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NASCAR notebook: Rain cancels qualifying at New Hampshire

Cup Series qualifying was canceled Saturday afternoon because of inclement weather at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon. The starting lineup for the USA Today 301 on Sunday will instead be based on a metric, including owners points, driver points, last week’s race finishing position and last week’s fastest laps.

Hendrick Motorsports’ Chase Elliott, the Cup Series championship leader, will start from pole position, alongside Team Penske’s Ryan Blaney, the reigning series champion.

“To be honest, I always feel like the (pole-winner’s) pit stall (choice) is more important than the starting spot just because you live with the pit box all day,” said Elliott, who is making his first start from pole since 2022.

“Your odds of leading 301 laps are slim to none but you live with that box all day long and that’s something that can help you all the way, get a late race caution or whatever and you can be right there in the hunt and that can be the difference in you coming off pit road first or third. And I think that’s a really important thing we see every weekend. Excited about that and really, I think, a team effort that earned that opportunity.

“It wasn’t a stellar lap on my end, it was just a solid effort by our group over the last two or three months to have us in that position to take advantage of the circumstances today.”

Hendrick’s William Byron, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell and Hendrick Motorsports’ Alex Bowman round out the top five on the starting grid.

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Martin Truex Jr., the defending race winner, will start off seventh in the 36-car field, hoping to earn his first victory of the 2024 season.

Spire Motorsports’ rookie Carson Hocevar and Front Row Motorsports’ Michael McDowell were fastest in an abbreviated practice session that lasted only 10 minutes Saturday because of rain.

Christopher Bell might have confirmed Martin Truex Jr.’s replacement

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell might have broken some big news for next season by accident. The three-time New Hampshire Xfinity Series race winner and 2022 NASCAR Cup Series winner spoke with reporters Friday afternoon. In answering a question about the future leadership of the four-car JGR team with the departure of Truex at the end of the season, he slipped and appeared to confirm speculation that Truex’s replacement would be Chase Briscoe.

“It could be whoever has a good race that week — so I don’t think that there really is a leadership role in that aspect and whenever Chase comes into the car,” Bell said before cutting himself off with a grin and glance toward his JGR public relations team.

Briscoe is among the four-driver Stewart-Haas Racing stable, which includes Ryan Preece, Josh Berry and Noah Gragson, that is looking for a new job next year after the SHR team announced weeks ago that it would be closing down operations at the end of the 2024 season. JGR has not released any official statement regarding the next driver of its No. 19 Toyota.

Briscoe smiled Saturday during his media availability, conceding he’d received almost 100 messages on his phone Friday night after Bell’s statement — but couldn’t access them for hours because of spotty cell service at the New England dirt track where he was racing. Briscoe didn’t confirm his 2025 plans but said he expected an announcement soon, perhaps as early as next week.

“It was funny, Christopher texted me and was like, ‘Man, I messed up so bad,'” Briscoe said, smiling. “And I was like, ‘What happened?’ He was like ‘Go look at Twitter.’

“I couldn’t get a single text out and couldn’t receive a text. … I didn’t really know what had happened for probably three to four hours while I was over there (racing) and then a couple people told me what happened. … It was funny, kinda weird knowing something was out there but not having any ability to see what it was or what happened. Definitely an odd night.”

Joey Logano feels right at home at New Hampshire Motor Speedway

Joey Logano is one of a handful of New England drivers who consider the New Hampshire mile his “home track.” And the Connecticut native and two-time winner at the “Magic Mile” could really use some of that hometown hero juju this weekend. He is still racing for his first points-race win of the season and is the first driver outside the Playoff standings, ranked 17th.

Logano has two victories at New Hampshire, including his career first NASCAR Cup Series win in 2009. He smiled when asked about past special memories and having his family — three young children — in his native New England to watch him race this weekend, “I’m hoping to create one (special memory) this weekend, that would be great,” he said.

Nine races remain to set the 16-driver playoff field with 10 race winners already guaranteed a spot and six positions still to be decided.

“I feel good about our chances of getting in (the playoffs), but it’s not as comfortable as we’d want it to be for sure,” Logano said. “The team does a good job of being under pressure and our team knows how to handle it because we’ve been in the playoffs so many times and put ourselves in the Championship 4 so many times that we know how to handle these situations when your back is up against the wall.

“It’s not ever comfortable. It’s not where you want to be. It’s not fun. But it’s not out of the norm for us either to know how to handle these scenarios either.”

–By Holly Cain, NASCAR Wire Service. Special to Field Level Media

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