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Brendan Gaughan: Why NASCAR can run races in rain on road courses, but not ovals

Jun 21, 2014, 10:01 PM EDT

(Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) Getty Images

ELKHART LAKE, Wisconsin – Having grown up in Las Vegas and with a father who is a titan in the hotel and gambling industry there, Brendan Gaughan knows a thing or two about sucker bets and hustling a mark.

That’s why when the rain came midway through Saturday’s Gardner Denver 200 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Road America, Gaughan was smacking his chops and counting his chips.

“I love racing in the rain, it’s fun,” said Gaughan. “And when you’re good at it, it makes it even more fun.

“I haven’t smelled blood in a long time, that’s something I’ve been lacking lately, that killer attitude. When it started to rain, even without the wiper blade (was broken), I started to smell blood and said, ‘I’m coming.’

“It’s fun to watch guys who haven’t done it in the rain. They don’t understand the rain line, and fortunately for me, I did.”

When NASCAR officials called all competitors into the pits on Lap 27 and mandated that all cars switch from dry slicks to rain tires, it was a new experience for pretty much everyone in the field.

But not Gaughan (or for that matter, runner-up Alex Tagliani). He’s taken part in a number of races in the rain in various series in his career, including one of the two prior NNS races ran in the rain in Montreal in 2010 (the other was also in Montreal in 2008).

Like a poker dealer with a deck of marked cards, Gaughan the rain-racing veteran knew he had a marked edge over almost every other driver in the field – and then he went out and took advantage of it.

Granted, if Tagliani had not run out of fuel on Lap 49 and if the originally scheduled 50-lap race hadn’t been extended three more laps, Gaughan might not have won.

But those are too many ifs.

Still, the point is Gaughan did win, he had fun and wound up winning one of the most exciting and action-filled – albeit wet – NNS races the series has seen in a long time.

Not only did Gaughan teach a lesson to his fellow competitors on how to get around a slippery when wet racetrack (sorry Bon Jovi, I know that’s the title of your biggest-selling album/CD, but I couldn’t resist), Gaughan also made a very poignant comment in the track media center after the race.

Race fans have complained for years that NASCAR should run Sprint Cup races in the rain, rather than pushing them back or postponing them outright – like we saw earlier this year at Daytona and Texas.

The logic goes that if the technology exists to have rain tires run on road courses and in the Nationwide Series, why not extend that to the Sprint Cup Series.

After all, if Formula One, rally cars and other series can race in rain, why can’t NASCAR?

I admit, I’ve also often wondered about that, too.

So when I asked Gaughan — who is a pretty smart guy, having graduated from Georgetown University — after Saturday’s race why can’t we see Sprint Cup races run in the rain, he set me straight … and hopefully will teach many fans a valuable lesson after they read his words:

“You can’t on an oval, period, that’d be asinine and dumb,” Gaughan said. “You just can’t do it. There’s no rain line on an oval course.

“Here (at the Road America road course), you can get away from rubber. Here, you don’t have the same G-forces and physics acting upon your race car. You cannot race in the rain on an oval, it just will not happen.

“But on a road course, as we showed today, you can put on a hell of a race in the rain. … You got some spins, you had some excitement, then you saw old rain tire, new rain tire, dry tire at the end.

“I don’t know how much more drama (people could want) – what it looked like from the TV camera – but inside the driver’s seat, it looked pretty cool to me.”

Saturday’s race in the rain indeed was pretty cool. And now hopefully a lot of folks will finally understand why – unless it’s Sonoma or Watkins Glen – you can forget about seeing rain tires at every other Sprint Cup track on the circuit.

What worked for Gaughan in the rain on a road course at Road America just won’t translate on a conventional Cup track.

Gaughan is willing to bet you on that.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

  1. gbart22 - Jun 21, 2014 at 11:20 PM

    Ovals make no sense but road courses for sure but of coarse we need more road courses first. Fingers crossed nascar adds more. At least one in the chase and id like to see at least one other

    • indycarseries500 - Jun 22, 2014 at 12:36 AM

      …and a tire company that doesn’t pull some “too wet for slicks, too dry for wets” garbage. Also the sanctioning body allow tire changes to be decided by the drivers/crew chiefs instead of the sanctioning body.

  2. testover6370 - Jun 22, 2014 at 12:35 AM

    We (the Midweek Motorsports Listeners Collective) took a break from the Nurburgring 24 (not able to see much on video in the middle of the night) to watch the hilarity that is NASCAR trying to do a road race compounded by rain. We were highly entertained by the angst a small bit of dampness caused. That they had to stop/delay everything, then explain to the teams what rain racing meant and that they had to switch tires was mind boggling. Oh dear oh dear oh dear. Some of these guys need to do a YouTube search for Senna. What an education that would be.

