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May 24, 2021

NASCAR to use wet COTA takeaways for future rain races

AUSTIN, Texas — NASCAR managed Mother Nature’s temper Sunday the best it could.

As the Cup Series made its race debut at the Circuit of The Americas’ 3.41-mile road course, it also took on its first true rain race in the modern era. Teams were equipped with proper wet-weather tires, but the circuit’s 20 turns were still slippery given the amount of water sustained. And the required windshield wiper couldn’t do much to help visibility issues if teams chose to turn it on.

The EchoPark Texas Grand Prix ultimately ended prematurely, as Chase Elliott was named victor with 14 laps remaining in the 68-lap event.

“I would kind of own the fact that maybe we did let it go a little too long there before we did something,” said Scott Miller, NASCAR’s senior vice president of competition. “But it’s a learning experience for all of us. We will learn. We will be better next time.”

RELATED: Chase Elliott wins rain-shorted COTA debut

Officials threw the yellow flag for safety on Lap 54 and quickly changed it to red for track-drying purposes. The race was called not long after the volume of water was deemed too much to continue.

Overall, there were five cautions for 13 laps. That doesn’t seem like much, considering one was for a car stalling early and two were for stage breaks. The initial cause for concern were the wrecks in Stage 2.

On Lap 19, there were two incidents. Christopher Bell ran into the rear of Ryan Blaney, and Bubba Wallace crashed into the back of Kevin Harvick.

“We don’t have any business being out in the rain, period,” Harvick said in the garage. “All I can say is this is the worst decision that 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.”

Said Miller post-race: “Harvick has his right to his opinion. I don’t think that’s probably an opinion that’s universally shared among the drivers, and we certainly don’t want to put anybody in harm’s way out there. It’s a tough job for us to balance — a competitive event, a good show for the fans and the drivers’ best interest.”

Cole Custer and Martin Truex Jr. were then involved in a Lap 25 accident that saw Truex’s car get lifted and Custer’s car set fire. Truex bumped the rear of Michael McDowell after he checked up, which slowed Truex to a point where Custer drove into him.

McDowell (seventh) and Blaney (17th) went on to complete the race. Truex, Custer, Harvick, Bell and Wallace had their days cut short and made up the 35th through 39th finishing positions in order. They were all able to exit their vehicles under their own power and were also evaluated at the infield care center before being released.

“If you get in a crash, you’re going to say that, and rightfully so,” third-place Joey Logano said of Harvick’s comments. “They have a point. You can’t see and you crash, it becomes dangerous, yes. … Just like your superspeedway stuff. There is no difference, right? There’s moments where it’s just dangerous, and we need to continue to look to find ways to be better at it.”

The main obstacle here: Drivers couldn’t see well, especially when at full speed with rooster tails. Miller said NASCAR is already thinking about ways to solve that problem — such as looking into where the water is emanating from and seeing if there’s a way to cut the spray down.

RELATED: NASCAR explains why it called the race early

Hydroplaning was another topic of discussion, but that has to do with standing water more than anything and goes back to judgement calls by NASCAR.

Miller does not envision what happened Sunday preventing NASCAR from racing in the rain again. There are five more road-course stops left on the schedule, starting with Sonoma Raceway in two weeks, and that’s where rain-racing opportunities could soon arise.

“All the time, I say this is the safest sport when it comes to automobile racing,” Logano said. “No. 1. NASCAR is No. 1. But we’re that way because of that mentality to be better, better and better.”