Every year when NASCAR makes the trip to Watkins Glen, it seems as though Mother Nature decides to play havoc with the schedule. This weekend the Sprint Cup Series had one modified practice, and had to add an additional early-morning practice to Saturday's schedule because of rain.
Meanwhile, the Nationwide Series had an even more limited schedule because they are slated to hit the road course for Saturday action. So, in order to get the second-tier series some track time, NASCAR made the call to add on the wipers, the brake lights, and have Goodyear take out the grooved rain tires.
The exclusive tire manufacturer has used these rain tires before, back in 2009 at Montreal, one year after the series made history by going rain racing at the same track, using the old rain tires that were nearly 10 years old.
Up until that race, the concept of holding an actual race in wet conditions was clearly not in the cards, unless it was at a road course. Now, with the new design on the rain tires, NASCAR has kept the idea open at least in the Nationwide Series if the use was deemed necessary.
There is just one problem with the rain tires this time around...they have not been proven on the new Nationwide car.
Keep in mind, both times the Nationwide Series ran the rain tires at Montreal, both in the old design and the current cut, they were on the old Nationwide car, the design that NASCAR ran from 2006 until the new design made its debut in 2010. Not once since the new car hit the track were the rain tires ever tested on the new chassis to see if the handling was different.
The Sprint Cup Series has not been considered at any time to run the rain tires because the new car is drastically different from the old one, both in height, width and weight. At the same time, the Nationwide Series car is different in the same aspects, but it got a taste of the rain tires during it's practice session today.
To Goodyear's credit, the new rain tire is a vast improvement from the one that saw action in 2008.
The old rain tire was very shallow grooved, not much area to run rain away from the tread to gain traction. The tires were built in the late 1990's, and only saw some testing but no use. The tires showed no wear when they came to use over 10 years later, thanks in part to the tires being in a controlled environment to prevent the rubber from being dry rotted due to exposure to the elements.
The next year, Goodyear showcased the newest design of their rain tires for NASCAR, which looked strikingly similar to a Goodyear Eagle that is available for the public on their own cars.
It has a wider cut to allow water to channel away from the tread, and also has a deeper cut than the previous model.
Despite these new tires not being seen on the current Nationwide chassis, in reality there is no other option for the second-tier series should rain happen to hamper the Saturday festivities. It's easier to reschedule a Sprint Cup Series race for a Monday versus a Nationwide Series race due to costs. Most of the Nationwide teams have limited funding, and having them wait an additional two days to run a race on a dry track would cost more in the long run.
So, NASCAR makes the rain tires available to the Nationwide Series to use, along with the windshield wipers and the brake lights. When the series ran in the rain the first time at Montreal, it was stopped short of it's distance because the rain became so hard, it was difficult to see.
The bottom line for NASCAR and Goodyear is that when it comes to racing in the rain, the only reason they do so on a road course is because of availability and costs. With very few road courses on the schedule, and each on a weekend where the Sprint Cup Series also has an event, it's the only real option on the table. Even with no real track time on the rain tires, NASCAR would still make the call to have the Nationwide Series go racing in wet conditions.
Could racing in the rain happen in Sprint Cup down the road? Possibly, but not in the near future. Last year, rain hit Watkins Glen just after the pre-race ceremonies, and despite waiting as long as possible, the race was moved to Monday.
If that were to happen Saturday for the Nationwide Series, pit crews would instead bolt on the grooved tires, the wipers and lights, and NASCAR would wave a very wet green flag.