New Hampshire Event Was Another Step In The Right Direction For NASCAR Cup Series

The NASCAR Cup Series fields during the USA Today 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sunday (Photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Holly Cain

NASCAR Wire Service

Count it a success.

The idea, testing, and implementation of the damp surface tires for a NASCAR Cup Series race has officially progressed from hopeful hypothesis to a proven can-do. The series made real-time use of the new technology and “let’s try it” spirit in Sunday’s rain-affected USA Today 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

And the result was a compelling final 86-lap shootout that likely wouldn’t have existed only a few years ago because of the challenging weather.

Following a nearly two-hour rain delay, teams put on damp surface tires and were able to complete the race – the field running four and five-wide at times and concluding with a close finish between winner Christopher Bell and runner-up Chase Briscoe.

Equally as important, NASCAR proved to fans, teams and drivers that under the right circumstances races could run competitively under damp conditions – something unheard of even five years ago.

NASCAR’s Senior Vice President for Competition Elton Sawyer told reporters after the race the series had been working closely with the weather service and knew there was a sizable time-window once the rain had passed. And he was pleased with the result.

“Absolutely [a success], if you look at the reason we came up with this and we started working through it with our teams and the folks at the NASCAR R&D Center (Research and Development), it was to do exactly what we did yesterday with the Xfinity race and today with the Cup race,” said Sawyer, noting Saturday’s Xfinity Series race started on time with damp tires before the field switched to the normal racing slicks.

“Huge success today, shout-out to Goodyear, to our race teams everyone working together and our fans that stayed around to see 300-plus laps of racing which is what they paid for.”

An ebullient Bell joked that it was as if he ran two different races on the same day – in the dry and in the damp. And ultimately, while it was a career-weekend for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver, who earned his first career weekend sweep after taking the trophy in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race too, he said Sunday’s race was absolutely one of the most memorable of his career.

“It was just so fun to get to experience that, run whatever it was, 80 laps in wet, damp conditions,” a smiling Bell said. “Just a lot of fun. That was so much fun.”

The significance of the event was not lost on him either.

“Just how historic it was,” Bell said. “For NASCAR to run in the rain like that – not in the rain, but run in the damp conditions on an oval, I mean it ended up being hopefully a good show. You can answer that more than me, but I had a blast, it made it different.

“That’s what the key is to having successful races and entertainment. Hopefully, that was entertaining because it was something different, something new, and nobody knew what to expect and what to do. The guys that figured it out the quickest were the most successful.”

Interestingly, the front of the field looked notably different following the red flag re-start. Tyler Reddick, Ryan Blaney and Denny Hamlin were leading when cars were called to pit road for the heavy rains. But it was a distinctively different group of drivers – most with vast dirt track experience – ultimately leading the field to the checkered flag.

“It was fun,” said fourth-place finisher and NASCAR Cup Series championship leader, Hendrick Motorsports’ Kyle Larson. “I think when it’s like that, I think that is why you see a lot of the dirt racers kind of migrate to the front.”

Runner-up and fellow dirt track driver Chase Briscoe agreed with Larson. He wasn’t even in the top-20 when the red flag came out; a situation similar to several of the top finishers.

“I’ve always joked this is one of my worst racetracks, so to run second is kind of surprising to be honest with you,” Briscoe said. “The rain definitely helped us. If it wasn’t for the rain, we literally would have run 24th probably. We were able to have a couple of good re-starts and our guys did a really good job just understanding the rain balance.

“I think we learned a lot when we did it [raced in damp conditions] at Richmond (Va.).”

And starting in 2025, Bell and Briscoe will be seeing a lot more of each other, as it was announced today that Briscoe will take over the driving duties of the No. 19 Toyota currently driven by Martin Truex Jr.

“I’m excited for this opportunity with Joe Gibbs Racing and Bass Pro Shops,” Briscoe said. “From a competition standpoint, JGR is the place to be if you want to go win races week in and week out and to race for the championship every year.”

Obviously, the sport would rather have ideal weather conditions at each stop on the schedule, but now having two points-paying events – at Richmond Raceway and at New Hampshire – succeed in the trying weather gives the series a sense of well-earned achievement.

“Man,” said third-place finisher, SHR’s Josh Berry. “That was a lot of fun, honestly.”

The NASCAR Cup Series is part of a highly-anticipated weekend triple-header at Nashville Speedway. The Ally 400 is Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET (USA Network, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Trackhouse Racing’s Ross Chastain is the defending race winner.

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