By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
With rain in the forecast for the Mid-Ohio 200, many drivers dreaded the possibility of racing in the rain. One driver that welcomed the opportunity of racing in the rain was NASCAR Whelen Euro Series (NWES) regular Alon Day, who’s most recent NWES victory came in the rain at Brands Hatch in England.
The race weekend started in dry conditions, as both practices and qualifying were missed by nearby rain showers. Even in the practice sessions, Day turned heads. The Ashdod, Israel native was 23rd fastest in the first practice, and 16th fastest in the final practice, in the No 40 Dodge Challenger owned by Carl Long’s MB Motorsports.
Day qualified in the 22nd position due to traffic in qualifying. Day still made history becoming the first Israeli driver to compete in the NASCAR XFINITY Series.
The eventful race got off to a quick start. Day quickly moved up from 22nd to the 14th position in the first two laps. The caution was quick to wave as rain started to fall.
As NASCAR declared that the race was in ‘damp’ conditions, teams ducked on to pit road to switch from the Goodyear slick tires to the Goodyear wet weather radials.
On the ensuing restart, Day worked his way up into the Top 10, slowly moving up while navigating the wet conditions with ease. Another caution soon followed as several drivers went off course, with TJ Bell getting stuck in the gravel trap.
On the next restart, Sam Hornish Jr., slid off course. Hornish was then tagged by his Richard Childress Racing teammate Brendan Gaughan, sending both spinning. Day somehow missed the melee, passing several competitors. By the time Day reached the keyhole, he was in the fourth position. Day would remain in the top five for much of the first half of the race.
Near the halfway point, Day ducked onto pit road, surrendering the third position. Day took fuel only. Meanwhile, on track, chaos broke out. An accident up front, where Day would have restarted, damaged several cars, including Erik Jones, Brendan Gaughan, and Nelson Piquet Jr. Day dropped to 29th on the running order, but as many in front of him pitted under caution, he moved up to the 11th position.
As the race restarted, the track was beginning to dry out as the rain had stopped. Day quickly moved back into the Top 10, getting as high as the seventh position. Soon, Andy Lally, who was the first to switch from the Goodyear rain tires back to slick tires drove by. Day, along with many others, was quick to hit pit road and switch to slicks. As the running order shuffled, Day found himself back in the 10th position, nearly 70 seconds behind the leader.
The caution waved again as Daniel Suarez found himself beached in the gravel trap just off of turn four. As the field circulated under caution, the rain returned, and teams once again hit pit road to switch back to rain tires.
Day restarted in ninth, however, he and Hornish Jr. slid off track in turn one. Many had problems in the second round of the rain as race leader Justin Marks even went off course in turn four. The caution finally waved when JJ Yeley rear-ended Ryan Preece, heavily damaging his No. 44 Toyota Camry. Just after the caution waved, Brennan Poole made contact with Hornish, sending both drivers spinning. Day had nowhere to go and clipped the rear of Poole’s Chevrolet.
After the contact, Day’s Dodge seemed as if it no longer had the same speed as it had once before. Day slid back to the 16th position.
On the final restart, Day jumped up to the ninth position, before sliding off course. Day crossed the line in the 13th position, well above the goal of a Top 20 he and his team had set before the weekend.
A happy and excited Day talked about his first go in the NASCAR XFINITY Series.
“Well, it was very tough.” said Day.
“I did not expect that tough competition, bumping and touching. Fortunately, I was hoping for rain. I was really actually praying for rain because I knew I could really actually do something in the rain. I drive in the rain back in Europe. I was hoping for rain, and fortunately it came, and when it came, I suddenly was fighting for the lead. I was very happy after this race.”
Day also to touched on his expectations with the wet track conditions, admitting he was a bit surprised.
“I thought there was going to be a lot more grip to be honest,” continued Day.
“At one point, I was like, ‘whoa, this car is sliding so much.’ But, it was kind of like dancing in the rain. I figured out where there was grip on the track, and where you cannot run because you slide. I was able to figure it out, and fortunately, I was very quick in the rain.”
Day will now look forward to his next scheduled XFINITY event is at Road America in two weeks and will also look to continue fighting for the NWES Championship soon after on Sept. 17 in Italy at Adria Raceway.