By David Morgan, NASCAR Contributor
NASCAR road course races have become some of the most entertaining races on the schedule over the last several years, but when you throw in rain, things tend to get a little bit chaotic. On Saturday afternoon at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, that is exactly what happened for the drivers in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.
The 75 lap event started off under overcast skies, but it didn’t take long for the rain that had been forecasted for the weekend to surround the facility and drench the track. Drivers came down pit road to put on the wet weather tires provided by Goodyear, but even the tires designed to race in the rain with couldn’t stop cars from slipping, sliding, and spinning off of nearly every portion of the 2.4 mile, 15 turn course.
Through the first 35 laps of the race, nearly all of the front runners found themselves off track at one point or another, with polesitter Sam Hornish and second place starter Owen Kelly being some of the first cars to have venture off track. Daniel Suarez ran off track in Turn 4 on lap 29 to bring out the caution, followed by a multi-car crash on lap 33 involving Erik Jones, Brennan Poole, Brendan Gaughan, Andy Lally, and Nelson Piquet, Jr.
While cars were slipping and sliding all over the place in the first 35 laps, the track drying out brought about another element as the drivers and crews had to decide when to put on the racing slicks instead of the wet weather tires. The lap 33 caution allowed Lally to be the first driver to put on slicks, while others stayed out on the rain tires. When the race went back to green at lap 36, Lally was mired deep in traffic, but the speed advantage that the slicks provided allowed Lally to slice and dice his way through the field and forced the hand of the other drivers to make them come down pit road to make the switch themselves, handing Lally the race lead.
Of course, as soon as the field had swapped to slicks, the rain came back, and drivers had to make the swap back.
Over the course of the remaining laps of the race, Darrell Wallace, Jr., Ty Dillon, and Justin Marks were the class of the field. Wallace looked like he was well on his way to his first win in the Xfinity Series before taking multiple off track excursions to hand the lead to Dillon, who also ran off track himself to allow the lead to go back to Marks, who went on to win his first Xfinity Series race in the No. 42 car for Chip Ganassi Racing.
In addition to Marks first win in the Xfinity Series, the rain also allowed road course ace Andy Lally, who normally races in sports cars, to bring home a seventh place finish, even without the use of a windshield wiper in the later stages of the race.
That was exciting! Lost our blower & couldnt see ANYTHING. Was driving out the side window. Thank U @MarioGosselin & https://t.co/NNVYOhgRik
— Andy Lally (@AndyLally) August 13, 2016
I am truly a lucky guy to do what I do. Today was amazing & whether its @IMSA or @NASCAR, days like this are childhood dreams come true.
— Andy Lally (@AndyLally) August 14, 2016
While there are those who maintain that road course racing would be better served by not racing in the rain, Saturday’s race at Mid-Ohio and other rain races before it, like the 2013 race at Road America that saw Brendan Gaughan win his first Xfinity Series race in the rain, show that road course racing in the rain has a place in NASCAR. Judging by the reaction on social media and the reaction of the drivers after the race, it’s safe to say they all feel the same way.
The NASCAR Xfinity Series this season has been lackluster to say the least, but on Saturday at Mid-Ohio, the unpredictable nature of the race, while chaotic, was one of the most entertaining races of the year and will be one that will be remembered for years to come.