NASCAR approved the use of wet weather tires at some oval tracks ahead of the 2023 season but had yet to utilize the package in a Cup Series points-paying race.

The only previous use came last year in a Truck race and the non-points All-Star Race, both at North Wilkesboro (N.C.) Speedway.

An afternoon of rain at Richmond on Sunday let up enough to allow NASCAR to remove most of the water from the track, leaving a damp surface with little to no participation in the air.

Roughly 20 minutes after the scheduled start, NASCAR began the race with teams on the wet weather tires and ran the first 30 laps on them without incident.

In fact, the racing on the wet weather tires – which feature tread and much more grip – appeared more entertaining than much of what was seen the rest of the night on typical slick tires.

With the track nearly dry after 30 laps, NASCAR had teams complete noncompetitive pit stops to change to slick tires – a move decried by many fans – but the decision NASCAR felt was best with pit road still quite wet.

Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports, UniFirst Chevrolet Camaro, Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro

Chase Elliott, Hendrick Motorsports, UniFirst Chevrolet Camaro, Kyle Larson, Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet Camaro

Photo by: Matthew T. Thacker / NKP / Motorsport Images

“It was groundbreaking for sure,” said race winner Denny Hamlin, who admitted to being nervous about the start. “I’m probably going to be a little more timid in the wet because I know this thing is eventually going to go dry, and I just needed to make sure I’m still on the race track when it comes to being dry.

“It was crazy that it all turned out the way it did. I was able to hold my track position pretty good. I thought they executed it as good as they could.

“It wasn’t raining outside. They made sure the track was straight damp, not a bunch of spray coming off the tires. I thought it was executed exactly how they planned.”

Hamlin’s crew chief, Chris Gabehart, agreed and said NASCAR executed the plan “exactly as advertised.”

“It was nerve-wracking for all of us because we had never done it before,” he said. “There were points and a lot on the line.

“You’ve got to watch the radar. NASCAR is trying to communicate to the teams when are we going to go, how is all this going to work. They told us it would be situational, whether it would be competitive pit stops or not.

“Honestly, I thought it went seamless.”

NASCAR reacts to wet-weather package

NASCAR’s senior vice president of competition, Elton Sawyer, credited NASCAR CEO Jim France for pushing for the development of the oval wet weather package, which probably saved fans from sitting through at least an hour delay of additional track drying Sunday night.

“This was his vision,” Sawyer said of France. “A couple of years ago, he tasked the R&D Center and Goodyear to come up with a tire that we could run in the damp, and tonight was a success.

“We were able to get the race started pretty much on time. The guys did a great job with the tire. Goodyear did a phenomenal job.”

Sawyer said NASCAR will continue to look for ways to improve the implementation of the tires’ use but first-hand experience in race conditions was an important step.

“So now we have another data point,” he said. “That’s one thing we want to work hard on is to be able to start the race (and) put all the competition in the teams’ hands and strategy.

“When to put tires on, when to take them off – and the sanctioning body not be in the middle of that decision-making. I think we’ll get there sooner than later.”

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