The slogan for Austin, Texas, is “Keep Austin Weird.”
Well, today’s NASCAR race at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin was definitely one of the weirdest races I’ve ever seen.
The Cup Series was hampered by rain during their much-anticipated debut appearance at the 20-turn road course today.
Now, NASCAR obviously doesn’t usually race in the rain, except at road courses. And because COTA is a road course with both right and left turns, NASCAR busted out the rain tires in an effort to get the race in on time.
Well, they might have ended up regretting that decision.
The race got off to an incredible start, with Cody Johnson singing the National Anthem followed by Matthew McConaughey delivering an absolutely electric command to start the engines.
And it was all downhill from there.
Most of the problems came, ironically, not in the turns but on the long backstretch where cars can reach speeds of over 185 mph.
The first stage of the race was mostly uneventful, with light rain falling over the track. But as water began to pool on the backstretch, which has the lowest elevation on the track, drivers began to run into some pretty severe visibility issues.
And by that I mean they couldn’t see shit. Which is not a good situation when you’re going 180 mph.
The first big incident came when (friend of Whiskey Riff) Ryan Blaney slowed on the backstretch and Christopher Bell, not able to see Blaney’s slowing car in front of him, plowed into the back of the #12 car.
Kevin Harvick managed to get his car slowed down, but the trailing Bubba Wallace wasn’t able to see in front of him and ran through Harvick.
After the incident, Harvick had some strong words about the racing conditions.
“It’s the most unsafe thing I’ve ever done in a race car by a lot.
You can’t see anything down the straightaways. These cars were not built to run in the rain and when you can’t see, my spotter said, ‘Check up, check up,’ because he thought he saw two cars wrecking.
I let off and the guy behind me hit me wide-open because he never saw me. It’s unbelievable that we’re out there doing what we’re doing because we’re in race cars that aren’t made to do this, and if you can’t see going down the straightaway it’s absolutely not safe, not even close…
We don’t have any business being out in the rain, period. All I can say is this is the worst decision we’ve ever made in our sport that I’ve been a part of, and I’ve never felt more unsafe in my whole racing career, period.”
That’s quite a statement from one of the veterans of the sport, a guy who’s been in NASCAR for over 20 years now.
And that wasn’t the end of the carnage either.
Just a few laps later, the poor visibility caused another wreck in basically the same spot on the racetrack when Martin Truex, Jr. ran into the back of Michael McDowell, only to get absolutely plowed into from the rear himself by Cole Custer, who wasn’t able to see the incident in front of him.
The impact from Custer was so hard that it almost flipped Truex completely over.
I mean, just look at the terrifying in-car view from Martin Truex, Jr. He had absolutely no way of seeing McDowell’s car in time to keep from running into him.
And like Harvick, Truex also had some thoughts on racing in the rain.
“It’s dangerous. And you just go down that backstretch every lap praying that there’s nobody having an issue, praying that there’s not going to be a crash or a car stopped or whatever because you’re just wide open, can’t see anything.”
Custer also called the race “the sketchiest thing I’ve ever been apart of.”
When you’ve got two of the top drivers like Harvick and Truex, both veterans of the series, saying that it’s dangerous, you’ve got a problem.
NASCAR ended up red flagging the race after Truex’s crash to bring out the Air Titans in an attempt to blow some of the water off the track to improve visibility, and also moved to single-file restarts in an attempt to space the cars out more on the track.
Although drivers weren’t convinced that would solve anything…
But by lap 54, visibility had deteriorated again – and it seems that NASCAR learned its lesson from the earlier incidents, opting to throw the red flag and stop the race again.
Then, just a few minutes later, and with the race only 14 laps from its scheduled completion, NASCAR opted to end the race early, giving leader Chase Elliott the victory.
And after the race, even more drivers began to sound off on the conditions on the track, with Kyle Busch being of the opinion that NASCAR should have called the race earlier.
NASCAR Senior VP of Competition Scott Miller addressed Harvick’s comments after the race, saying that NASCAR was in a “tough position” balancing between the drivers’ best interests and putting on a show for the fans.
And Miller also conceded that NASCAR probably should have stopped the race earlier.
Overall, the race was pretty much a disaster for NASCAR.
In fact, the only other race I remember that came anything close to this was the 2008 Brickyard 400 when NASCAR had to throw a caution every 10 laps because the tires wouldn’t last any longer than that without blowing out.
With that said, it was NASCAR’s first trip to COTA, and probably the heaviest rain the Cup Series has ever tried to race in, so I’m sure that leaders of the sport will take what they learned today and make sure it doesn’t happen again in the future.
I mean hey, Austin’s supposed to be weird.
And what NASCAR fans saw today was definitely weird.