CONCORD, N.C. – Rain has wreaked havoc with NASCAR's opening race for the second round of the playoffs.
All practice was canceled Saturday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and the start of today's race has already been moved up an hour to give NASCAR a bigger window to complete the 500-mile event.
It's not the Chamber of Commerce weekend that Charlotte officials had hoped for when they rearranged the schedule. This event has traditionally been run on Saturday nights but was washed out last year by Hurricane Matthew.
Run the next day, on a gorgeous Carolina afternoon, the race was one of the more competitive events of the season. Drivers felt that running in the afternoon improved the on-track product, and Charlotte officials adjusted by moving the event to today.
Now, Hurricane Nate is expected to spoil the day.
The track had a different struggle Friday after it discovered it had not properly applied traction compound to the track. It required a second application in the turns, but not before it caused Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and David Ragan to wiggle exiting Turn 4 and hit the wall during practice. Both Earnhardt and Busch had to move to backup cars.
Charlotte officials figured out that it had not applied enough of the PJ1 sticky substance in that turn, and drivers had asked about it after the dicey practice session.
“The stuff that they sprayed down, it has had a bad reaction to the sun or something that has made it really slick,” Earnhardt said after Friday's accident. “Something has made it to where it doesn't have grip, it's the opposite.”
Now the rain will wash some of the substance away, and with all practice canceled Saturday, drivers won't know what to expect when the race does begin. Earnhardt crashed in the opening moments of Friday practice, and said he'd avoid the top line of the track where the compound is until another driver demonstrates there's no danger.
Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth, both driving Toyotas, gave Joe Gibbs Racing the top two starting spots for the race. The stronger Toyotas in qualifying this year had belonged to Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch.
Talladega is next on the calendar, and it's typically a race that can destroy a driver's championship chances. With that in mind, the remaining 12 drivers in the playoffs are determined to get strong finishes at Charlotte.
“It's intense, for sure. From Lap 1. That's the way it's supposed to be. (It's) supposed to be 'on-go' from the drop of the green flag,” Ryan Blaney said. “There shouldn't be any riding around. There is a lot more give in the regular season and there's not much of that in the postseason and that's good. That's how it should be and that's how I like racing.”