NASCAR has vowed to learn from what turned out to be a wild day of racing in the rain at Circuit of the Americas, which included calling the race early.
Chase Elliott was declared the winner after 54 laps. Scott Miller, NASCAR vice president of competition, said officials initially red-flagged the race to deploy the Air Titans to clear the backstretch. The high-speed section of the course continually had standing water on it that left drivers with poor visibility due to spray being kicked off the cars.
It became clear to NASCAR that with how heavy it was raining, it was a futile effort to try and restart the race. Officials had also cleaned that area of the course before the end of Stage 2 following complaints from drivers and two big crashes. Under the same caution, drivers were brought down pit road for teams to assist with clearing windshields and helmet visors.
“I think that we always try to learn from what we do,” Miller said. “This was kind of a new thing at a big natural terrain road course, and we will certainly learn from that.
“I would kind of own the fact that maybe we did let it go a little bit too long before we did something. But it’s a learning experience for all of us. We will learn. We’ll be better next time, and I think would we pull the plug earlier, probably so.”
Miller said the plan is to look through any available information and high-resolution video to understand better how spray comes off the cars and a possible solution. Multiple drivers complained over their in-car radios, and in interviews, the further back in the field they ran, the worse it was to see. Some went as far as saying they were driving blind.
Poor visibility led to the crash that knocked Kevin Harvick, Christopher Bell, and Bubba Wallace out of the race. Bell ran into the back of Ryan Blaney, and when Harvick was warned and slowed down, he was run into by Wallace, who didn’t see him.
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Harvick was particularly upset Sunday. The 2014 series champion called the racing in the conditions “the most unsafe” thing he’s ever done.
“Harvick has his right to his opinion,” Miller responded. “I don’t think that’s 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 with the driver’s best interest.
“It’s a tough job. I think rain at a race points out the fact that everybody in this business has a hard job … and balance all the elements to suit everybody is a tough job.”