Buescher ready to claim Xfinity Series title, but so are three others

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Xfinity Series points leader Chris Buescher spoke this week about his championship hopes in today’s season-ending Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

But Buescher’s comments could have been said by any of the three drivers he’ll be battling to win the Xfinity championship.

“I think we can go get this thing,” Buescher said. “Our team has been very good all year. I’m very proud of what they’ve been able to accomplish and how consistent they have been, so we’ll go into Homestead and see how it plays out.

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Chris Buescher

“Everything that’s in our control, we can handle that. It’s just the rest of the components of this thing and the way racing goes, you’re never fully in control. We’ll go have some fun and see if it all plays out, and hopefully we get to raise a trophy.”

Buescher takes an 18-point edge into today’s race on Chase Elliott. Buescher leads Ty Dillon by 22 points and Regan Smith by 24. Buescher clinches the championship with a finish of 13th or better, or 14th with at least one lap led, or 15th and the most laps led.

He has been one of the most consistent drivers in the Xfinity Series this season. In 32 starts, he has two wins, 11 top-fives and 20 top-10s. That consistency, particularly in the second half of the season, has been significant, given Buescher has not won a race in the last 20 starts.

Buescher also has an average finish of 8.3 this season, best of the four Xfinity title contenders.

“(It’s) been a pretty solid season for us, been really happy with everything we’ve been able to accomplish,” he said. “(We) built also the momentum we had from the 2014 season and were able to have a good year with good consistency.

“We’re looking forward to getting to Homestead and finishing it off. It’s one of my favorite racetracks that we go to, probably my favorite mile-and-a-half. It’s got an asphalt that’s worn out and makes for better racing from some of the other places we go to.”

But Buescher isn’t the only one who’s been consistent this season, especially down the home stretch. So, too, have been his three rivals.

Elliott, son of NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, has one win, 11 top-five and 26 top-10 finishes, with an average finish of 8.9.

KANSAS CITY, KS - OCTOBER 17: Chase Elliott, driver of the #9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet, walks on the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR XFINITY Series Kansas Lottery 300 at Kansas Speedway on October 17, 2015 in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
Chase Elliott

But Elliott has struggled at times, as compared to last season. During his 2014 championship season, he won three races and had 16 top-fives (along with 26 top-10s). He also led the Xfinity points for much of the season. He’s not led the points this year.

“Things definitely had its up-and-down times,” Elliott said. “We’ve had times where I feel like we’ve been pretty strong and we’ve given a lot of effort to try to improve upon throughout the year. We’re fortunate to get to victory lane once so far and we’re certainly trying to get there again before the year is out.

“Homestead is a place that I’ve enjoyed watching over the years. I think it produces some good racing. Hopefully we can go put on a good show for the fans and try to give ourselves a chance this weekend and worry about the things that we can control and forget about the rest.”

The third Xfinity contender, Dillon, is hoping to emulate what older brother Austin did in 2013 by winning the Xfinity championship.

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Ty Dillon

After winning at Indianapolis last season, the younger Dillon brother has failed to reach victory lane in 2015, but he’s tempered that with 12 top-five and 24 top-10 finishes in 32 starts.

His 8.7 per-race average finish in 2015 puts him between Buescher and Elliott. Plus, he’s doing some of his best racing of late: five top-five finishes, plus two other top-10 showings in his last eight starts.

“We led most of the series at the beginning of the year and started off pretty solid,” Dillon said. “Midway through the season we started having some issues and things that we couldn’t really control and made some changes within our team and changed crew chiefs, and it’s really, really turned our program around here lately.

“I’m looking forward to the opportunity this weekend of hopefully winning the championship and getting our first win of the year, and also racing in the Sprint Cup race (on Sunday) and getting as much experience for the future.”

Smith has the biggest hurdle to overcome, 24 points behind Buescher, while six behind Elliott and two behind Dillon. Smith has had some strong runs the last two months that allowed him to cut into Buescher’s lead.

Had it not been for poor showings at Daytona and Dover in the early part of the season, Smith likely would be much closer to Buescher today.

NASCAR XFINITY Series Kansas Lottery 300 - Qualifying
Regan Smith

“Obviously we haven’t had a great year because we’re not going into Homestead with the points lead,” said Smith, who finished runner-up to Elliott in last year’s championship battle. “We’re doing the chasing right now. But with that said, we’ve had good consistency throughout the majority of the season.

