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April 15, 2023

Wet-weather tires make oval debut in Truck Series race at Martinsville

MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Heavy rain dumped plenty of water onto Martinsville Speedway Friday night, resulting in a weather-shortened win for Corey Heim. But a clearing offered the unique opportunity to debut Goodyear’s wet-weather tires to begin the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race.

The event began without a hitch, running 27 laps before NASCAR officials displayed the competition caution, necessitating all competitors to change back to slicks. All three of NASCAR’s national series — trucks, Xfinity and Cup — have utilized rain tires on road courses but never on an oval until Friday night.

MORE: Recap the race | At-track photos: Martinsville

Feedback following the rain-shortened Long John Silver’s 200 after heavier rain washed over the 0.526-mile facility was generally positive — notably from two Cup Series veterans.

Trucks racing in the rain at Martinsville Speedway
Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images

“I thought it was great,” Ross Chastain told “I thought they did a good job to get the track dry of like standing water and then let us go. Tire had plenty of grip. This generation of rain tire, really everything I’ve seen out of it, is OK and right for the situation.”

Though the asphalt straightaways were still wet, the concrete corners dried significantly as the run went on. That blistered Chastain’s tires — “blew apart basically the tread” — and eventually landed his No. 41 Chevrolet a lap down. That didn’t dissuade last year’s Martinsville star from advocating for more wet-weather tires in future situations.

“I saw other guys being fine. They were a half second, maybe a second faster than me at the end,” Chastain said. “That’s something that we’ll learn, right? Niece and (crew chief) Mike Hillman will learn about the rain tires now. And then we went back to slicks, and everything was fine. The track still had wet spots, but everybody raced good.”

Two-time Cup Series champion Kyle Busch found early success on the wets, moving past polesitter Zane Smith for the early lead.

“For us, it was good,” said Busch, the winningest driver in Truck Series history. “I thought we were fast. We were able to hold on to it really well. A couple of the other guys seem to be struggling with it. But yeah, it was fine by me.”

Ultimately, the race was red-flagged for the second and final time at Lap 125 as rain moved back over the speedway. NASCAR officials deemed the event over, but some competitors wanted another shot to learn on the treaded tires.

“It rains again, and I’m like, ‘Hey, we’ve got another set of wets, let’s put them on and let’s keep learning. Let’s keep doing this,'” Chastain said. “I think this is the perfect scenario for racing in the rain, where the track won’t dry out. The tires will last longer. We won’t need those (competition) cautions to change them. I think right now we could with this (rain), we will not dry the track out and we can keep running, and I’ll take that to NASCAR as my opinion.”

Busch was a little more hesitant but agreed it would have been worth a shot.

“Right now, I mean honestly, this is a little bit heavy of a rain, maybe depending on the spray, but we didn’t even give it a chance,” he said.

Heim managed to pass Busch for the lead on slicks on a Lap 43 restart and was never passed again. But the driver of the No. 11 Toyota credited crew chief Scott Zipadelli for the opening stint on wets, nailing the tire setup to allow Heim to work from fourth to second and have a shot at the lead.

“It seemed like a lot of people had a lot of different reactions with their trucks. I think it was all about air pressures,” Heim said. “Scott and my crew hit it on the dot right there and really gave us a good opportunity right there from the start.”

Another takeaway from the opening stint was just how much the tires wore. As rubber laid down and the track dried, lap times slowed significantly.

“Yeah, there was falloff. We need more tires like those,” Busch said.

A view of the Goodyear Eagle Wet-Weather Radials used in Friday night's Truck Series race.
Goodyear Eagle Wet-Weather Radials used Friday night. Photo by Sean Gardner of Getty Images.

NASCAR and Goodyear worked at Martinsville and Richmond Raceway to develop a tire capable of handling damp conditions on short ovals. That led to the introduction of a wet-weather package for most tracks 1 mile in length or shorter — the exceptions being Bristol Motor Speedway and Dover Motor Speedway.

“The testing they did, I didn’t put any stock into it. It was a water truck on a sunny day,” Chastain said. “Tonight, as a sport and industry, I think we will study this, and they (officials) will ask drivers up and down pit lane. And I will encourage drivers and NASCAR to talk and let’s get these Truck Series drivers — this field has the most knowledge now. And let’s learn from this for all of us because I’m telling you, man, I know it stinked to sit up there and the stands and watch this, but we could’ve finished this race in these conditions.”