NASCAR finished a race on wet weather tires and it was kind of neat and other Loudon takeaways

The battle for the final playoff spots is getting interesting

It was humorous in a way, that after Christopher Bell accidentally slipped up about Chase Briscoe joining Joe Gibbs Racing, that he said he didn’t want to be back in the media center for a while.

He felt ‘dumb and stupid,’ even suggesting that he wanted to stage a fight just to distract from his faux pas. Even senior NASCAR leadership got in on the fun, with vice president of competition Elton Sawyer jabbing Bell during the Sunday morning driver meeting, asking if there was any news he wanted to share with the assembled group.

That didn’t help the embarrassment.

Of course, Bell then preceded to sweep both the Xfinity and Cup Series races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, making a trip back to the media center after each victory. It wasn’t a staged fight but it was certainly a welcome narrative.

What makes Sunday all the more humorous is that Briscoe finish second. Following the weekend, not even Coach Joe Gibbs could be mad about the gaffe.

“I told someone else in Victory Lane that Christopher can do whatever he wants,” Gibbs said with a laugh during the post-race press conference.

And let’s be honest, we already knew about Briscoe to Gibbs, but the entire weekend created way more fanfare and enthusiasm about the signing than any introductory press conference ever could. That Bell won the race, a reflection of the kind of equipment Briscoe will inherit next season, was just the icing on an overall stellar weekend for Joe Gibbs Racing.

There is still much to decide before the playoffs start but there is little reason to expect that Bell will not be amongst the final four come championship time at Phoenix Raceway, seeking to retain his status as the only driver to qualify for the championship in each of the first three seasons of the NextGen era.

And in winning three times over the first 18 races, this time shouldn’t catch as many television producers off guard.  

Wet Tires Worked

Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

Even though NASCAR had us all wondering for about 45 minutes, that there was even a finish to talk about on Sunday is a credit to the sanctioning body and Goodyear, as the wet weather oval compound passed yet another test in Loudon.

Over the past, 13 months, the following has happened:

  • Debut during a points race for a Truck Series race at Martinsville
  • Debut on Cup cars during heat races for the All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro
  • Richmond spring starts on wets until track dries
  • New Hampshire ends on wets after potential race ending thunderstorm

Really, all that remains is NASCAR taking off the training wheels and letting teams decide when to come down pit road and which tires they want to bolt on, even placing more responsibility behind the wheel as drivers may aim to maximize the life of the tire like we saw at Bristol in March.

For now, NASCAR has wanted to take this process slowly and the league is currently uncomfortable with live pit stops on a wet pit road but every other major form on motorsports does it, and this needs to be the next line item to cross over.

Regardless, this was a big win for NASCAR.

There was a time that a line of thunderstorms hitting lightless New Hampshire at 5:00 would have been a race ender. There was literally no way, even after the advent of the Air Titan, that a storm that ended by 6:00 could have allowed for racing an hour later.

Sure, there are a subset of fans who did not like the racing product, under the guise that it was too slow, non-traditional or resulted in too many spins. Of course, these are frequently the same fans who complain about the lack of attrition, throttle control and the usage of SMT data too.

NASCAR gave fans a finish, and that the final 80 laps took place on a dynamic surface that forced drivers to adapt and search for grip and later moisture is something to be celebrate. They were five wide on restarts, up against the wall or on the apron, Auto Club Speedway reborn at the Magic Mile.

That isn’t to say that NASCAR should take a water hose to every short track in an attempt to fix the woes of the NextGen cars on those tracks but there is something to say about the expanding skillsets required to race at the highest levels.

Sure, some drivers didn’t respond well to it but Christopher Bell immediately went to the high side and passed five cars in one corner. He did adapt to it, alongside Chase Briscoe, Josh Berry, Kyle Larson and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. It didn’t work out for Denny Hamlin.

Michael McDowell had to ponder the ethical considerations of a slider on Ryan Blaney that wouldn’t have otherwise been possible on dry New Hampshire.

But most importantly, NASCAR rewarded fans who stuck around through the storm with the final 80 laps of a race they spent at least hundreds of dollars to attend and rewarded the time of those invested watching from home.

In what universe is that something not to celebrate?

Beyond the pit stops, the only other point of contention about Sunday was the hour period between the first rain drops that started the delay to the lightning clock that placed the race in doubt.

