Chris Buescher took advantage of problems for his competition and a two-tire gamble on his final pit stop to score the NASCAR Cup Series victory on Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Buescher’s crew got him off pit road first with a fast, two-tire stop on the final pit stops of the night with about 60 laps left to go.
Buescher held the spot against Chase Elliott and William Byron on the restart, and led the rest of the way to score the win.
It’s the second win of the Prosper, Texas driver’s career, the first coming in 2016 in a rain shortened race at Pocono Raceway.
“This has been number one on my list for a really long time,” said Buescher. “I actually love this racetrack. It’s my favorite place we come on concrete. It’s just so special to get Fastenal their first points Cup race. After all these years we finally got them into victory lane. We’ve got a bunch of Fastenal folks out here with us, so that’s really special and to get Ford in victory lane and spoil the Playoffs. Everybody on this team did such a great job, executed all day long and we had a really fast Ford Mustang.”
It’s also the first win for the Roush-Fenway-Keselowski team, and the first for a Roush team since 2017.
“This is big to get RFK their first win and to get to talk to Jack (Roush) and Brad (Keselowski) and have our owners excited and pumped up to get back in victory lane is a great feeling and hopefully it’s the first of many. I feel like we’ve taken some big steps, so it’s special to get here.”
“Oh yeah, I’m proud as hell,” said Keselowski, who led 109 laps on the night himself until a cut tire took him out of the lead late in the going. “Everybody has some level of ego and I’m not gonna say I don’t have any ego, but it’s easy to get over ego when you see that.”
Buescher becomes the 19th different winner on the season. He is also the third non-Playoff driver to score a win so far, locking the Championship hopefuls out of victory lane so far.
“I don’t even know what that count is for the year now,” said Buescher.” I think that we knew we’ve had a ton of different winners this year and we’ve been really close and fighting hard to get here. We’ve had a great summer. A little bad luck, but we didn’t have any of that tonight. We had some good fortune and some good execution and a fast race car and got to park in victory lane.”
Elliott finished in second, a rebound for the Dawsonville, Georgia driver after a lackluster start to the Playoffs.
“I wasn’t close enough to do anything with him,” said Elliott. “But I appreciate the effort. We had a long day yesterday. Was able to battle back from a bad qualifying effort to get a top two, so proud of that.”
Elliott will lead the Playoff standings going into the Round of 12.
“Yeah, I knew that could happen going in. I don’t think anybody is safe,” Elliott said. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to have the points and I’m glad that we had a good regular season to be able to make that happen, but nobody is safe in these rounds.”
Byron followed in third, with Christopher Bell in fourth, and Kyle Larson in fifth.
Ross Chastain, A.J. Allmendinger, Cole Custer, Denny Hamlin, and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top 10.
Of the 16 Playoff drivers going into the Round of 16 cutoff race, 12 had some sort of issue on the night. In the end, the four drivers who failed to make the cut were Kyle Busch, Tyler Reddick, Austin Dillon, and Kevin Harvick.
Busch was the first of the four to fall when the engine in his No. 18 Toyota detonated on lap 270, leaving him with a 34th place finish. While it seemed for a while like the attrition of the race could work in his favor, in the end he missed the cut by two points to Austin Cindric.
“It just goes with our year,” Busch said. “I don’t even know what to say. I’m flabbergasted. I just feel so bad for my guys. They don’t deserve to be in this spot. They work too hard. We are too good of a group to be this low – down on the bottom, fighting for our lives just to make it through. Two engine failures in three weeks, that will do it to you.”
On the restart, a multi-car crash broke out in turn three when Playoff contender Daniel Suarez got loose, making contact with Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and gathering up six additional cars, including Alex Bowman, Ryan Blaney, Reddick, Todd Gilliland, Landon Cassill, and Austin Dillon.
Suarez was able to continue, but Bowman, another Playoff contender, parked his car for the night with a 32nd place result. Fortunately, he was already locked in to the Round of 12 on points.
Two other Playoff contenders in the crash, Dillon and Reddick, weren’t so lucky. Dillon’s crew tried to make repairs, but ran out of time on the Damaged Vehicle Clock, and was sidelined. He was credited with a 31st place finish, and was eliminated from the Playoffs.
“We got left-front suspension damage and if we don’t get that, we’re out there running and probably in a good points position to make it,” Dillon said. “It’s unfortunate, but we put ourselves in a little bit of a bind, points-wise, in the first two races. We were doing our job today though. We had a great race car and got stage points. It’s just unfortunate we were caught up in it.”
Dillon’s Richard Childress Racing teammate, Reddick, was able to make repairs and continue, but could do no better than 25th place in the end, and missed the cut to the Round of 12.
“We couldn’t really adjust on it without hurting downforce of the car overall, so we were kind of boxed in,” said Reddick. “Then we just kind of got collected in that accident back there. I checked up in time, but yeah, I got absolutely ran over from there. Caught the right front and broke the upper control arm for the second week in a row.”
Harvick came into the night needing nothing less than a victory to make the cut to the next round. Besides running in the top five most of the night, his shot to win went away when his crew failed to get all four tires on securely on the final pit stop, putting him back in the pack on the final restart. In the end, he finished 10th place finish, eliminating him from the Playoffs.
“It just kind of goes with the whole year,” Harvick said. “Nothing has gone right, really. The wheels literally fell off tonight.”
It was a race plagued with both tire issues and power steering woes for other competitors on the night. Playoff contender Ryan Blaney was running in the top three when a cut tire sent him into the wall, leaving his No. 12 Ford with a lot of damage. He would soldier home to a 30th place finish, some 162 laps off the pace.
