While there was no Sprint Cup action going on this weekend, NASCAR’s second-tier had quite the race in its place. Road courses in the lower series have become regular things with four races run in the lower tiers that do not appear on the Cup schedule. Saturday’s race at Mid-Ohio brought a rare spectacle: racing in the rain. NASCAR has used rain tires, wipers and the back taillight before in the Xfinity races, most notably a race at Circuit Giles Villenvue in 2008, a race that ended up being called after 48 laps due to the torrential rain. Saturday was the complete opposite and left a lot to talk about.
Let’s start with the rain itself. Mother Nature can be a fickle thing to plan around, and she threw crew chiefs through loops all afternoon. The race started off in torrential downpours, with the rain tires on the cars. Cars were spinning all over the track and going off course on a regular basis, causing wrecks and cars stalling in the dirt, which became mud. Eventually, the rain cleared and the racetrack dried as cars went over it, with some great racing between Ryan Blaney, Ty Dillon, Darrell Wallace, Jr. and Justin Marks. (Marks had been dominant during the rain-laden section, but more on the same level with a dry track.) The quacks on twitter of the masses loved the racing between the front four during the dry time.
The rain itself was an experience, especially on the restarts. On the restarts, drivers would take the lead, and in many cases, lose traction out of Turn 1, a left-hander, causing them to fall backwards and go off the track, either sideways or just slowed. The other major crash point was Turn 4. Due to the high speed straightaway from the end of Turn 3, cars were commonly entering Turn 4, a right-hander with a massive dirt (mud) section for those who went off track. USA (effectively NBC) Network deserved a lot of credit for their cameramen being all over the track catching every car going off and entering the mud. In the early parts of the race, drivers were getting stuck in the dirt and it required throwing the caution to get them out with the crane. However, later in the race, it became a lot less problematic because most drivers were able to drive through the mud and work their way out onto the track.
The torrential rain also required that drivers would not be riding on the edge of the grass and asphalt, meaning they would have to slow down in the turns being on the patient, which brought the average speed down 35-50 seconds. Contrary to the masses’ opinion, there was some great racing in the rain, especially in terms of passing and the strategy of how to pass drivers in the rain. There was a lot to enjoy about watching stock cars drive around in the rain and can only imagine what it might be like to see that happen in a Cup car at Watkins Glen International. Sure it was a long race, but it was a lot of fun.
Current top three: Justin Marks, Andy Lally, Alon Day.— Nick DeGroot (@ndegroot89) August 13, 2016
Yes, that's the running order for a #NASCAR Xfinity race.
The storylines in the field were also a lot of fun. There was only one Buschwhacker, Ryan Blaney, driving the Penske #22. Kyle Larson was not in his #42 for Chip Ganassi, and as a result, Justin Marks, a road race specialist, took the drive like he has all season in Larson’s place. A lot of the known road course ringers, such as Owen Kelly (Joe Gibbs #18) and Kenny Habul (JRM #88) in their races. The former Cup driver Andy Lally took ahold of Mario Gosselin’s #90 because Gosselin knew he would not be able to drive at Mid-Ohio if it rained. Lally was competitive all race and only was snakebit by pit strategy. He still came back for a seventh-place finish, something Gosselin’s bank account is probably happy with the result. The other was a real first; Carl Long put his #40 in the control of Alon Day, an Israeli-born driver who competes in the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series. Day made his NASCAR Xfinity debut in the series and was competitive through the first half of the race. He faded to finish 13th, but still an excellent debut.
Justin Marks winning the race at Mid-Ohio is an excellent storyline. Marks has never run a full NASCAR season, beginning as an accomplished road racer until leaving for the stock cars in 2006. After a year with Robby Benton in the ARCA Re/Max Series, he moved onto drive for Germain Racing in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. Starting in 2008, he made some starts in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, but since then has been doing has only been doing road racing and the road courses for NASCAR. Marks and fellow driver Michael McDowell own the GoPro Motorplex, an 11-turn karting track in Mooresville, North Carolina. He has been driving the #42 in races that Kyle Larson has not, including several ovals to mediocre results. On Saturday, he broke through the mediocrity, proving he was by far the best car in the rain, at one point having a 25-second lead with four laps to go before a caution came out. Bringing the 42 to Victory Lane this weekend also made a lot of fans of Chip Ganassi Racing happy as NASCAR lost former development driver Bryan Clauson in a midget car crash at Belleville High-Banks Speedway in Kansas a week before. Marks knew what it meant to his bosses and you saw his emotion in the TV interview.
There is a lot to love about Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and the fellow standalone road courses on the Xfinity and Truck schedules (Road America and Mosport) get a chance to put on some good racing, no matter the weather. In two weeks, the Xfinity series returns to road racing at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin and should put on an excellent show. However, the race at Mid-Ohio will be a hard one to top.