By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
At the beginning of the weekend, New Hampshire Motor Speedway looked like it would be a promising race for the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Rookies. Chase Elliott topped the final practice session after qualifying in the seventh position. Ryan Blaney qualified 14th with fellow rookies Brian Scott and Chris Buescher mired deep in the field.
Scott was the first rookie to find issues as he was hit with a pass thru penalty for having too many crewmembers over the wall on lap 39. Scott was pushed behind the wall for repairs before his team would send him back on track, multiple laps down. Scott finished 38th, 23 laps behind the leaders.
Another rookie that found trouble was Buescher. As the race reached the one-third mark, Josh Wise slammed the wall exiting turn two. Buescher was closing in at a high rate of speed and slammed on the brakes. His No. 34 CSX-Play It Safe Ford Fusion spun into the infield as Buescher swerved to avoid Wise. As Buescher spun, leader Martin Truex Jr. just missed catching the rear of Buescher’s car.
Buescher’s car was undamaged, and he limped around on the inside road course with flat-spotted tires before making another evasive move to avoid the pit road commitment line. Buescher narrowly missed hitting Aric Almirola. Buescher finished 29th, two laps behind the leaders.
Elliott found his own problems late in the race. As he jockeyed for position just outside the top five with about 40 laps to go, Elliott cut down a tire and clobbered the outside wall in turns one and two. Unfortunately for Elliott, the caution had just flown for a similar incident involving teammate Alex Bowman. Elliott’s No. 24 NAPA crew were able to patch his car back together, but not before losing several laps. Elliott finished 34th, seven laps behind the leaders. Elliott is still in the Chase for now, just 52 points ahead of the Chase cutoff.
The fourth rookie in the field, Blaney, had the best day of the four rookies. Blaney was mid-pack much of the day, and ran into his own issues as well. Blaney was busted for speeding entering pit road during a round of green flag pit stops on lap 182. Blaney served a pass thru penalty and fell a lap behind the leaders. Blaney and his No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Team elected to take the wave-around to get back on the lead lap. Blaney was able to avoid the late race chaos and bring his Ford Fusion home 11th, the highest finishing rookie in the field.
A frustrated Blaney spoke about his disappointment,
“I am disappointed in myself. We had a really good Fusion there about halfway through the race and sped on pit road during our green flag stops and that set us back a lot. Luckily we were able to get a wave-around and it worked out. We just kept missing wrecks and got lucky on that caution at the end to salvage a decent day. I messed up for two weeks in a row and that is unacceptable. I have to clean up my act for upcoming races.”
All of the rookies now look forward to the historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where they hope to reverse their recent misfortunes.