NASCAR & Auto Racing

NASCAR races in the rain in Montreal

MONTREAL -- The show went on in the rain at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

And, though the drivers couldn't always see where they were going, they had a blast Saturday in NASCAR's first major points race in the rain.

"It was a lot of fun," Greg Biffle said after splashing his way to an eighth-place finish in the Nationwide Series race. "I'm glad I made history."

He was excited when NASCAR finally rolled out the grooved rain tires that Goodyear lugged around to road courses for years.

"I kind of was looking forward to this because I've never raced in the rain, but I don't think I will be from now on," Biffle said. "It got a little hairy there when it started raining so hard. The car would hydroplane bad down the frontstretch and, I mean, a 140- or 150-miles-an-hour hydroplane is not very safe."

NASCAR was pleased with the tires and the way the teams dealt with the conditions.

"We felt the race probably came off as good as it could have," Robin Pemberton, vice president of competition for NASCAR, said Sunday at Pocono Raceway. "In hindsight, there might have been one or two little things we could have done different. But we have no experience at running races like that."

Pemberton said standing water, not the tires, caused most of the problems.

"When it was (just) wet, everybody's deal went fine, competitors and our stuff alike," he said. "I think it was just making sure that the standing water was gone. There were some areas that the drainage didn't keep up with the precipitation."

Surprisingly, some teams — including that of Biffle's Roush Fenway Racing teammate, Carl Edwards — didn't install a windshield wiper during an extended early caution when NASCAR went to the rain tires. Without a wiper, Edwards stuck a squeegee out the driver-side window to clean his windshield during later caution periods.

"We have to come up with some better ventilation and stuff for the windows," Jason Leffler said. "As long as you keep the windows clean, the cars are great in the rain."

Two star drivers wrecked under the final caution in the race, which was cut from 74 to 48 laps. Driving at no more than 40 mph in heavy rain, Jacques Villeneuve and Joey Logano plowed into cars they couldn't see.

"I couldn't see 5 feet in front of me down the straightaway, under caution," Logano said. "Somebody stopped. I locked up all four and boom!"

Villeneuve, the former Formula One and CART champion racing on the track named after his late father, had oil and water on his windshield.

"I couldn't see a thing," Villeneuve said. "When everybody stopped, I just ran into the back of them."

Sixth at the time of the accident, Villeneuve ended up 16th — a spot ahead of Logano in the race won by Canadian Ron Fellows.

"The priority in this sport has to be our drivers and you had a number of drivers on the radio saying they can't see and are hydroplaning under caution," said Dave Rogers, Logano's crew chief. "I don't think as a series we did a good job of listening to those, so we fell victim."

Fellows took control after Marcos Ambrose, dominant for most of the race a year after a driving scuffle with Robby Gordon cost him a shot at his first series victory, was penalized for speeding off pit road.

"I couldn't see the end of pit lane. I just couldn't see it," said Ambrose, relegated to third after leading 27 of the 36 green-flag laps.

The race was red-flagged for eight minutes because of rain and lightning after eight laps, and NASCAR gave the teams three more minutes to switch tires and insert the wipers before they returned to the soaked 2.71-mile, 14-turn course.

After averaging about 90 mph on slick tires, Ambrose's average dropped to around 75 mph on the grooved tires. While it was the first time the tires had been used in a race, NASCAR also turned to them in practice and qualifying for a 1997 exhibition race in Japan and in practice for a 1999 Craftsman Truck Series event at Watkins Glen.

"It felt really slow and the car was slipping around," Ambrose said. "It was treacherous. It was tricky, but I think all the drivers kept on the race track for the most part and we got a race in, which is important."

Fellows, the 48-year-old Ontario driver used to racing in wet conditions in other series, won for the fourth time in 13 Nationwide road-course starts and became the first Canadian winner in a major NASCAR race in Canada.

"That was different," said Fellows, about a half-minute ahead of fellow Canadian Patrick Carpentier when the final caution came out.

The historic move to the rain tires came a week after tire durability problems derailed the Sprint Cup race in Indianapolis.

"As old as they are, they're a little hard, so there was zero grip out there," Boris Said said. "All in all, I'm surprised how well everyone did and how few accidents there were. In the end, people were wrecking under caution because you just couldn't see. The cars were hydroplaning."

NASCAR also confused teams by mandating what tires they could use.

"We just did the best we could with what we had to work with," David Ragan said. "It was a learning experience. NASCAR did what it had to do to get this race in. I credit them for trying. We all learned a little bit and, the next time we race in the rain, it will probably go a lot easier."

Pemberton agreed.

"We'll have a better plan the next time," he said. "We'll take the input from the teams that were there and see if there's something else that we could do that we don't know we needed to do."

AP Auto Racing Writer Mike Harris in Long Pond, Pa., contributed to this report.

  Comments