It started as a ‘potential for heavier rain delay’ but that didn’t start until nearly an hour later. NASCAR policy, for now, is that they don’t race on ovals in the rain as the wipers are not good enough to deal with the tire spray.

But there was 30 minutes in which racing could have taken place, either on the slicks after a jet dryer pass through, or on the wets, which could go at least 15-20 laps before chunking, enough to knock a handful of laps off the remaining distance.

But even if this wasn’t a viable option, NASCAR leadership should have been in front of a camera, being transparent about what they wanted to accomplish or what data they had at their disposal. There was an hour of television coverage to fill and there was time for someone like Elton Sawyer to answer some questions in the name of transparency.

The holding pattern, with no rain drops falling, created a lot of uncertainty, especially in the aftermath of how the Coca-Cola 600 was decided two hours after rain had ended that night.  

Unpopular transparency is easier to digest than uncertainty.

Wither Kyle Busch

Kyle Busch
Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Busch stands alone as the all-time leader for most consecutive years with a single NASCAR Cup Series victory, at 19, from 2005 to 2023.

He broke a tie last year with Richard Petty, who won at least a single race from 1960 to 1977, if you want to understand what rarified air this kind of statistic encompasses.

But that streak is under threat, and not because Rowdy is 18 races into the season without a win or is a career worst 39 races without a win, but because the Richard Childress Racing No. 8 team looks so far away from being capable.

On their best days, Busch is in the top-10 and pushing for top-5s and that kind of pushing has frequently put him in precarious positions too.

Busch is having to fight and claw just to stay inside the top-20 of the championship standings and even without some bad luck and attrition, this is probably a top-15 team on pure pace, which is clearly maddening for the two-time champion and arguably one of the five all-time greats.

Which is what makes Sunday even all the more of a gut punch, an awful that saw Busch get lapped twice in the first half and then suffered some kind of mechanical failure after bolting on wet tires, crashing on them before even taking the green.

Busch simply walked way to his motorhome and didn’t speak on the matter.

And really, what is there to say after the past month. He got spun from fifth at Sonoma by Ross Chastain, crashed out of Gateway and suffered a mechanical failure at Iowa and now this

And now, he suddenly looks like he may have to win to even qualify for the playoffs. He still has another year remaining on his contract at Richard Childress Racing and beyond that, if they can’t turn it around, who knows if there is a team owner who would want to invest in a 41-year-old, even if he is one of the all-time greats.

It’s bad for Busch but also bad for the sport on the whole as Rowdy is one of its biggest personalities with one of the largest fanbases and there is no end to this in sight.

One piece of optimism is that Busch has overcome this before …

  • 36-race losing streak in 2016 to 2017
  • 35-race losing streak from 2014 to 2015
  • 34-race losing streak in 2007-2008.
  • 33-race losing streak in 2020

… but Toto isn’t in Kansas and Gibbs isn’t at Joe Gibbs Racing anymore.

The playoff battle

There are two ways to look at the provisional playoff grid, picture above.

On one hand, it’s pretty straightforward in that Chris Buescher (+50) looks safe for now. Joey Logano, also still winless despite his All-Star Race triumph last month is in a points dogfight (+/-13) with Bubba Wallace.

Also, don’t count out Briscoe, who on the heels of securing his future with Joe Gibbs Racing, also broke a month-long slump over the weekend and is still in the hunt.

At -25, it’s an uphill battle but this is also a team that in a playoff spot before the last four disaster races dropped them out. This is a team that basically finished inside the top-15 every week before June rolled around.

Busch, as stated above, looks like he is facing must-win odds.

That’s if you take the standings at face value, of course. Which you can’t because the final eight races of the regular season include a street course in Chicago and a superspeedway race at Daytona.

All it takes is for someone currently outside of that graphic … like Michael McDowell, Todd Gilliland, Ryan Preece, Justin Haley, Erik Jones, John Hunter Nemechek, Harrison Burton … and then everything really gets blown up.


Well, it would move the cutline up. If that happened next week, both Logano and Wallace would then find themselves on the outside and would be facing a large points deficit to Buescher.

Busch and Briscoe would definitely be facing must-win odds.

That’s why McDowell tried to slide Ryan Blaney late on Sunday. He needed the track position and nothing less than a win makes a difference in the big picture of his season.

Expect a lot more daring moves like that from the contenders should they be given a chance to win because nothing else matters at this point of the season with this championship format.

Matt Weaver is a Motorsports Insider for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter.

Mentioned in this article:

More About: