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NASCAR learns lessons with wet weather tires after Martinsville Truck race

Corey Heim won his first truck race of 2023 in a rain-shortened Long John Silver's 200 at Martinsville Speedway on Friday night.

MARTINSVILLE, Va. — With a chance of rain Sunday afternoon at Martinsville Speedway, NASCAR could employ wet weather tires for the first time on an oval track in a Cup race.

The treaded tires are intended to allow NASCAR to put cars on track before the racing surface is dry, reducing the amount of time fans must wait for an event to start or resume.

MORE: Could Ryan Blaney’s winless streak end at Martinsville?

But NASCAR does not intend to race in the rain on ovals because the spray from cars reduces the visibility of cars behind. With walls at ovals, that makes the situation more dangerous than racing in rain at a road course, which typically have more run-off space.

NASCAR got its first chance to use the wet weather tires on an oval track in Friday’s Craftsman Truck Series race at Martinsville.The experience provided key lessons for officials that should help them decide when to use the tires in future situations.

“I think all in all, it was a success,’’ Elton Sawyer, NASCAR senior vice president of competition said of using the wet weather tires in Friday’s Truck race. “There were a lot of things that we learned. I thought the way we executed getting the wets on, that worked out well. I think the big learning to kind of work through is when we have a wet or damp pit road and keeping that as safe as possible and going back and forth between wet and (slick tires).

Kyle Busch, who competed in the Truck race, said a key thing to learn from Friday night is when to allow the vehicles to run with the wet weather tires.

“I think the biggest thing is the missed opportunities of just going early,” Busch said Saturday of what he’d suggest to NASCAR about the procedure. “If the intent is to go earlier with this idea, then let’s do it. We were cleared, I think, 30 minutes before we ended up taking the green flag. Like we wasted 30 minutes with more track drying. I think some of that was pit road, but we could have gone sooner.

“And then we ran on the wets the longest run of the race in a dry condition. And then when it got raining again and the caution was out, just make the call – like alright, wet weathers and go back on wets, and then let us run however long we run and see what happens with the track.”

Sawyer acknowledged what Busch and others suggested about getting on track sooner.

“(In) hindsight and talking with some of the drivers, we could have been a little more aggressive” in starting the Truck race sooner with the wet weather tires, Sawyer said. “We’ll take that and put it in a conversation topic and get to a better place as we have to use this going forward.

“There is a real positive that we took out of this is that we got the Truck race in (Friday) night and that was one of the big goals is to be able to get the event in.”

Busch, Tyler Reddick and Austin Cindric tested the wet weather tires in June 2022 at Martinsville Speedway. Water was sprayed on the racing surface and the drivers then ran laps. The tires worked well, but there was an issue.

“It’s not really a matter of car handling the issue (on a wet track), it’s just visibility,” Reddick told NBC Sports. “There was just the three of us out there and every time I restarted behind Kyle and Austin … as soon as we hit the gas, I couldn’t see anything. It’s just the spay more than anything.”

Cindric said that “the first 10 laps of the run, visibility was pretty impossible” during that test.

Reigning Truck champion Zane Smith, who will drive in today’s Cup race for Rick Ware Racing, wasn’t a fan of using the wet weather tires Friday night.

“I definitely felt like we were just the test dummies, but what has been bothering me ever since the end of the Truck race was not long ago I was fishing so hard for sponsorship to try to prove myself in a Truck race,” Smith said.

“There are a lot of people in the Truck and Xfinity Series and I just really feel for them. What if that was their race to prove something? I don’t really consider that much of a race.”