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June 24, 2024

Analysis: How New Hampshire’s wet-weather conclusion shook up the playoff standings

Ryan Blaney (12) and Christopher Bell (20) lead the pack in damp conditions at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Sean Gardner
Getty Images

The arrival of rain — and lots of it — just past the two-thirds mark of Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race seemed to signal an early end to the racing at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. But in a “stop the presses” moment befitting of a race called the USA Today 301, the event improbably resumed under damp conditions with wet-weather tires and ran to an overtime completion.

The conclusion shook up the finishing order, the points standings and the playoff picture like a Yahtzee tumbler.

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Christopher Bell stoked his New Hampshire hot streak with his third Cup Series victory of the season, climbing from a ninth-place spot at the red flag with 219 of 305 laps complete. Others rose and fell with wilder swings in their running position, and the overall standings shifted accordingly.

With eight races remaining in the regular season before the 16-driver Cup Series Playoffs field is determined, here’s a look at how some of the biggest of those before-and-after shifts played out — listed by organization, in order of their best Sunday finishes.

Joe Gibbs Racing: Bell took over when the wet-weather tires went on, but two of his JGR teammates had mixed fortunes. Denny Hamlin — a Stage 2 winner not long before the rains came — went from third place at the red flag to a 24th-place result. Martin Truex Jr., hampered by a pit-stop miscue and a Lap 210 spin before the stoppage, recovered from his 27th-place stature at the red flag to come home ninth — his first top-10 finish in the last six races. Though Truex is still missing a tally in the win column this year, he added a beefy 33 points to his sizable 155-point gap over the provisional playoff elimination line.

Stewart-Haas Racing: Chase Briscoe and Josh Berry carried the torch in a bright moment for the organization’s swan-song season, placing second and third, respectively. Those finishes marked a 21-position gainer for Briscoe and a 17-spot climb for Berry from where they stood during the rain delay. Those results marked one-spot jumps for each driver in the playoff standings as well; Briscoe gained 19 points relative to the elimination line, and Berry added 27. On the opposite side of the equation for SHR was Noah Gragson, who was 10th during the rain delay and slid to 27th after a Lap 265 crash slowed his progress.

Hendrick Motorsports: Kyle Larson led the charge for Rick Hendrick’s four-car stable, making a modest move from seventh at the red flag to fourth at the checkered in the No. 5 Chevrolet. Pole-starter Chase Elliott also made a three-spot gain to keep his historic streak of top-20 finishes alive in 18th, and he is now tied with Larson atop the points standings. William Byron had the most significant before-and-after contrast, fading 10 spots to a 26th-place result at the end.

RFK Racing: Chris Buescher noted that his No. 17 Ford ended up with more tire marks on his doors after the wet-weather stretch of racing, but he also came away with an eight-position improvement at the finish. He remained 15th on the provisional 16-driver playoff grid still searching for a win, but he padded his margin by 23 points to a 50-point cushion over the elimination line.

23XI Racing: Tyler Reddick was sitting in prime position for his second Cup Series win of the season, his No. 45 Toyota leading the field with some pit-strategy savvy at the time of the red flag. He held on for a net result of sixth place, but teammate Bubba Wallace had a more dramatic drop when Gragson’s spin triggered a multicar stack 40 laps from the finish. Wallace’s No. 23 entry was too damaged to continue, and he went from 14th at the red flag to 34th in the results. Wallace lost 19 points to the playoff elimination line and went from the last driver in to now the first driver outside the postseason picture — 13 points back.

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JTG Daugherty Racing: Maybe it’s the dirt-track racer in him that helped save the day on wet-weather Goodyears, but Ricky Stenhouse Jr. made his way from 24th place at the red flag to a seventh-place finish — his second consecutive top 10. Stenhouse moved up one spot to 24th in the playoff standings, which is all but must-win territory from here on out.

Legacy Motor Club: John Hunter Nemechek registered his first top-10 finish since mid-March at Bristol Motor Speedway, persevering for eighth place after sitting one lap down in 31st at the red-flag break — a remarkable 23-spot turnaround. Teammate Erik Jones also made an upturn during the wet-weather portion of the race, moving from 18th place to 13th at the end. Both are deep in the playoff hunt — Jones 26th, Nemechek 27th — and need wins.

Trackhouse Racing: Ross Chastain recovered from a wet-weather spin on Lap 235 for a net positive — 10th place after a 15th-place status during the red flag. Teammate Daniel Suárez made an 11-spot jump to finish 21st, coming from two laps down at the red flag as the beneficiary of a pair of the several caution periods in the evening hours at New Hampshire. Suárez is already in the playoff hunt with his Atlanta Motor Speedway win, and Chastain bolstered his playoff buffer by 22 points — now a 93-point gap over possible elimination.

Front Row Motorsports: Todd Gilliland was fourth and teammate Michael McDowell sixth when the weather forced the two-plus-hour delay. Gilliland faded to finish 12th, and McDowell took 15th — after an aggressive move with postseason desperation in mind led to a late-race collision with Ryan Blaney in their battle for second place. Gilliland is 21st, 83 points back, and McDowell 22nd (minus-99 points) in the playoff standings.

Team Penske: Ryan Blaney, a winner one week earlier at Iowa Speedway, had the largest before/after drop from the Team Penske camp — slipping from second place at the red flag to a 25th-place result after his run-in with McDowell. Austin Cindric went from eighth to 19th after catching part of the Lap 265 jam-up, but both he and Blaney have their playoff fates secured by wins. Teammate Joey Logano, however, crashed with Chase Elliott on a Lap 194 restart and never returned to the top 30. His 32nd-place finish was offset by 17 stage points, and Logano vaulted into the final provisional spot on the playoff grid — 13 points above Bubba Wallace.

Richard Childress Racing: A suboptimal day and a pair of DNFs derailed the RCR duo of Kyle Busch and Austin Dillon. Busch crashed three times, including a wall crunch under caution before the resumption that left his No. 8 Chevrolet in 35th place, 83 laps shy of the full distance. Dillon was 19th at the red flag but was saddled with a 33rd-place result after Lap 265’s melee. Busch slipped further behind in his hunt for the playoffs, losing 19 points and one spot to the provisional elimination line after his third DNF in the last four races.