Chasing The Weather
By: Dustin Long - @dustinlong on July 16, 2014 | 12:41 P.M. EST
Rain delayed and shortened the Sprint Cup race at Daytona International Speedway earlier this month, leading to questions about what could happen in the Chase if it rains. (Photo: Getty Images)
It is bound to happen. It could be even this year with the way rain has impacted events.
At some point, a race in NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup will be shortened because of weather or some other issue. Should it happen during an elimination race, it could dramatically impact who advances and who no longer has a chance to compete for the championship.
NASCAR’s rulebook states that if a race has reached halfway and cannot be completed, it is considered official.
So, should NASCAR consider altering that rule for a Chase race, particularly an elimination race? Should there be a requirement that a Chase race must be 75 percent complete to be considered official? Or should it go the distance regardless of how many days it take?
These could be key issues since two of the three elimination races - Dover and Talladega - do not have lights.
Even so, don't expect NASCAR to change its policy.
“I think our track record shows we do everything we can within reason,’’ said Robin Pemberton, NASCAR vice president of competition. “What is unreasonable is hard to determine. Everything has its challenges. Every circumstance is different. We’ll do the best we can to balance all of that.’’
Look back to the 2011 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway where Carl Edwards entered with a three-point lead on Tony Stewart for the championship. Rain slowed that race three times, including a delay of nearly 75 minutes, but it went the distance as the forecast improved in the evening. A full race gave fans a dramatic finish with Stewart beating Edwards for the title on a tie-breaker.
“I have only been doing this for 10 years or so but in my opinion NASCAR does a really good job of finishing the races when they can be finished,’’ Edwards said. “I can not remember, except maybe one Truck race where I felt like it shouldn’t have been canceled.’’
Earlier this month at Daytona International Speedway, the race was called after 112 of 160 laps, a day after it was scheduled to have run. The event was called in the afternoon, leading some to question why officials didn’t wait until longer since the track had lights. With forecast of rain until about 8 pm, it would have taken at least two hours to dry the track, putting the start no earlier than 10 pm when fans, teams and others had been at the track since the day before.
“If you have lights, it doesn’t mean that you sit somewhere for 24 hours to get a race in,’’ Pemberton said. “I don’t think it’s in the best interest of competitors and fans to be awake and to perform at high level for a 24-hour period. That’s why not.’’
When NASCAR called the Daytona race, Aric Almiorla was awarded the victory. Even before the rain came, competitors saw dark clouds moving closer.
“We were all racing really hard past halfway to keep our track position and stay up front because we all knew the rain was coming,’’ Almirola said. “Those are the rules and how we all raced. I don’t know the answer to that question or how to make it fair or not fair. I know that has been the rule and that is how we race and I won and I am excited about it.”
From a purely competitive standpoint, there is the argument about finishing the race even if it takes days but that also is living in a vacuum. Any race that continues to the next day or beyond provides a burden for fans, who can’t stay. There’s also the challenges for the TV network to find a place to air the rest of the race because or regular programming. And there’s the volunteers needed at tracks to take tickets, park cars, work in concession stands and such, along with the aid from local and state police to help with security and traffic.
Of course, the forecast will also play a role.
Every situation is different, making it difficult for NASCAR to create a rule on how to treat weather delays and when to call a race even if it is in the Chase.
“NASCAR of anybody understands the importance of letting the racing take care of itself and letting a race win or a championship happen on the race track and not due to weather,’’ Jimmie Johnson said. “So, my reaction has been they’ve always fought hard to get the race in and to do the right thing at each moment.”