The NASCAR Cup Series returns to Circuit of the Americas on Sunday, March 27. This race will provide drivers with another opportunity to complete all of the scheduled laps, but will they achieve this goal without head-turning incidents?
The second consecutive trip to the Austin road course will draw plenty of attention throughout the offseason and in the weeks leading up to the actual race. The reason is that there were several big moments during the inaugural, rain-shortened race that sparked comments for the wrong reason. Chief among them were the massive incidents caused by pouring rain and low visibility that sent multiple drivers to the infield care center and prompted angry comments from Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick.
One of the incidents involved four prominent drivers fighting for points. Harvick, Christopher Bell, Bubba Wallace, and Ryan Blaney were all involved in a collision caused by the lack of visibility. According to GPS data provided by the FOX Broadcast, Blaney first began to slow down on the back straightaway when Bell hit his stock car from behind, causing significant damage to both vehicles.
Harvick was just behind this incident and began to slow as well when Wallace hit him from behind, sending the No. 4’s rear into the air. The in-car camera showed that Harvick had no visibility due to the rain.
“It’s the most unsafe thing I’ve ever done in a race car by a lot,” Harvick said after the collision ended his day, transcription courtesy of Speedway Digest. “You can’t see anything down the straightaways. These cars were not built to run in the rain and when you can’t see. My spotter said ‘Check up, check up’ because he thought he saw two cars wrecking. I let off and the guy behind me hit me wide-open because he never saw me.
“It’s unbelievable that we’re out there doing what we’re doing because we’re in race cars that aren’t made to do this. And if you can’t see going down the straightaway, it’s absolutely not safe, not even close.”
The wreck featuring Wallace, Harvick, Bell, and Blaney was only one example of issues caused by rain and low visibility. Another massive wreck sent Martin Truex Jr.’s stock car into the air and resulted in a massive fireball from Cole Custer’s No. 41.
NASCAR Moved the COTA Race to Earlier in the Season
Between the wrecks, the angry comments, and the race ending 14 laps early, there were questions about whether NASCAR would return to COTA. The sanctioning body provided the answer with the schedule release on September 15 but also made a significant change. The race will take place two months earlier.
The first trip to COTA took place on Sunday, May 23. The 2022 iteration will take place on March, 27. This change will increase the likelihood that the race will take place without some weather-related issues.
According to climate-data.org, Austin’s “peak precipitation” takes place in May with an average of 4.8 inches of rainfall. For comparison, March is a drier month with an average of fewer than three inches of rainfall and only seven rainy days.
This change in timeframe doesn’t guarantee that NASCAR will complete the entire road course race without issues. However, it increases the odds and potentially sets the stage for an exciting finish instead of one under red flag conditions.
Formula 1 Successfully Completed a Race Weekend at COTA
The top drivers in Formula 1 also headed to COTA in 2021 for their own battle in Texas. However, they took over Austin in October. This race weekend featured multiple practice sessions, qualifying, and a race that went off without any problems.
The race weekend took place under sunny conditions with relatively low humidity and no rainfall. Max Verstappen, Lewis Hamilton, and Sergio Perez were all able to secure spots on the podium while avoiding the same problems that disrupted NASCAR, and they did so in front of a massive crowd.
The favorable weather conditions also led to an exciting moment for one of the drivers, as well as the fans in attendance. McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo had the opportunity to take Dale Earnhardt’s 1984 Chevrolet Monte Carlo out on the road course for a lap, which ended with him doing some burnouts.