Rain and sleet forced NASCAR to suspend the Food City 500 on Lap 205 of the 500-lap race at Bristol Motor Speedway on Sunday. The Cup series race resumed on Monday afternoon, but it was not without some social media debate first on whether NASCAR should have postponed the race before it ever got started.
Our experts weigh in on how NASCAR handled the situation and if moving the Cup race ahead of inclement weather would be a smart decision.
Did NASCAR make a wise decision to start Sunday’s race at Bristol, or should it have postponed it immediately and saved everyone the hassle?
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Mike Clay, ESPN: I’m not going to criticize NASCAR for the headache that is forecasting weather. Had they postponed the race immediately and it didn’t precipitate, they’d be criticized, as we’ve seen happen in many sports (not to mention school closings) over the years. On many other occasions, they’ve taken a chance and started the race and they’ve made it to the finish. The weather is a pain and NASCAR generally seems to make the best call it can. Bristol just didn’t cooperate this time around.
Ricky Craven, ESPN NASCAR analyst: For as long as automobiles have been racing, NASCAR has been challenged by weather. NASCAR did the right thing by attempting to get the racing in on Sunday. I don’t see it any different than how baseball has to deal with weather. I do acknowledge, however, that a postponement can be damaging for the folks who plan their travel, vacation and budget out for two or three trips a year to experience their favorite sport.
Ryan McGee, ESPN senior writer: NASCAR should always make the effort to get as much of the show in as possible on the day it’s scheduled. That’s a mantra that goes back to Bill France Senior. Honestly, they do a way better job of handling these situations than they used to. Hindsight is always an easy way to sharpen one’s social media knives, but the reality is that the greatest sin is pulling the plug too early. I’ll never forget leaving a rain-shortened Vegas race in the late ’90’s and driving angrily back to the hotel under some of the prettiest spring desert skies you’ll ever see. As stilted as Sunday was, they still got 204 laps in. And y’all do remember Atlanta, right?
Alisha Miller, ESPN.com: Thinking about this from a fans’ perspective, by the time you get to the racetrack, park somewhere out in the lots that are $20 or less, walk your mile-plus to get to your seat all the while lugging your cooler, raincoat and yourself, you’re primed to see some racing. So yes, it was a wise decision for NASCAR to reward the fans in attendance and get in the laps on Sunday at Bristol.
Bob Pockrass, ESPN.com: Yes. NASCAR made the right decision. The ticket says Sunday, and people plan for a race Sunday — and NASCAR owes it to them and the sponsors who have events that day to try to get the race in if at all possible. The weather in Bristol is too unpredictable to not give it a shot as long as there are no public safety worries as far as flooding and lightning. And what if NASCAR didn’t start the race Sunday? With the rain and snow that fell after the race Monday, there is no guarantee there would have been a full 500 laps Monday.
Scott Symmes, ESPN.com: Weather issues are always tricky, and I don’t envy NASCAR when Mother Nature decides to make her presence felt. As for the Bristol situation, I think the powers that be had to make every effort to race Sunday knowing Monday’s forecast was far from promising. People are going to complain either way, but hats off to the fans who endured the elements (cold temps, rain, sleet, hail) over the two days. They were eventually rewarded with an exciting finish.
Matt Willis, ESPN Stats & Information: NASCAR was in a no-win situation on Sunday at Bristol. Postpone it a day, and they’re not doing a service to the fans at the track. Try to sneak in a half-race, they’re not doing a service to fans by running, then off, then race. Weather is a fickle entity and an inexact science, but I’d rather they err on the side of not running at all if it’s only going to be in 30-minute spurts.
Is it time NASCAR consider moving races to Saturday (or another day) if the forecast is dire for Sunday?
Clay: No. It’s been a bizarre season thus far in terms of weather, but this hasn’t been enough of an issue in years past that drastic measures need to be taken. NASCAR should remain cognizant of weather and occasionally move up start times, but I imagine this will be a non-story once Mother Nature gets her life in order in the next few weeks (I hope).
Craven: Saturday night races make all the sense in the world when we reach temperatures warm enough to support it, and nearly every racetrack is equipped with lights now. It would also help us avoid sending people home after a rainout Sunday because they need to be at work or the kids need to be at school on Monday. Monday’s crowd at Bristol was the worst I’ve ever seen at a racetrack. It is very, very concerning, and it wasn’t just about racing on Monday. Roughly 15 years ago I won a race on a Monday at Martinsville and the grandstands were two-thirds full! This issue is a head-scratcher, and again, very concerning.
McGee: Nope. I get people’s frustrations. But the reality is that there have been only three Monday races run over the past two seasons. That’s not a pattern that needs fixing.
Miller: Back to that whole fans’ perspective thing. As someone who has sat through a couple of Coca-Cola 600 rain delays, trudging up and down Turn 2 bleachers to go and take cover, it’s a pain in the rear to wait out those delays. However, if the forecast on a Friday looks ominous for Sunday, the logistics behind moving an entire race event to Saturday would be near impossible. Until this becomes a more consistent problem or someone figures out stock car racing under a dome, we’re all stuck burning those calories walking up and down those bleachers.
Pockrass: It sounds good but whether it is feasible is a longshot. Tracks and fans already have to plan a contingency for Monday. Now we want to do a contingency for Saturday, too? There is more to an event day in addition to the race — concerts, driver meet-and-greets, etc. — that add to the quality of the Sunday ticket. If all the tracks would just offer an exchange if the race is Monday for a race in the future, it would create a lot less angst for those fans who are there all weekend but can’t stay for Monday. And since the start of last year, only the two spring Bristol races and this year’s Martinsville race have been run on Monday.
Symmes: This sounds nice in theory, but the logistical concerns seem staggering, when you consider practice schedules, sponsor events that are typically held Sunday morning and the impact such a move would have on the support races. Also, we shouldn’t assume that the majority of fans spend the whole weekend in the city where the race is held. Over the years, I’ve made a habit of going to New Hampshire and other Northeast venues just on Sunday (with tentative arrangements to stay for Monday in case of rain). Unless tracks are willing to provide refunds or exchanges to those who can’t adjust their schedules on the fly, moving a race date back on short notice could upset a segment of an already-fickle fan base. I’m all for adjusting start times as necessary, but I say leave it at that for now.
Willis: Travel and TV schedules probably wouldn’t allow moving races a whole day up. Is the window open for a track-wide tarp to speed up restart times? Or what about my idea for a giant ShamWow?
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