What we learned on rainy day at Richmond International Raceway

Rain and Smoke were both at Richmond International Raceway on Friday, as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams began preparations for Sunday's Toyota Owners 400 (FOX, 1 p.m. ET).

The racers were happy to see three-time series champion Tony Stewart, a.k.a. "Smoke." The rain, not so much.

With that in mind, here are three things we learned on a rainy Friday at RIR.

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3.RAIN, RAIN GO AWAY -- The weather played a big role in the activities at RIR on Friday, with the last 20 minutes of practice rained out and qualifying, too.

The practical effect of qualifying being rained out is that the starting grid for Sunday's Toyota Owners 400 was set by the practice speeds. That means Kevin Harvick is on pole and Joey Logano will start second.

On Saturday, there are two practices scheduled for 8:30 and 11 a.m. ET, both on FS1. When the cars hit the track, it will be green, with the rains having washed all the rubber off. And that should have some people chasing race setups in practice and again on Sunday.

"Looks like the weather is going to be great for Sunday and I think the way that the falloff over the brief amount of time that we were on the race track with the tires and seeing the rubber that laid down on the track, I think that is exciting as you look forward to the rest of the weekend," said pole-sitter Harvick.

2. NASCAR IS CHANGING -- The brouhaha around the lug-nut issue and Tony Stewart's $35,000 fine was a hot topic at the track, but was also proof that NASCAR is changing and for the better.

Several drivers praised the sanctioning body for being more open and engaging with drivers and owners on issues that affect the sport.

Still, when the nine-member NASCAR Sprint Cup Drivers Council agreed Thursday night to pitch in to day Stewart's fine and issue a statement opposing that fine, it was a big deal.

And Friday, Drivers Council member Denny Hamlin made what might have been the boldest statement on the topic.

"When Tony informed us of the fine, we didn't agree with it and no one agreed with it and we thought there was something we should do about it," said Hamlin. "This was a way for us to send a message back to NASCAR."

And that's quite a change, because in the much-romanticized good, old days of NASCAR, any driver bold enough to publicly state he wanted to send NASCAR a message, would have gotten a message back -- in private.

He would have been sternly reminded that he needs NASCAR a whole lot more than NASCAR needs him. And he might discover that getting his car through inspection in a timely fashion was suddenly a whole lot harder than it used to be.

But that was then and this is now.

And now, NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition Scott Miller said the sanctioning body will work in collaboration with the teams and drivers to find a solution for the lug-nut issue.

1. WELCOME BACK, SMOKE -- In his first laps in a Sprint Cup car since the final race of 2015, Tony Stewart looked pretty good. Stewart was 18th in the first and only Cup practice of the day, running a best lap of 124.700 in the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet.

Stewart also was fastest in 10-consecutive-lap average speed, an encouraging sign. And his peers welcomed him back with open arms.

"Anytime you welcome back a three-time champion, regardless of what his name is, it's a big deal for our sport," said Brad Keselowski "I am glad to have him back and I think it is a big deal for our fans as well."

"From a competitor's standpoint Tony is one of the fiercest competitors in the sport so to have him there and have someone to battle against is fun," said Carl Edwards, last weekend's winner at Bristol Motor Speedway.

"I know it's all special memories for us to be able to go out there and compete with him," said Denny Hamlin. "I know me coming into the Cup Series and being a teammate of his in my rookie season was awesome, but our relationship has grown so much further now that we're not teammates. It's a great season -- would love to see him make a Chase push if he can and end on a good note."