News & Media

Rain falls, and rain-tire debate rages on

August 14, 2011, Joe Menzer,

Crew chief Knaus, competition boss Pemberton on different sides of issue

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. -- As he stood safely underneath the lift of the No. 48 hauler in the Sprint Cup garage late Sunday afternoon, rain pelted the ground all around Chad Knaus.

And still, the crew chief for five-time defending Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson said that he didn't see why cars weren't running on the 2.45-mile track at Watkins Glen International. Knaus insisted he doesn't understand why rain tires aren't used in NASCAR's top touring series.

NASCAR races in the rain at Montreal. (Getty Images)

"I think it's a good idea. I don't really see big reasons why we don't. I'm not involved in those conversations. And I don't ask."



"There are reasons why you do certain things. ... It's not just, 'Let's go run rain tires and yee-haw!' It doesn't work that way. It's about putting on the best event."


"I'm fine with it. Let's go get 'em right now and bolt 'em on," Knaus said shortly before NASCAR officials postponed Sunday's race until 10 a.m. ET Monday. "Give us an hour and we could race [Sunday], get it done."

* Video: After several hours of waiting, a postponement

Robin Pemberton, NASCAR's vice president of competition and racing development, explained the reasons why that wasn't an option Sunday and won't likely be an option at Cup races going forward.

"We feel at this level, it really throws a wild card in there," Pemberton said. "Our guys, we're a series that doesn't have experience on rain tires. It's a lot to put on them. Nowadays the championships are so close and making the Chase is so close, it's a lot of pressure to put on one race at this stage of the season.

"Quite frankly, we feel like our Cup Series puts on great races in dry weather. And that's what we aim to do. It's about that."

Told NASCAR didn't want to create too much of a wild-card scenario by using rain tires, Knaus said: "[Shoot], I'd quit running Talladega then."

Knaus went on to say that when NASCAR permitted use of rain tires for recent Nationwide Series races in Montreal, he believed the governing body "blew it" by mandating when the rain tires needed to be placed on the cars.

"See, they just do it wrong. I'll get in trouble for this probably, but it's just done wrong," Knaus insisted. "Make it to where you can show up, you can buy so many rain tires and you go out there and race. Don't tell us when to put 'em on, don't tell us when the caution is going to come out. If we start the race and start on wets, we start on wets. If you want to put dries on, put dries on. They don't need to be telling us when to put the rain tires on and when not to put 'em on, things like that.

"They blew it. That eliminates the whole element of racing. So, yeah, I'm all for it. Let's do it."

Pemberton took issue with that comment by Knaus, pointing out that the first time rain tires were used at Montreal, NASCAR did indeed wave the red flag and mandate when teams needed to put them on. But the second time they did it on a rainy day, Pemberton said it was left up to the teams to decide when and which kinds of tires they wanted to use.

"The first time we helped them work through the logistics in that race -- because no one had experience with it, not even Chad," Pemberton said. "The second time we made the call that they could do whatever they wanted to with the tires -- when they put 'em on and when they don't."

Pemberton went on to add that there are reasons behind why rain tires are made available occasionally in the Nationwide Series, when they aren't in Cup. Had it rained Saturday at Watkins Glen, rain tires were at the ready for the Nationwide teams competing in the Zippo 200.

"When we're running with the Nationwide cars and stuff, there are different things that go into that," Pemberton said. "They have logistics and other things that need to be considered. It's not about quality of driver or anything like that. It's about a lot of things that go into putting on an event all weekend long.

"It started in Japan a number of years ago, because logistically we had to race and we had to get home. Same thing in Mexico, same thing in Canada. When the Nationwide Series runs on Saturdays, they need to get done and get on to the next event."

Jeff Gordon said he understands both sides of the rain-tire debate.

"It would help us right now -- because in these kinds of conditions [a light rain], we maybe could run on them," Gordon said shortly before Sunday's race was postponed. "But conditions have to be perfect, and even then you still have defogging situations [inside the car]. I still see a lot of negatives that would have to be addressed. We're not a series that is used to doing that, so when we do it every once in a while, it just seems to complicate things more than anything else.

"But for the fans, it sure would be nice to get the racing going. I also think our cars have so little downforce and so much power, I don't know how many cars would stay on track."

When it was suggested that might make for a fun show for fans to watch, Gordon chuckled and added: "If you like cars sliding off into the grass ... if that's fun."

Gordon said he participated in a test on rain tires in wet conditions in a Cup car at Watkins Glen in 2000. He did not like it.

"I ran here that one time, and I could barely make a lap," he said. "I just need more time and experience with it, before I could get comfortable with it. I think it could be fun. It would be exciting. It definitely would have that potential.

"But back in 2000, I made one lap and said, 'Please bring me in.' It has to be perfect [rain] conditions. There can't be any puddles of water. It has to be wet enough to keep the temperature from getting too high in the tires."

Gordon said he agrees that NASCAR should not mandate when teams go to rain tires, should it ever get to that point.

"What I love about any type of rain racing, and even in our Nationwide Series when they do it, is when the line dries out and who goes to dries. ... I think that's the beauty of it, risking getting on slicks early and taking that risk," Gordon said.

"That's what I love about Formula One racing, seeing that. If they did it that way, it could be very interesting and exciting. But again, right now our cars, as little as we do it, you're really looking at maybe one time a year. I don't know if it's worth it for one time a year.

"We'd have to put too much money and effort into preparing for it. That's what I would be more worried about. So there are arguments to both sides."

To Knaus, none of that seemed to matter. He insisted he would love to see Cup cars have the option of rain tires at least on the two road courses they run each year.

"It doesn't matter. I'd love it. I think it's a good idea. I don't really see big reasons why we don't," he said.

Asked what he believed those reasons to be, he added: "I'm not involved in those conversations. And I don't ask."

Pemberton made it clear that he wishes Knaus would.

"There are reasons why you do certain things," Pemberton said. "It's not just a blanket rule. It's not just, 'Let's go run rain tires and yee-haw!' It doesn't work that way. It's about putting on the best event."

Pemberton was working as a crew chief for driver Rusty Wallace during the rain-tire test at Watkins Glen in 2000, and said his team also participated in it.

"Early on we tried them in a test. Gordon was here. Terry Labonte. Rusty [Wallace]. A number of teams raced 'em," Pemberton said. "And we've tested them at oval tracks before for Goodyear. And when we tested here, the guys were all like, 'Man, we don't need to put so much emphasis on just getting the race done. Why don't we just go to the next clear day?' And that's what we've hung our hat on."

At least Knaus and Pemberton could agree on one point. Neither expects rain tires to be used at the Sprint Cup level anytime soon.

"Not under this regime," Knaus said. "Nope, I don't think so. But I would be for it."

Pemberton added: "We do experiment with it. We've done it in the Nationwide Series and we've got a good history with that. But you know, at this point in time we don't feel like it's something that needs to get done in the Cup Series."