    But seriously ovals in the rain was a question? Road courses in the rain are a no-brainer, but only TGBB ever thought ovals in the rain could work.

    • indycarseries500 - Jun 22, 2014 at 12:41 AM

      Senna never had to handle a 3400lb front engine racecar with little downforce, skinny tires and junk brakes in the rain.

      • testover6370 - Jun 22, 2014 at 1:13 AM

        80s and ’90s F1 cars weren’t easy to drive either. Work with the tools you have because everyone is in the same boat. Potential for rain is part of the package when you road race. If you’re not prepared to deal with it you shouldn’t be in a professional level road race.

      • testover6370 - Jun 22, 2014 at 4:36 PM

        Gee, if only there was a series out there that raced 3400lb front engine saloon cars with little downforce, skinny tires, and big honking V8s successfully in the rain.

        Oh wait…

  3. moezilla - Jun 23, 2014 at 12:45 PM

    testover6370…..Wait, what does the V8 Supercars series have to do with Senna racing in the rain? You would be better off just posting “I HATE NASCAR” on every story about said motorsport. P.S. A 5L engine is not a “big honking V8”, it is a small block….

    • testover6370 - Jun 23, 2014 at 2:04 PM

      The point is instead of saying “We have no rain experience, it is impossible to race in the rain, this is unfair, lets red flag this” these professional drivers should learn how to cope with racing in the rain. The point with Senna is to show how mastering the rain is an entirely fair advantage, and to show that with the proper skillset, mental state, and practice rain can be turned into an opportunity. The point with the Supercars was to show that the general style of stock car/touring car/saloon car racing was not a hindrance. The V8 supercars make something close to the same format, particularly in the areas ICS500 mentioned. And a 5.0L engine is still a big V8 compared to a 1.5L turbo V6, just making the point that the V8 Supercars are similar in that regard to a NNS car.

      • testover6370 - Jun 23, 2014 at 2:07 PM

        And the reason I don’t just post “I hate NASCAR” on every story about that entertainment series is that doesn’t explain or support any point. If I make a statement I explain it and support it with evidence. Making a groundless, sweeping statement isn’t my style. People are free to debate it as ICS500 did. He made a good point about the different styles of cars, so it let me respond with a counter-example. Much more productive conversation that way.

      • moezilla - Jun 23, 2014 at 8:55 PM

        Wouldn’t it still just be easier to type “I HATE NASCAR?” It is obviously how you feel, considering you are on almost every NASCAR article, usually bashing it over the course of numerous paragraphs. Seems silly to waste your time discussing a motorsport that you clearly have zero interest in….and again, a 5L V8 is still a small V8 at a shade over 305 CIs. The 500 CI motors in the NHRA are pretty big V8s….the “mountain” motors in some of the IHRA Pro Stock divisions are huge V8s…700, 800, 900 CI….

  4. testover6370 - Jun 24, 2014 at 12:05 PM

    Aside from this article, the article on Tags’ charge, the initial rain delay article, and the big Sonoma crash (which was not in any way critical of NASCAR), please enlighten me and everyone else what NASCAR articles I comment on? Because there are probably an average of 5 NASCAR articles here a day, so maybe an average of 35 articles a week. So surely if I comment on almost every one, you could provide examples?

    You’re right I generally don’t care about NASCAR, but I will watch the road course races because I like watching sedans/saloons on road courses. And I love watching any racing in the rain because you see some truly heroic drives that become some of the defining moments of the season. That’s why I was so disappointed to turn on a rain race and see it delayed and stopped because it is “unfair” to make drivers who aren’t as good in the rain race against people who are better in it. And then when they finally did race they had to have the series hold their hands on making the tire calls? I completely accept that in lower-tier feeder series, but I regarded NNS until now as being at a higher level than that.

    Anyway, compare the handful of NASCAR articles I bother with compared to my contributions on articles on other series here, and you’ll notice I don’t waste my time with NASCAR, except for this instance when I gave them a chance to impress me, and they flopped hard. That’s the only reason I bothered to comment. I had high expectations, I gave them a shot, and they let me down.

    And what does NHRA have to do with anything? By your same logic…

  5. worknman24hours - Jun 24, 2014 at 10:14 PM

    I love this kind of car sliding all over the place racing.

    Makes the drivers earn every damn second of track time.

    NASCAR on the true road courses makes total sense and is great spectacle for the fans too.

    Just don’t over engineer the cars to get rid of all that sliding.

    German Touring cars did that and it’s like watching F1 all over again.

    The cars simply stick to the track way too good.

    Even Australian V-8 Supercars are heading into a stick too good situation.

    Let the cars slide and that means the limits of the car have to handled by the driver before he reaches a terminal speed where the only thing left is crash. And it’s a blast to watch these guys ( and gals) find that limit and just barely make the corners without the tail end running away from them every turn.

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