Buescher cashes in on bad weather for first Cup win
Buescher, who drives for underfunded Front Row Motorsports and hadn't finished better than 14th all season, was the beneficiary of weather that postponed the Sprint Cup race a day and then shortened it.
NASCAR called the red flag with 22 laps left and parked the cars on pit road. Buescher could only sit and wait in the No. 34 Ford, though NASCAR let drivers get out of their cars after about 10 minutes as they waited out the gloom.
“I'm a little scared to get out,” Buescher said.
No need. He was declared the winner after about an 80-minute delay. He was doused with beer and water in a makeshift celebration inside a garage stall.
Brad Keselowski was second, followed by Regan Smith, Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart. Jeff Gordon finished 28th driving for the injured Dale Earnhardt Jr.
In order to qualify for the Chase for Sprint Cup Championship, drivers must rank 30th or better in points. Buescher will need to find a way to climb higher over Ragan in the final five races before the Chase field is set.
Buescher won twice last season in the Xfinity Series and won the series championship. His FRM team will spend 2016 as basically the fourth Jack Roush driver; the two organizations have a technical alliance. He finished 30th or worse 10 times this season. Ragan had Front Row's only victory 118 races ago, in fall 2013 at Talladega.
“I'm trying to remember every rain dance I've ever learned,” he said in the car.
Osborne gambled with the decision to keep Buescher on the track while others made pit stops with 28 laps left.
“We're going to push this as far as we can. Rain is coming,” Osborne said.
Good call. Buescher is now on the brink of becoming the first Chase bracket buster. Led by four-time winners Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski, there are 11 slots seemingly set for race winners, and Buescher would make 12. Chase Elliott, Austin Dillon, Ryan Newman, Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson are the four winless drivers battling for the final four spots.
Dillon and Larson nearly crashed the party.
With rain looming toward the halfway point, Larson and Dillon engaged in a thrilling five-lap battle for first. Larson kept his tight lead with a timely block of Dillon just two laps shy of the halfway point. Dillon dipped low and briefly snagged the lead, only for Larson to snatch it right back at the halfway point that made the race official.
But Larson and Dillon took their door-to-door battle on the high line, allowing Joey Logano to swoop low and seize the lead in one of the most exciting midrace moves of the season. Logano, the 2015 Daytona 500 champion, pulled away in the fog — but Elliott got loose and turned Logano into the wall with 55 laps left in the race and sent his No. 22 to the garage.