Wet-weather tires show out

The start of Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400 was soggy, damp and wet.

But more importantly, it happened.

Goodyear’s wet-weather tires saved a significant delay at Richmond Raceway, an option still new to the NASCAR Cup Series on ovals but welcomed as drizzles hit the Virginia commonwealth shortly before the scheduled green flag.

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Goodyear’s wet-weather oval tires first hit the track competitively with Cup Series cars last year at North Wilkesboro Speedway in the All-Star Race exhibition, but Sunday at Richmond marked the series’ first endeavor into damp oval conditions in a points-paying event. NASCAR officials deemed the track wet shortly before driver introductions and required teams to put on the treaded Goodyear rubber.

A brief hold between the national anthem and the command to start engines became the only true delay to Sunday’s action, with pace laps and green-flag racing on a dampened asphalt surface shining bright under the Richmond lights.

“First of all, credit to (NASCAR CEO) Jim France. This was his vision,” Elton Sawyer, NASCAR’s senior vice president of competition, said post-race. “A couple of years ago, he tasked the R&D Center and Goodyear to come up with a tire that we could run in the damp, and tonight was a success. We were able to get the race started pretty much on time. The guys did a great job with the tire. Goodyear did a phenomenal job.”

As the track dried from the combined lack of precipitation and extra heat from the tires and race cars, officials called for a competition caution at Lap 30, freezing the field and bringing everyone to pit road for non-competitive pit stops to replace the wet-weather treaded tires with traditional racing slicks. The decision to keep those stops non-competitive stemmed largely from safety. Sunday’s race marked only the third instance of wet-weather tires on a short oval in competition, factoring in a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series contest into both Sunday’s race and last year’s All-Star Race.

“Unlike road courses when pit road is wet, where we would allow the teams to make the decisions whether to put drys or wets on,” Sawyer explained, “on the short ovals, we’re still not to a place where we feel comfortable doing that. We’re looking out for the safety. This is only our third event that we’ve actually run wet-weather tires. …

“So we have another data point. That’s one thing we want to work hard on; is to be able to start the race, put all the competition in the teams’ hands and strategy. When to put tires on, when to take them off and the sanctioning body not be in the middle of that decision-making. I think we’ll get there sooner than later.”

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The green flag for Sunday’s race was scheduled for 7:12 p.m. ET but flew at 7:31 — an official delay of just 19 minutes.

“We could have been sitting there another hour getting everything dry like we have in the past,” Sawyer said. “So again, huge credit to everyone that put the effort in to get us to this point with the tires and a huge success. We’ll learn from this, and we’ll be able to make better decisions going forward.”

Contributing: Zack Albert