Brendan Gaughan: Why NASCAR can run races in rain on road courses, but not ovals

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ELKHART LAKE, Wisconsin – Having grown up in Las Vegas and with a father who is a titan in the hotel and gambling industry there, Brendan Gaughan knows a thing or two about sucker bets and hustling a mark.

That’s why when the rain came midway through Saturday’s Gardner Denver 200 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Road America, Gaughan was smacking his chops and counting his chips.

“I love racing in the rain, it’s fun,” said Gaughan. “And when you’re good at it, it makes it even more fun.

“I haven’t smelled blood in a long time, that’s something I’ve been lacking lately, that killer attitude. When it started to rain, even without the wiper blade (was broken), I started to smell blood and said, ‘I’m coming.’

“It’s fun to watch guys who haven’t done it in the rain. They don’t understand the rain line, and fortunately for me, I did.”

When NASCAR officials called all competitors into the pits on Lap 27 and mandated that all cars switch from dry slicks to rain tires, it was a new experience for pretty much everyone in the field.

But not Gaughan (or for that matter, runner-up Alex Tagliani). He’s taken part in a number of races in the rain in various series in his career, including one of the two prior NNS races ran in the rain in Montreal in 2010 (the other was also in Montreal in 2008).

Like a poker dealer with a deck of marked cards, Gaughan the rain-racing veteran knew he had a marked edge over almost every other driver in the field – and then he went out and took advantage of it.

Granted, if Tagliani had not run out of fuel on Lap 49 and if the originally scheduled 50-lap race hadn’t been extended three more laps, Gaughan might not have won.

But those are too many ifs.

Still, the point is Gaughan did win, he had fun and wound up winning one of the most exciting and action-filled – albeit wet – NNS races the series has seen in a long time.

Not only did Gaughan teach a lesson to his fellow competitors on how to get around a slippery when wet racetrack (sorry Bon Jovi, I know that’s the title of your biggest-selling album/CD, but I couldn’t resist), Gaughan also made a very poignant comment in the track media center after the race.

Race fans have complained for years that NASCAR should run Sprint Cup races in the rain, rather than pushing them back or postponing them outright – like we saw earlier this year at Daytona and Texas.

The logic goes that if the technology exists to have rain tires run on road courses and in the Nationwide Series, why not extend that to the Sprint Cup Series.

After all, if Formula One, rally cars and other series can race in rain, why can’t NASCAR?

I admit, I’ve also often wondered about that, too.

So when I asked Gaughan — who is a pretty smart guy, having graduated from Georgetown University — after Saturday’s race why can’t we see Sprint Cup races run in the rain, he set me straight … and hopefully will teach many fans a valuable lesson after they read his words:

“You can’t on an oval, period, that’d be asinine and dumb,” Gaughan said. “You just can’t do it. There’s no rain line on an oval course.

“Here (at the Road America road course), you can get away from rubber. Here, you don’t have the same G-forces and physics acting upon your race car. You cannot race in the rain on an oval, it just will not happen.

“But on a road course, as we showed today, you can put on a hell of a race in the rain. … You got some spins, you had some excitement, then you saw old rain tire, new rain tire, dry tire at the end.

“I don’t know how much more drama (people could want) – what it looked like from the TV camera – but inside the driver’s seat, it looked pretty cool to me.”

Saturday’s race in the rain indeed was pretty cool. And now hopefully a lot of folks will finally understand why – unless it’s Sonoma or Watkins Glen – you can forget about seeing rain tires at every other Sprint Cup track on the circuit.

What worked for Gaughan in the rain on a road course at Road America just won’t translate on a conventional Cup track.

Gaughan is willing to bet you on that.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

F1 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on NBCSN, NBC Sports App this week

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After five years and 98 Grands Prix broadcast since 2013, NBC Sports Group’s coverage of Formula 1 concludes with the 2017 season finale from Abu Dhabi at the Yas Marina Circuit this week.

The lights come on for the day-into-night Grand Prix of the year as the sun sets on five years of broadcasts, original content and additional digital specific features such as Paddock Pass.

For Abu Dhabi this week, all of the race, qualifying and second free practice will be live on NBCSN with first and third free practice live on the NBC Sports App. The race returns is back in the usual morning a.m. time slots after three mid-day races in Austin, Mexico City and Sao Paulo, and a pair of overnight affairs in Kuala Lumpur and Suzuka. Formula 2 coverage of its season finale from Abu Dhabi also airs both on NBCSN and online.

With this the final race of the season before F1’s winter break, there’s still a handful of things to get sorted even though Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes have wrapped their respective championships.

Sebastian Vettel (Brazil) and Max Verstappen (Mexico) have won the last two races, with Hamilton’s most recent win coming at Circuit of the Americas. Will it be any of these three that wrap the year on a high or could any of their teammates – Kimi Raikkonen, Daniel Ricciardo or Valtteri Bottas – upend the script?

Mercedes has won the last three races in Abu Dhabi, Hamilton winning in 2014 and 2016 with Nico Rosberg taking the 2015 crown.

Vettel and Hamilton have three wins apiece in Abu Dhabi, Vettel having taken all of his with Red Bull in 2009, 2010 and 2013, and Hamilton adding a 2011 McLaren triumph to his last two with Mercedes. Raikkonen (2012, Lotus) and Rosberg are the other Abu Dhabi winners, and while both Vettel and Raikkonen have won in Abu Dhabi, Ferrari never has in the first eight races here.

The last place up for grabs in the constructor’s battle is for sixth, with Toro Rosso (53 points), Renault (49) and Haas (47) separated by only six total points. Toro Rosso and Renault got into a nasty war of words in Brazil, and will part ways after the weekend.

Felipe Massa signs off his career in F1 for the second and expected final time at Williams, and with Toro Rosso having confirmed Pierre Gasly and Brendon Hartley last week, his seat is one of only three left to fill for 2018, and the most attractive.

McLaren and Honda also bring to an end their partnership after three troubled seasons, but on the bright side will look to score points for a third straight race together, which hasn’t happened since the Hungarian, German and Belgian Grands Prix of 2016.

As ever, and perhaps for the final time as a collective unit, Leigh Diffey, David Hobbs and Steve Matchett will be on the call with Will Buxton reporting from the pits and paddock.

Here’s the F1 schedule, with stream links and TV network if applicable:

  • Practice 1: Friday, Nov. 24, 4 a.m.-5:30 a.m. ET (Streaming)
  • Practice 2: Friday, Nov. 24, 8 a.m.-9:30 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Practice 3: Saturday, Nov. 25, 5 a.m.-6 a.m. ET (Streaming)
  • Qualifying: Saturday, Nov. 25, 8 a.m.-9:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Pre-Race: Sunday, Nov. 26, 7 a.m.-8 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Race: Sunday, Nov. 26, 8 a.m.-10 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Post-Race: Sunday, Nov. 26, 10 a.m.-10:55 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • Race (Replay): Sunday, Nov. 26, 7 p.m.-9 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • F2 Race: Sunday, Nov. 26, 6 a.m.-7 a.m. ET (NBCSN)
  • F2 Race (Replay): Sunday, Nov. 26, 9 p.m.-10 p.m. ET (NBCSN)