LOUDON, N.H. — Hendrick Motorsports drivers Jimmie Johnson and Chase Elliott got into an early hole Friday morning at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, each drilling the wall in opening practice for Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs race.
Johnson, the defending series champion, put his No. 48 Chevrolet into the outside wall early in the session. After the damage was deemed significant, the team immediately pulled out a backup entry.
Elliott nearly matched Johnson’s mistake minutes later, getting his No. 24 Chevrolet into the wall, as well. He also will go to a backup car.
As the incidents came prior to Friday’s qualifying session, the switch to backup entries will not necessitate starting from the rear of the field in Sunday’s ISM Connect 300 (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
“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, 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,” the seven-time champ said following the wreck. “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.”
The wrecks came shortly following Johnson’s foretelling comments on the PJ1 track compound that was added to the asphalt of the 1.058-mile New Hampshire oval ahead of the weekend.
“When (the compound) on the newer-side, you can let off the brake earlier and just carry a lot of speed to the center of the turn and count on that sticky stuff to catch the car and help it change directions. As it wears off, you go to your same braking point and you let off, you roll in the turn, you miss your mark,” he said.
The timing – while fortuitous that this came before qualifying – couldn’t be much worse for Elliott and Co., as the 24 group already finds itself without crew chief Alan Gustafson and car chief Joshua Kirk. The pair currently are serving one-race suspensions stemming from an L1-level penalty assessed after post-race inspection following Elliott’s runner-up finish at Chicago last Sunday.
The finish was ruled encumbered and Elliott was docked 15 driver points, positioning him a precarious eighth in NASCAR Playoffs standings.
“Just got kind of loose in Turn 3, got up the track and just ran out of room,” Elliott told NBCSN. “I hate it. That is not what we needed. We are behind this weekend now, so that is 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.”
While just a small sample size of three races, Elliott’s numbers at Loudon don’t particularly suggest he’ll have an easy go of it in a backup car, either. In his trio of Monster Energy Series starts, the sophomore driver has an average finish of 19.3 with no top-10 finishes.
As an organization, Hendrick Motorsports hasn’t won at the “Magic Mile” since 2012, when Kasey Kahne held the lobster in Victory Lane … alongside Elliott’s interim crew chief for the weekend, Kenny Francis.