Words such as “positive” and “promising” were among the descriptors used by John Probst, NASCAR’s Senior Vice President of Racing Innovation, as the one-day session drew to a close. The test, he said, wasn’t a tipping point toward a full-fledged yes or no on going forward with wet-weather tires on shorter oval tracks in certain conditions, but it was key to gathering data and feedback for further assessment.
UPDATE: NASCAR’s feasibility test for wet-weather tires in a short-track setting went off as planned on a chilly Thursday at Martinsville Speedway, as drivers Chris Buescher and Kyle Larson made laps on the dampened paperclip layout.
We’re in evaluation right now,” Probst said Thursday afternoon. “I would say that we could have come in here today and had a complete disaster and walked away from it saying, ‘no, this can’t be done.’ I think what we learned today was positive for sure. I think that we just need a little bit of time to go through all the data to figure out what are the next best steps. I would say that we continue the journey, and it looks positive for now. Today could have ended it, but it certainly didn’t do that. I feel like everyone involved felt like it was a very positive test, but it’s still fresh and certainly a very, very good first step.”
After an initial shakedown of the two cars in the dry, a water truck doused the .526-mile oval as crews switched among dry-weather slicks, existing wet-weather tires for road courses, and different track-specific compounds from Goodyear that were grooved to transfer moisture away.
Besides the data and observations, Probst said competition officials will also weigh the input from the drivers and the teams before deciding the next steps.Probst mentioned, though, the time needed for Goodyear to make enough rain tires for every team, in addition to the evaluation period for competition officials. How the rain tires would fit into race procedures — whether officials would mandate wet-weather starts or leave tire options up to teams — would also need to be determined.
Plans for the test were announced Wednesday, with Kyle Larson scheduled to drive the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet and Chris Buescher set to drive the No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford on a dampened track. NASCAR officials are currently at the .526-mile Virginia venue for testing of the Next Gen car for the 2022 Cup Series, with Chevrolet, Ford and Toyota all putting their manufacturer-specific models on the track for the first time.
NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell said the test’s intent is to explore a wet-weather tire’s short-track potential, with the goal of returning to racing sooner in inclement conditions. Martinsville is the shortest paved track on the Cup Series schedule; O’Donnell indicated that if the test yields encouraging results that competition officials could explore using the tire in damp conditions at flatter tracks up to approximately 1 mile in length, such as Phoenix and New Hampshire.
After an initial shakedown of the two cars Thursday, test organizers plan to wet the track to gauge traction levels, using feedback from Buescher and Larson to evaluate the performance of the tire, which has different characteristics than the current rain tire for road courses. In a twist of scheduling fate, Wednesday’s weather forecast calls for significant rainfall at Martinsville with clearing on Thursday’s test date. Rather than test during a Wednesday downpour, however, competition officials opted to stick with Thursday to test the tires under controlled conditions.