By David Morgan, Associate Editor
When the rain started to fall Sunday at Circuit of the Americas, the racing that came in the early laps of the EchoPark Automotive Texas Grand Prix was entertaining, but quickly devolved into chaos.
A number of cars had made off-track excursions during the first stage, but as the second stage began, things took a turn for the worst as the rain piled up and visibility was reduced to nearly zero.
The high-speed backstretch at COTA leading into the breaking zone at Turn 12 became calamity corner, with the first of two multi-car crashes taking place on lap 18.
As Ryan Blaney slowed to make the hard left-hander, Christopher Bell ran into the back of him, sending Blaney off-track to the right and Bell into the wall to the left. Trailing behind was Kevin Harvick, who checked up as a result of the poor visibility, when Bubba Wallace slammed into the rear of his car, causing major damage to both.
Blaney would be able to limp his Ford back to pit road and remained on track, while Bell, Harvick, and Wallace would all be done for the day.
Naturally, Harvick was incensed about the incident and lashed out at the situation the drivers were put in while racing with deteriorating track conditions.
“It’s the most unsafe thing I’ve ever done in a race car by a lot,” Harvick said. “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.
“We don’t have any business being out in the rain, period. All I can say is this is the worst decision that we’ve ever made in our sport that I’ve been a part of, and I’ve never felt more unsafe in my whole racing career, period.”
Though Wallace declined to comment on the incident, his crew chief Mike Wheeler provided his perspective of what transpired.
“It was just one of those things that once you got mid-pack you just couldn’t see what was going on,” Wheeler said. “Early on we were trying to talk about braking points into turn 12 and he (Bubba Wallace) just couldn’t see. We got back on a clean track and he was hitting his braking points well.
“Once you are back in the teens to twenties, it’s not good vision. It looked like something happened between the 12 (Ryan Blaney) and 20 (Christopher Bell) first. I think the 4 (Kevin Harvick) was coached up to kind of check up when he was going 100 mph and we just ran in the back of him because we couldn’t see more than five feet in front of us.”
Just six laps later, the same section of track was the site of another vicious crash when Michael McDowell slowed dramatically heading down the backstretch into Turn 12 and Martin Truex, Jr. couldn’t get slowed in time due to the limited visibility and tagged the back of McDowell’s car.
Now way off the pace after the impact with McDowell, Truex was a sitting duck as Cole Custer was coming with a head of steam and plowed into Truex’s Toyota, lifting the back of the car off the ground before Custer slammed into the safety barrier alongside the track. The collision with the barrier destroyed the front end of Custer’s car, which burst into flames shortly thereafter.
Thankfully, both Custer and Truex were able to emerge from their mangled cars unscathed and would be evaluated and released from the infield care center.
“Well, I mean, the only way to describe it is you can’t see anything so I mean it’s, you just mash the gas and going through the gears on the backstretch praying that nobody’s going to be there and all of a sudden I seen the tail light flash, and I was already in through him,” Truex said. “It happens that fast when you’re going that fast and then my thought was that once I hit that guy , I need to try to keep going because I knew they were coming from behind, and literally next thing I know, again, I get drilled so I mean, there’s just nothing you can do in those situations.
“It’s dangerous and you just get on the backstretch every lap praying there’s nobody having an issue you know you’re praying there’s not going to be a crash or a car stuck or whatever because you’re just wide open and can’t see anything. Just wrong place, wrong time.”
“I’m all good. It didn’t hurt as much as I thought it was gonna be, but it’s just that you can’t see anything,” Custer added. “It’s pretty bad. I mean, you can’t see a foot in front of your car. I was just rolling down the backstretch. You can’t see anything. I’m just so frustrated about having our day end like this. It killed the car and it’s just really frustrating. It’s not fair to all our guys and everybody at Haas Tooling.com and everybody at SHR, so it’s just you can’t see anything.”
“You just can’t see anything on that backstretch. I think the same thing happened to us at the same time, somebody was going slower and by the time you want to slow down, they’re in your front bumper so there’s no chance of you even missing it. It’s just so frustrating. We just wanted a good run and it’s just not fair to all our guys and everybody at SHR to have a destroyed race car for really no good reason. It’s frustrating, but we’ll move on to the next one.”
The incident brought out a red flag lasting 20 minutes, 53 seconds, allowing NASCAR to clean up the crash site, as well as dispatching the Air Titans to work on the backstretch in an effort to remove as much of the standing water in that area as possible. The sanctioning body also made the call to switch from double file restarts to single file restarts for the remainder of the day.