Denny Hamlin also had a tire issue while running in the top three on lap 234. After rebounding from that setback, a problem getting a wheel on during the last round of pit stops lost Hamlin a lot of track position, leaving him in ninth place at the end of the night.
Three non-playoff Toyota drivers had issues with power steering that hampered their evenings. Bubba Wallace was racing with the leaders on lap 177 when his steering suddenly went south. Moments later, his Ty Gibbs, driving the teammate car to Wallace, had a similar issue. Both team worked diligently to get both cars back in the race. Wallace finished 29th, with Gibbs in 35th.
It was a similar story for Martin Truex, Jr., who was running in the top 10 when his power steering failed on lap 198. His night was over with a 36th place finish.
Tire woes cost two drivers their shots at victory while leading. Keselowski had a healthy lead over Christopher Bell when his tire blew on lap 414. He would recover to finish 13th.
Bell inherited the lead when Keselowski was forced to pit, was stricken with a cut tire on lap 436. A caution flag saved his race, as he was able to pit with the leaders. Bell rebounded to finish fourth.
In all, the race was slowed 11 times by caution for on-track incidents.
The 12 Playoff drivers – Elliott, Joey Logano, Chastain, Kyle Larson, Byron, Hamlin, Bell, Blaney, Chase Briscoe, Bowman, Suarez and Austin Cindric – will now head to Texas Motor Speedway hoping to lock themselves in to the next round with a win in the Lone Star State.
NASCAR Cup Series
Bristol Motor Speedway – Bristol, TN
Bass Pro Shops Night Race – September 17, 2022
1. (20) Chris Buescher, Ford, 500.
2. (23) Chase Elliott (P), Chevrolet, 500.
3. (16) William Byron (P), Chevrolet, 500.
4. (8) Christopher Bell (P), Toyota, 500.
5. (5) Kyle Larson (P), Chevrolet, 500.
6. (12) Ross Chastain (P), Chevrolet, 500.
7. (13) A.J. Allmendinger(i), Chevrolet, 500.
8. (11) Cole Custer, Ford, 500.
9. (4) Denny Hamlin (P), Toyota, 500.
10. (7) Kevin Harvick (P), Ford, 500.
11. (18) Michael McDowell, Ford, 500.
12. (19) Justin Haley, Chevrolet, 500.
13. (10) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 499.
14. (2) Chase Briscoe (P), Ford, 498.
15. (31) Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 497.
16. (27) Harrison Burton #, Ford, 497.
17. (32) Cody Ware, Ford, 497.
18. (30) Todd Gilliland #, Ford, 496.
19. (29) Daniel Suarez (P), Chevrolet, 494.
20. (9) Austin Cindric # (P), Ford, 493.
21. (24) Erik Jones, Chevrolet, 492.
22. (35) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 492.
23. (36) J.J. Yeley(i), Ford, 491.
24. (33) B.J. McLeod(i), Ford, 491.
25. (17) Tyler Reddick (P), Chevrolet, 469.
26. (34) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, Steering, 457.
27. (15) Joey Logano (P), Ford, Suspension, 437.
28. (1) Aric Almirola, Ford, Steering, 418.
29. (14) Bubba Wallace (P), Toyota, 408.
30. (6) Ryan Blaney (P), Ford, 338.
31. (28) Austin Dillon (P), Chevrolet, DVP, 279.
32. (3) Alex Bowman (P), Chevrolet, Accident, 277.
33. (26) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chevrolet, Accident, 276.
34. (21) Kyle Busch (P), Toyota, Engine, 269.
35. (25) Ty Gibbs(i), Toyota, Steering, 265.
36. (22) Martin Truex, Jr., Toyota, Steering, 198.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 88.286 mph.
Time of Race: 3 Hrs, 1 Mins, 7 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.458 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 11 for 80 laps.
Lead Changes: 12 among 6 drivers.
Lap Leaders: A. Almirola 1-35;R. Blaney (P) 36-44;A. Almirola 45;B. Keselowski 46-128;C. Bell (P) 129;C. Buescher 130-237;C. Bell (P) 238-356;K. Larson (P) 357-387;B. Keselowski 388-413;C. Bell (P) 414-435;K. Larson (P) 436-438;C. Bell (P) 439;C. Buescher 440-500.
Leaders Summary: (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led) Chris Buescher 2 times for 169 laps; Christopher Bell (P) 4 times for 143 laps; Brad Keselowski 2 times for 109 laps; Aric Almirola 2 times for 36 laps; Kyle Larson (P) 2 times for 34 laps; Ryan Blaney (P) 1 time for 9 laps.
Stage #1 Top Ten: 6,20,18,14,5,48,17,8,24,19
Stage #2 Top Ten: 20,1,14,9,18,48,24,3,5,4
Playoff Standings: 1. Chase Elliott – 3040 (4 Wins); 2. Joey Logano – 3025 (2 Wins); 3. Ross Chastain – 3020 (2 Wins); 4. Kyle Larson – 3019 (2 Wins); 5. William Byron – 3015 (2 Wins); 6. Denny Hamlin – 3013 (2 Wins); 7. Christopher Bell – 3013 (1 Win); 8. Ryan Blaney – 3013; 9. Chase Briscoe – 3009 (1 Win); 10. Alex Bowman – 3007 (1 Win); 11. Daniel Suarez – 3007 (1 Win); 12. Austin Cindric – 3006.
(i) Ineligible for driver points in this series, (P) Playoff driver