Elton Sawyer: NASCAR’s rain tires a ‘success’ at New Hampshire

LOUDON, NEW HAMPSHIRE - JUNE 23: Ross Chastain, driver of the #1 Kubota Chevrolet, drives through a puddle prior to the restart after a weather delay in the NASCAR Cup Series Today 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on June 23, 2024 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

The Cup Series race was extended and enlivened with wet tires on the cars for the last 80 laps, allowing the track drying to be cut and racing to be resumed before darkness fell. It’s the second time the Cup Series has used the tires this season, after starting the race on them at Richmond in March.

But the tires are a long time coming. NASCAR started testing wet tires for ovals in 2021, before the Next Gen car was introduced. They were first used by the Truck Series last season at Martinsville, and the Cup Series successfully trialed them in the All-Star Race heat qualifying events at North Wilkesboro later that year. Three years later, the tires have become a somewhat-regular feature of official races.

For Elton Sawyer, NASCAR’s Vice President of Competition, the real win is the ability to complete every lap of racing for the fans at the track and watching at home, and all the development paid off in a rainy New Hampshire weekend.

“The way we started this whole wet weather tire process was basically we wanted to get our races started on time, and it really played into our hand yesterday to get the Xfinity race started on time and to get our races back to green as quick as possible if we’ve had a delay, which we had today,” Sawyer told assembled media after the race.This was [CEO] Jim France’s vision of what wet weather tires could do. We ran 301 plus laps today, so winning the overtime our fans had bought a ticket. They got to see some great, exciting racing.”

Sawyer said that the race would absolutely not have been restarted without the tires. New Hampshire Motor Speedway does not have lights because of an agreement signed with the local government, meaning sundown was a hard deadline to halt racing.

“We’d have been done with 82 laps go,” he asserted. “It gave us an opportunity to get back green. You know, we were up against it with daylight as well. But kudos to our teams, our drivers our owners and, and especially Mr. France with his vision.”

LOUDON, NEW HAMPSHIRE – JUNE 23: Erik Jones, driver of the #43 Dollar Tree Toyota, Noah Gragson, driver of the #10 Overstock.com Ford, Austin Dillon, driver of the #3 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet, and John H. Nemechek, driver of the #42 Family Dollar Toyota, spin after an on-track incident during the NASCAR Cup Series Today 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on June 23, 2024 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

The tires were not without their controversies, with complaints from spectators that NASCAR threw the red flag with barely any rain on the track, not using the wet weather tires despite the limited precipitation. For Sawyer, that was first and foremost a safety issue, with thunderstorms in the area and a tornado watch.

“We work closely with the National Weather Service folks as well as the folks here at Speedway Motorsport,” Sawyer said of the process to get the forecast. In 2021, rain fell on the circuit, sending Kyle Busch and others spinning, with Busch incurring heavy damage. NASCAR has since updated its weather procedures.

As for getting the all-clear to return to racing: “All of those weather conditions were, were way south of the speedway, so we felt like we were in a good place to you know, once the rain passed it looked like we had clear skies behind us, which we did, and now we were able to get the race resumed.”

Fans and drivers also complained about NASCAR’s rules that the sanctioning body determines when teams can change wet tires and mandates when they can and cannot use dry tires.

“There’s still some things that we’re learning through this process, and, in all honesty, we’d like to be out of the tire business,” Sawyer acknowledged.We’d like to just turn that over to the teams. But as we continue to take small steps and we learn eventually we’ll get there – We just want to do this in the safest way possible.”

The sanctioning body will not stop development from this point, and that development may lead to changes.

“Once we get back to the RD center, we start downloading exactly how this race unfolded,” Sawyer detailed.If you think about it, you know, we’ve only got maybe four data points. We ran the trucks at Martinsville, the All-Star race with the Cup cars, Richmond with the cup cars, and now here, which is one of the faster short ovals that we run on.

“So we’ll get back and we’ll look at all the things that you know, transpired today. And, and if we should have put on, you know, got on drives, which the more we looked at it, I think we stayed, stayed on wet, was the right decision to end the race.”

Overall, though, Sawyer called the event a ‘success’.

“I mean, if you go back and look at the reason we, we, we came up with this and we started working through it with our teams and, and the folks at the RD Center. It was to do exactly what we did yesterday with the Xfinity Race and what we did today with the Cup race,” he justified.So yes, very successfulKudos to Goodyear, again.”

Owen Johnson