Photo credit: Nigel Kinrade Photography

NASCAR: Wet-weather tires 'absolutely' a success

Sunday's race at New Hampshire was by no means the standard Cup Series event as drivers completed the final stretch on wet-weather tires after a rain delay lasting more than two hours.

This race, which Christopher Bell won, did not play out as expected. NASCAR still viewed the event as a success because the drivers went the full distance and then some while completing overtime.

"We would have been done with 82 laps to go," NASCAR SVP of Competition Elton Sawyer told media members after the race, video courtesy of Fox Sports' Bob Pockrass. "(Having wet-weather tires) gave us an opportunity to get back green."

Sawyer added that NASCAR "absolutely" viewed the weekend as a success. His reason is that they were able to start the Xfinity race around the scheduled time and they were able to restart the Cup race after heavy rainfall.

While the wet-weather tires ensured a return to racing, they also created some disagreements between NASCAR and its teams. The NBC Sports broadcast highlighted radio chatter from crew chiefs who wanted the option to come down pit road and switch out wet-weather tires for racing slicks. Many drivers wanted to change tires after spinning or struggling on the track.

They did not get this opportunity. Race control determined when teams could pit during the wet portion of the race, and race control made all teams change tires at the same time.

There was less strategy involved for the crew chiefs and teams than there has been in wet-weather races at road courses. However, this could change in future races that require wet-weather tires.

"There are still some things that we're learning through this process, and in all honesty, we'd like to be out of the tire business," Sawyer said.

"We'd like to just turn that over to the teams, but as we continue to take small steps and as we learn, eventually we'll get there. We just want to do this in the safest way possible."

Traditionally, wet-weather tires have only been available on road courses. This situation changed when NASCAR made updates to the wet-weather package to race in damp conditions at short tracks.

The opportunities to use the wet-weather package at short tracks have been limited. There was a Truck Series race at Martinsville Speedway and the All-Star weekend at North Wilkesboro Speedway in 2023.

This season, the Cup cars raced in damp conditions at Richmond Raceway and then again Sunday evening at New Hampshire. The Xfinity cars also raced at New Hampshire with wet-weather tires.

"I was probably the biggest skeptic when they said they wanted to run wet at the ovals," Adam Stevens, Bell's crew chief, said after the race. "I thought they were crazy, and they proved me wrong for sure. They 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.

"They figured out once they got the water off the racetrack 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. France for pushing the limits."

Sunday's race at New Hampshire was the most extensive wet-weather test for all of the Cup Series drivers. Some capitalized quickly by finding the best lanes for passing opportunities and working their way through the field. Others struggled with handling and fell through the field.

The result was a top 10 that was significantly different at the end of overtime than it would have been if NASCAR called the race when rain first hit the New England track.

This was not ideal for Denny Hamlin, who took the checkered flag 24th after ending the dry portion of the race in third. The opposite was true for Chase Briscoe who went from outside the top 20 to second with the wet-weather tires.

"What a whirlwind," Chase Briscoe said after the race. "Two hours ago, we couldn't even run 25th. The rain saved us. Just an awesome recovery for our Zep Ford.

"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. If it wasn't for the rain we were going to literally run 24th probably."