Rookie Chris Buescher took home his first checkered flag of his career with a rain-shortened win at Pocono Raceway on Monday afternoon. After multiple delays over the last two days, the second Pocono race came to a close with a win that could shake up the Chase Grid in a major way.
After a caution for rain on lap 85, the yellow flag waved again for fog with 27 laps remaining. That caution, the seventh of the race, led to a red flag after the completion of 138 of the scheduled 160 laps.
Light returned during the red flag and fog remained, leading NASCAR to call the race official. For Buescher,
“That’s pretty awesome,” Buescher said in Victory Lane. “Wild circumstances here at Pocono. This is gonna change our whole year right here, so this puts us in a good situation where we had a good day. It was a lot of fun. The guys really toughed it out. We got a flat tire, but we’re headed in the right direction now, so that will help in points.
“We got a win here, so we’ll take it any way we can get it.”
Brad Keselowski took home second place with Regan Smith rounding out the top three while Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart were fourth and fifth, respectively. It was a strong day for Ford Performance, which had a non-Team Penske winner for the first time since Aric Almirola won a rain-shortened race at Daytona in July of 2014.
The race field, minus Buescher and Smith, cycled through green-flag pit stops with 36 laps remaining. When the yellow flag that ultimately set the finishing order waved, Buescher and Smith were inside the top three, still needing one final pit stop to complete the scheduled distance.
“I’m just proud of Tommy (Baldwin) and then the guys on the box for kind of realizing there was opportunity for a strategy play there,” Smith said. “We have had a decent run today. We were a lot better than we were last time here. We have made a lot of gains with our race car and with our team. When you are a small team you’ve got to take those opportunities when you can.”
That strategy paid off for both teams, but gives Buescher a chance to crash the Chase party.
Currently six points outside of the top 30 in points, Buescher can make the Chase Grid by simply finishing inside that mark. He has five races to complete that goal, including another road race at Watkins Glen next weekend. Buescher finished 30th at Sonoma earlier this year, but finished third at The Glen in Xfinity last season.
Despite some poor results prior to Pocono, Buescher believes the team has turned a corner heading into the final five races before the Chase.
“Yes, we’ve been definitely headed in the right direction,” Buescher said. “The last six or seven weeks have been really good for us. Kentucky was gonna be excellent for us, but is just didn’t play out. It’s pretty awesome to be here right now.”
While there was reason to celebrate for Buescher, several drivers came away with disappointing results. Kyle Larson, who led 37 laps and was inside the top five nearly all afternoon, was unable to clinch his first win. Meanwhile, Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr. suffered from issues on the track to come away with 37th and 38th-place finishes, respectively. Logano and Truex combined to lead 54 of the 138 laps.