NASCAR afraid its drivers can’t handle the rain

Social media did a nasty burnout Saturday while NASCAR officials delayed the start of the Gardner Denver 200 at Road America for 57 minutes because of ever-changing weather conditions.

Racing fans on Twitter took the Nationwide Series to task for over-managing the competition.

"Too wet for regular tires, but not wet enough for rain tires," wrote one fan. "This is the first red flag for clamminess I've seen."

Even IndyCar driver Graham Rahal weighed in: "Why caution when rain starts coming down? How bout just pit and get rain tires? Mixes up strategy, makes it fun."

But NASCAR stood by the delay. As series director Wayne Auton explained, rain at the start made the 4.048-mile, 14-turn road course wet in some stretches and dry in others. NASCAR rain tires are softer than slicks and are not durable in dry conditions, so the decision was made to wait until the track dried and start on slicks.

"The best thing we thought was wait until the racetrack was dry to get a good start to the race," Auton said. "Our guys are most anxious when they start the race. They want to get a good start. We don't want to take anything out of their hands. We want them to be able to get out here and race for it, as they did. It was a great race."

Winner Brendan Gaughan stood with the call.

"You know, that's NASCAR," Gaughan said. "I don't sit in the tower during the race. I don't wear Wayne Auton's hat. I don't plan on ever wearing Wayne Auton's hat unless I take it off his head for fun.

"They have all the things you and I don't know about. There's all sorts of scenarios going on and things they see that we don't. I never play God over NASCAR."

Fourth-place finisher Chase Elliott, the 18-year-old son of NASCAR legend Bill Elliott, took exception.

"It was frustrating for sure," Elliott said of the delay. "If you're going to race in the rain, race in the rain. That's what they said they were going to do, so go ahead and start it. If you're going to put rain tires on, put them on.

"We came here and they say they're going to race in the rain, let's get her going. The racetrack, I thought, was in fine condition at the beginning of the race. I didn't see anything wrong with it. It got a heck of a lot worse, I can tell you that."

When the rain returned halfway through the 53-lap race, NASCAR required all drivers to pit and change to rain tires. From that point on it was up to the individual teams whether to change to slicks or stay on the rain tires that were subject to quick destruction on dry pavement.

It was only the third time in series history that a race was conducted in the rain. It happened in 2008 and 2010 at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal. Most cars installed windshield wipers, but Gaughan ran without them. The rain slowed lap times by 30 seconds, but it made for an entertaining race.

"You cannot run in the rain on an oval, but you can put on a hell of a road-course race in the rain," said Gaughan, who participated in those Montreal races and chose to stay on rain tires to the end. "I don't know how much more drama (you could've had). I don't know what it looked like from the TV camera, but from the driver's seat it looked pretty cool to me.

"I love racing in the rain. I know how to get around this place in the rain, tiptoeing around it. You had to make things work in the rain and I did. It was a ton of fun."

Alex Tagliani, who went from 23rd to second on slicks in the final two laps, said he agreed with the delay."The Carousel was quite wet," he said of the track's longest, sweeping turn. "I don't know of many cars that would have stayed on the track with slicks. NASCAR is always taking the safe route. It's a fast track. There's no point in starting the race on slicks if it's not safe."

Said Auton: "We try to make the best decision we can, and we thought it was the best decision at the time. Everybody in the garage applauded it and that's who we listen to."

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