The 2014 NASCAR Truck Series season opener at the legendary track, the Oswego Speedway was a veritable circus. The racing was incredible, but the circumstances leading up to the race were anything but. The scene outside of the gates leading up to the grand opening was as colorful as it was chaotic. Local and regional media outlets were abuzz with news of the impending circus that would come to central New York. Crowds were lined up for miles, hoping to get a peek at the biggest names in NASCAR. What they got was a shock. It started with rain and ended with a bang.
Saturday evening, a light rain fell on the area around Buffalo, New York. The conditions were perfect for a night of racing, and teams and drivers were looking for any kind of track surface that stood a chance at being dry enough for racing. What they got was loose gravel, which made for quite the difference in performance compared to the smooth concrete of other NASCAR tracks. This is because of the way the trucks handle on such surfaces – more grip, less grip. In the end, it was a battle of attrition that decided the eventual winner of the race. However, it was not the kind of attrition that you would usually see in a traditional NASCAR race. Instead, it was a battle of speed, and the drivers that could reach the end first were the ones that were going to come out on top. As a result of the odd surface, the race itself was altered to fit the conditions. The distance was reduced from 400 to 350 miles, and the field was limited to 24 cars. Naturally, with less distance, comes less time on track and less time to stop for tires. The setup allowed for a little more passing, and it was the drivers that could weave their way through the traffic more efficiently that were going to be the winners of the race. The shorter distance also meant that there was no pit road. All the racing took place on the track itself.
The Entrance Of The Tame Wolverine
The entrance to the track was a scene of chaos. Fans had waited in the rain for over three hours, and all that time, the line had stretched from the gates all the way to the paddock. When the gates finally opened, the rush to get in was overwhelming. Before long, the traffic became so congested that fans were being forced to park and walk to their seats. Naturally, this is one of the few places in New York where getting a ticket is virtually impossible. Even if you are one of the few thousand that managed to get in, the parking lot was overflowing, and many could not find a spot. This meant that some of the spectators, wet and frustrated, decided to make their way to their seats on foot. It was a wild scene, and one that put a damper on any notion that this was going to be a tame race. It was going to be a wild night. A wild night that would feature a number of crashes. The trucks weren’t the only ones that got demolished. There were plenty of cars and some pretty spectacular scenes of metal getting ripped apart, sending debris flying into the air.
The First Half Of The Race
The trucks took the lead, quickly executing a number of rolling starts. These are where a truck is allowed to start from a standing position. If the track surface is wet or dirty, the engine doesn’t need to be running to initiate the start. This is why it is also known as a “cold engine start.” The driver can push the button and the truck can roll down the track without the engine turning over. This is mainly used when NASCAR is making the transition from a cold, wet day to a hot day. There is also some strategy involved in choosing where to run in a cold start. The farther back a truck starts, the less traction it has, which means that the back row is usually reserved for this type of start. This strategy prevents the lead driver from getting too far ahead, as there is nowhere for the rest of the field to pass him. It’s a great way to ensure that the race is decided by skill and not simple speed.
The first half of the race was pretty uneventful. The track stayed dry for the most part, and the race was mostly between the first and second rows. The occasional spin out was caused by a combination of the wet track and poor driving. After 20 laps, the order was the same as it had been at the beginning: Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick were in the lead. A few other wrecks happened, but nothing too serious. The race was a little dampened by the fact that there were only 24 cars in the race. When more than 24 cars are involved, there is always the possibility of one or two massive pileups. This is one of the dangers of racing on a short track. You have a small margin for error, and when things go wrong, it can go very wrong. Despite this, the race was still an entertaining spectacle to watch. The drivers were handling the conditions well, and there were plenty of times where an inexperienced driver would make a mistake and put themselves in a bit of a pickle. However, everyone adapted quickly to the conditions, and the drivers that made the most out of it were the ones that came away with the most points.
Busch Takes The Lead
The second half of the race was a different story. As the temperatures outside rose, so did the speeds. After 40 laps, the trucks were going around the track at a pace that was nearly twice as fast as they were in the first half of the race. Naturally, this is because the track was drying, which meant that the grip levels were increasing. This is why there is also a rule that states the later you start your engine, the faster you can go. The rule is there to prevent overheating, as there is no way for NASCAR to know how fast a driver can actually go on a particular day, and having a faster engine would simply mean more speed. This, in turn, would lead to more damage and more often than not, a crash. However, this also makes it more difficult to calculate the pace of the race, particularly as the track started to get a bit wet again and the speeds went up.
As the race progressed, the conditions got progressively worse, and this, in turn, made it harder for the drivers to control their vehicles. This is also the reason why the speeds increased so dramatically in the second half compared to the first. The combination of the wet track and quickened pace caused quite a few accidents. After 70 laps, the order had completely changed. Now, it was Jimmie Johnson in the lead, followed by Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch. Johnson was one of the few drivers that had a successful night, despite how disastrous the rest of the field’s nights were going to be. The conditions continued to deteriorate, and by the end of the race, it was a complete mess. The track was littered with debris, particularly after a few more accidents occurred. Naturally, this is when things got messy. Drivers, both amateur and professional, were sliding all over the place, particularly near the halfway point, and some would even flip over multiple times. It was a spectacular show, and even those that weren’t involved in the wrecks would shake their heads and wonder just what happened out there. That is how fast these things went down. There were multiple flips, multiple wrecks, and a whole lot of damage. Naturally, this is what happens when a track gets completely saturated, as that is when they become most dangerous. When the track surface dries out, the grip levels decrease and it becomes easier for the cars to leave the road. However, this is also the reason why it is so dangerous when it rains and puddles appear. As the cars are trying to keep their footing, the water is increasing the weight on the tires, which, in turn, can cause traction problems. It is a veritable arms race between the drivers and the track, and although most would agree that NASCAR is the ultimate test of man and machine, the machines have now surpassed them, particularly on an evening like this one.