The NASCAR Nationwide Series ran about half of last Saturday’s race at Road America in Elkhart Lame, Wis., on rain tires. And it wasn’t the first time the series had put on rain tires, windshield wipers and brake lights and road courses and just kept on going when racing surfaces got wet. It happened a couple of times back when the series raced at Montreal.
While I do understand that NASCAR can run in the rain at road courses but not on ovals, what I don’t get is why the Nationwide Series can do it, but apparently the Sprint Cup Series can’t. The Cup Series, back when it was Winston Cup, raced in rain with rain tires during an exhibition race in Japan in the 1990s, but when it comes to official races, apparently running on rain tires is out of the question when it comes to the Sprint Cup guys and gals. Why is that?
I’ve heard that it’s because there’s too much on the line for the Sprint Cup Series to do something like that in a points-paying race; it could have championship implications. And, apparently, that is the reason. At least that was the reason given by Robin Pemberton when rain fell at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International back in 2011 and the Cup guys just waited it out. Here’s a quote I found from Pemberton from that race weekend (courtesy of NASCAR.com):
“We feel at this level, it really throws a wild card in there. Our guys, we’re a series that doesn’t have experience on rain tires. It’s a lot to put on them. Nowadays the championships are so close and making the Chase is so close, it’s a lot of pressure to put on one race at this stage of the season. Quite frankly, we feel like our Cup Series puts on great races in dry weather. And that’s what we aim to do. It’s about that.”
I may be mistaken, but aren’t Nationwide Series drivers racing for a championship? What about championship implications for them? I realize that, big picture, the Sprint Cup championship is considered a bigger deal than the Nationwide Series championship, but really?
I also realize that sometimes “lower” series, like Nationwide and Camping World Truck, are used as guinea pigs, so to speak. The green-white-checker idea was first used in the Truck Series. And when Toyota came into the sport, the new manufacturer first raced in the Truck Series and then the Nationwide Series before its Cup debut.
But I don’t think trying rain tires out in one of the other series before using them in official Cup competition is what’s going on here. After all, as I mentioned before, the tires have been tried out in Cup in a non-official capacity before, and it’s been several years since the Nationwide Series first went to rain tires in Montreal.
So what gives, really? Is the answer really championship implications? If so, is that sending the message that the Nationwide Series title doesn’t really matter? For what it’s worth, Chad Knaus can’t figure it out, either (according to the same 2011 story from which the above Pemberton quote came). And isn’t he supposed to be the brightest, best crew chief out there? Knaus made the point that if NASCAR didn’t want to introduce such a “wild card” situation, why does the series race at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway? Love Knaus or hate himk, the guy has a point.
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