve narrowed in on what works, it’s pretty clear today that it worked.”

Justin Nguyen
Justin Nguyen
Justin Nguyen is Total-Motorsport.com's resident NASCAR aficionado and is also the off-road reporter for The Checkered Flag.
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