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The Freshies - Rain, Outsiders and Overtime (Undertime?) in Chicago

Updated: Jul 10

Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

By Adam Carabine

Biggest Curveball

The stage was set, the streets were closed down, and Chicago showed a lot of promise for the second ever Grant Park 165.  The Xfinity race went off without a hitch, the pre-race fun/music festival was graced with beautifully sunny skies.

The invocation, the anthem, even a special singing of God Bless America, it was all going so well.  

Enter Mother Nature.  Lightning strikes, rain, and confusion.  What was looking to be a fresh start after last year’s weather-bogged event was suddenly looking scarily familiar.  

But NASCAR did some things right here.  Yes, it’s easy to be critical of their decision making after the fact, but they’re doing the best they can with what they’ve got.  

Some wins:  

  • They let teams decide if they want to put rain tires on, or keep the slicks on.  

  • Teams were given a test lap on their tires to decide if they wanted to switch.

  • After all of that, teams were pretty much left on their own as far as tire decisions go.

  • The new ‘end time’ procedure was implemented pretty early so fans/drivers/teams knew what to expect  (more on that below).

  • When it was clear that the track was too wet to race on, they paused for safety.  

There’s a lot to unpack there, but my favourite part of it all was NASCAR allowing the teams to make their own decisions.  Earlier this season at the New Hampshire race, NASCAR implemented a fairly successful rollout of the wet-weather tire - allowing the race to finish much sooner than if they’d had to wait for the track to be completely dry.

And while most reviews from that race were positive, some of the criticisms that came out revolved around NASCAR meddling in the implementation of the tires, essentially taking out any strategy.  

This time around, the decision was left in the hands of some very capable people, and what made the race even more exciting was the way different teams tried different things.  

I understand that NASCAR had never really experienced a true damp-conditions race on an oval until New Hampshire, and every situation is a learning experience, but some fun was lost that day.  Luckily it turned around at Chicago this week.

Best High Road

Lap 25, Bubba Wallace is running P9.  In just the first green flag lap of Stage Two, Alex Bowman takes Turn 2 a little wider than he should have, tags Wallace’s rear bumper, and the 23 is around.  

Bowman makes it through fairly unscathed, and Wallace is staring at the wall with a now-damaged car.  

Fast forward to the end of the race.  Bowman wins, and in the cooldown laps, Bubba comes and gives him a big shove.  Definitely unnecessary, and not really very good sportsmanship.

Bowman’s first words in his post-race interview: “First off, I have to apologize again to the 23 guys, I just messed up trying to get my windshield wiper on, missed a corner and ruined their day.  I hate that, I’m still embarrassed about it.”   

He even went farther with this, later lobbying NASCAR not to give any sort of penalty to the driver of the 23, saying: “He barely hit me, everything was fine and it was plenty deserved.”

It would have been easy for Alex Bowman to be pissed.  He just got the monkey off his back by breaking his 80-race winless streak, and along comes an angry Bubba Wallace to ruin his fun.  But he took it in stride, and he was better for it.  

It remains to be seen whether NASCAR takes any guidance from Bowman in this scenario - penalties will probably not be officially given out until midweek, but one thing is for certain:  Bowman took the high road.

Worst Paint Scheme

While I appreciate the idea of a local sports team sponsoring a car in that market’s race, I think this week’s worst paint job goes to McDowell and his Chicago White Sox 34 Ford.  

Courtesy of

Though through a rough day he managed to salvage a Top 5, so who am I to judge?

Best Stats

Ty Gibbs continues to impress in his sophomore season, and the Chicago Street Course was no exception.  Gibbs had the best average running position of any driver (he averaged 4th place all day), and led a field-high 17 laps.  I know he’s still hunting that elusive first Cup Series win, but his +84 to the playoff cutline is looking pretty unshakeable.

Chris Buescher didn’t factor into much of the TV broadcast today, but upon looking at the underlying stats, Buescher was the most efficient passer on the day.  His pass differential led the field with a +28.  

Winner Alex Bowman might not have had the fastest car on the track, but was the recipient of some good strategy calls.  However, NASCAR does also measure how many times you had the fastest lap of the field, and Bowman led all drivers with 7 fast laps.  

Today’s biggest loser goes to Kyle Larson.  He didn’t finish last (that honour went to SVG), but 39th isn’t great when you start from the pole.  On the flipside, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. started in 33rd, and managed to finish 6th.  

Best Outsider?

Speaking of SVG, our own Peyton Lohr (also known as Producer Peggy from our weekly podcast show - Racing Refresh Happy Hour) had us wondering whether he might be the next big thing.  She detailed a few other ‘outsiders’ who have had success in NASCAR.

SVG’s last-placed finish in the Cup race was not by his own doing (no Christmas card for Chase Briscoe this year, I’m thinking), so the bad result shouldn’t dampen his spirits.  It’s clear that NASCAR’s Thunder from Down Under is a highly skilled road course racer, and has room to become more of a threat on ovals in the Xfinity series.  

Whether he continues to rise up among the other great NASCAR “outsiders” remains to be seen, but it sure will be fun to watch along the way.

Most Interesting Clock (and no it’s not Martinsville’s trophy)

I’m no NASCAR historian, but I don’t remember ever seeing a countdown clock to end a Cup Series race.  And to be honest, I actually didn’t hate it.

I wonder about that as an alternative to NASCAR’s current overtime rules.  Just last week we saw an abuse of overtime, with a record 5 overtime attempts before finally declaring Joey Logano the winner in Nashville.  The race wound up running 41 extra miles, and by most accounts was a fairly embarrassing end to a fun race.

What if we moved to a countdown clock overtime?  Let’s just run through how that would look.  

A late caution comes out and it’s clear we won’t be able to go back green before the scheduled end of the race.  This triggers NASCAR Overtime.  As soon as the leader crosses the finish line for the scheduled number of laps, you get a 10 minute overtime session. 

The clock starts at 10 minutes and starts counting down.  We clean up whatever reason brought out the caution, we open pit road, we get lined up, we do the choose cone, etc.  Everything goes as before, but when it goes back green, we use the same rules they used at Chicago this weekend.

The clock getting to zero triggers an instant Green-White-Checkered, and that’s it.  Whether that happens under green flag conditions or under caution - doesn’t matter.  That’s the end of the race.

The more I think about it, the more I like it.  I’m open to suggestions, but I think that’s better than 5 calamitous restarts that could wind up killing all the momentum of a great race. 

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