Early accidents in practice force Hendrick teammates to backup cars
LOUDON, N.H. - A bad week quickly got worse for Chase Elliott.
Shortly after his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Jimmie Johnson, clobbered the Turn 3 wall at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Friday's opening practice session, Elliott did the same when he carried too much speed into the corner.
Accordingly, both Elliott and Johnson will start Sunday's ISM Connect 300 (2 p.m. ET on NBCSN), the second race in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, in backup cars.
Elliott finished second in last Sunday's Round of 16 opener at Chicagoland, but NASCAR penalized the No. 24 team when the sanctioning body discovered unauthorized modifications designed to improve the aerodynamics of the car.
Docked 15 points for the infraction, Elliott is racing at the Magic Mile without the services of crew chief Alan Gustafson and car chief Joshua Kirk, who earned one-race suspensions. Veteran Kenny Francis is calling the shots from the pit box this week, and early in Friday's first practice, he had a backup car to prepare.
"Just got kind of loose into Turn 3 and got up the track and ran out of room," Elliott said after the accident. "I hate it. That's not what we needed. We're behind this weekend now, so that's never good, but it's Friday, so we've got another day and a half to get things turned around and try to get it fixed."
Johnson said he was overly ambitious with his second lap and paid the price when he lost contact with the traction compound (PJ1) applied to the track to provide more grip in the first and third lanes.
"I had a good first lap, and entering Turn 3 for my second lap, just got in there with a lot of speed anticipated it sticking," Johnson said. "It didn't quite stick, and then once I got out of the PJ1, there was just really no slowing down or directing it off the wall at that point.
"Came around and it got the fence. Definitely not the way we wanted to start. Frustrating, but we will take it and go figure it out."
AFTER FRUSTRATING OUTING AT CHICAGOLAND, STENHOUSE'S FOCUS HAS CHANGED
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.'s Playoff debut at Chicagoland Speedway didn't go as planned, to say the least.
An early brush with the wall, compounded by a commitment line violation, relegated the driver of the No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford to a 25th-place finish. In the Tales of the Turtles 400, Stenhouse's slow and unsteady effort left him bringing up the rear among the 16 Playoff drivers.
But Stenhouse entered the race with 10 playoff points, thanks to his victories at Talladega and Daytona, and those markers kept him well within range of the cutoff point for the Round of 12. With just 15 points between 10th-place Ryan Blaney and 16th-place Ryan Newman, Stenhouse, now 14th, will design his race around the drivers he hopes to beat for the right to advance, come Oct. 1 at Dover.
"Last week, it was really an open book, and we really kind of just went for it and never really focused on certain cars," Stenhouse said on Friday morning before opening Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice. "I think we knew in the back of our heads which cars that we were going to end up racing. I mean, it's not rocket science that you can tell which cars you're going to end up racing for that final cutoff spot.
"I think for my crew chief (Brian Pattie) throughout the race, whether you stay out if a late caution comes in a stage and some cars pit to set themselves up for the next stage, or stay out to win that stage or get points, I think you can almost do the opposite and work strategy throughout the whole race based off of where those cars are running."
ELIMINATING ERRORS IS KEY TO SUCCESS IN TRUCK SERIES PLAYOFF
The pressure of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoff produced uncharacteristic errors last Sunday at Chicagoland.
Pit road speeding penalties, loose lug nuts, commitment violations and pit crew snafus thwarted the efforts of those who expect to contend for the championship and those who simply hope to survive the first round.
The eight Playoff drivers in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, who start their championship runs in Saturday's UNOH 175 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway were playing close attention to the trials and tribulations of the Cup drivers at Chicagoland.
With the last four drivers in the Truck standings separated by four points, those in the most imminent jeopardy of elimination were particularly attuned to the proceedings.
"You can race your way out of this first round a lot more than you can race your way in," said Austin Cindric, who enters the weekend sixth in the standings. "We only have to beat two other competitors, and I feel like the worst thing you can do is make a mistake, either if it's on pit road or on the track.
"I think your finishing position is just a critical as your stage points, as we've seen throughout the year. Just to be able to run consistently throughout the three (races) of this round I think is going to be the most critical thing you can do."
NEW HAMPSHIRE, NASCAR ANNOUNCE TRIPLEHEADER WEEKEND FOR 2018
New Hampshire Motor Speedway may be losing one of its Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races next season, but the track and NASCAR have devised a formidable tripleheader weekend to take the place of the Cup event next September.
In what is billed as the largest ever touring series event, NHMS will host the longest NASCAR Whelen Modified Series race in history (250 laps at the 1.058-mile track), a race with an international flavor combining the K&N Pro East Series, Peak Mexico Series and Whelen Euro Series, and the first NASCAR Pinty's Series event ever held outside Canada.
Dates for the extravaganza are Sept. 21-22, 2018.
--- NASCAR Wire Service ---