The inaugural trip to Circuit of the Americas on Sunday, May 23, came to an end with 14 laps remaining in the Cup Series race. Heavy rainfall forced NASCAR to throw the red flag and ultimately declare Chase Elliott the winner. The decision took away opportunities for other drivers to push for a win, but they declared that NASCAR made the “right call” due to the previous on-track incidents.
Following the rain-shortened race, several drivers spoke to the media and voiced their opinions. They agreed that NASCAR needed to end the race instead of risking any more wrecks, but they also said that the sanctioning body should have made a similar decision during Stage 2. There were multiple incidents that sent drivers to the infield care center and prompted critical comments from Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr.
“It’s certainly a discretion call about how much rain is too much rain,” Kyle Busch said after the race, per Fox Sports’ Bob Pockrass. “We certainly found today that there were definitely times that there was too much rain and too much puddling. They cleaned it off, and it was fine. Single-file restarts were a good idea, but we’re doing all we can to put on a show for the fans.”
There is an Inherent Danger in Stock Car Racing
When Harvick, Truex, Christopher Bell, Ryan Blaney, and multiple other drivers headed to the garages early due to wrecks, they made pointed comments about racing in the heavy rain. Harvick, in particular, said that it was “the most unsafe thing” he had ever done in a car.
Scott Miller, Senior Vice President Competition at NASCAR, later acknowledged to reporters that they should have stopped the race earlier in the second stage when the drivers lost visibility. Though Hendrick Motorsports driver Kyle Larson explained that his chosen profession brings with it a certain level of danger.
“I mean, there’s honestly nothing safe about being a race car driver,” Larson said during a media availability that Heavy attended. “I mean, it was at moments worse than other restarts. NASCAR did a good job with the Air Titans. That definitely helped it. You could definitely see a little bit after that for the restarts.
“Honestly, just the restarts were bad for me,” Larson added. “Once you get back around the next time, get better, get better each lap. There at the end, yeah, it was starting to rain pretty hard. You were having to deal with hydroplaning, trying to go 170-something miles an hour. It was getting pretty crazy.”
The Rain Impacted Several Drivers As They Pushed for Points
Larson explained that the track was getting pretty crazy, but he also noted that a restart would have led to his second win of the season. Elliott only had enough fuel for 12 of the 14 remaining laps, so he would have needed to pit. Larson, who was running second at the time, would have taken the top spot and likely raced his way to Victory Lane.
The HMS driver was not the only one impacted by the race ending early. Busch was running in the top two late in the race, but he opted to pit for new tires. He fell back into the middle of the pack but made a late charge to 10th. If the race had continued, Busch likely would have made a charge into the top five. However, he did not get the opportunity.
Many other drivers had opportunities to push for spots in the top 10, but they missed out due to the heavy rainfall. The list includes William Byron, whose run of top-10s came to an end at 11 after he finished 11th overall. Despite seeing his historic streak come to an end, Byron still ended the day second in the points standings. More importantly, he still had a working stock car.