“I think our main problems came within the first six races. We had a crash and we had a parts malfunction that kind of put us in a hole, so we’ve been trying to dig out of that hole all year long and have chipped away at it, and certainly closed it up.

“So to even be going into Homestead with a chance to win the title, it has been a lot of work to get to that point.”

Smith has earned two wins, as well as 11 top-five and 25 top-10 finishes this season, with an average finish of 9.0.

With his contract not renewed for 2016, Smith will be making his last appearance in the No. 7 Chevrolet for JR Motorsports.

It’ll be a bittersweet moment, but he hopes to make the best of it.

“I started my tenure at JR out on a bang (won his first race for the organization in the 2012 season finale at Homestead), and would like to end it the same way,” Smith said.

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Seven Cup drivers entered in Xfinity race at Sonoma

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Kyle Larson is among seven Cup drivers entered in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Sonoma Raceway.

The race marks the first time the Xfinity Series has competed at the California road course. Teams will get 50 minutes of practice Friday because this is a new event on the schedule. That additional time will give those Cup drivers more laps on the 1.99-mile road course.

MORE: Sonoma Xfinity entry list

Here is a look at what Xfinity rides the Cup drivers will pilot this weekend:

The race is scheduled to start at 8 p.m. ET Saturday.

 

Winners and losers at WWT Raceway

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Winners and losers from Sunday’s Cup race at WWT Raceway:

WINNERS

Kyle BuschWins the pole, leads the most laps and holds the field off over the last five restarts to win the race. He scored six playoff points, giving him 16 on the season, second only to William Byron’s 17. Busch left Joe Gibbs Racing after last season for Richard Childress Racing. Busch’s three wins this year equals what JGR has done so far.

Ryan BlaneyHis sixth-place finish moved him into the points lead. He last led the points after the spring 2022 Richmond race. Blaney also won a stage Sunday to collect another playoff point. He has seven this season.

Kyle LarsonFourth-place finish was a big turnaround after struggles earlier in the race. It has not been easy for this team the last few weeks. He has three top-five finishes and four finishes of 20th or worse in the last seven races.

Daniel SuarezHis seventh-place finish moved him up two spots to 16th in the standings, the final playoff transfer spot at this time.

LOSERS

Ross ChastainHe finished 22nd for his third consecutive result outside the top 20. He entered the weekend leading the points and fell to fifth afterward. He is 29 points behind new series leader Ryan Blaney with 11 races left in the regular season.

Tyler ReddickRebounded from an early spin to lead but had his race end after a brake rotor failed. He was one of four drivers eliminated by brake rotor failures. The others were Carson Hocevar, Bubba Wallace and Noah Gragson.

What drivers said at WWT Raceway

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Here is what drivers had to say after Sunday’s Cup race at WWT Raceway:

Kyle Busch — Winner: “Just the restarts kind of went our way. We were able to get through on the outside on that one and push (Kyle) Larson out, then he took bottom of (Turns) 3 and 4, I was able to carry the momentum around the high side to take the lead. That was really important. I think that was kind of the key moment of us being able to win today. Being able to control the rest of the restarts for the rest of the race. Kyle is one of the best. It’s good to be able to sit up here and race hard with him, being a Team Chevy partner. He gave me great respect, I appreciate that. That will be given back down the road.”

Denny Hamlin — Finished 2nd: “Yeah, I thought we were super dialed if it was 95 degrees like it was supposed to be with those delays – it kind of took away from the advantage I thought that we had. I’m proud of this whole Sport Clips Toyota team – pit crew did a phenomenal job keeping us in it and doing really good on the money stop with about 60 to go. We are going to have to wait another to get that 50th (win).”

Joey Logano — Finished 3rd: “I’m proud of the fight. We were mediocre – just outside the top five all day long. There was a group of cars that were a tick better than us. Then we executed at the end and beat a few of them. We tried some new things from last year, and we learned some lessons. But overall: Good. We needed a solid run. We’ve been going through hell here lately. So, it’s nice to get a top five, third place, and some points there in each stage. Good day.”

Kyle Larson — Finished 4th: “Proud of the effort today. It’s been a couple tough races. We’ve been so good all year long and the last few have been pretty bad and we’ve had to work on it quite a bit. The team got us in a place where we could contend for the win, so you can’t ask for much more than that. …  I wish I would have done a better job. When I was the leader, I hadn’t been at the front all day, so I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know where people were running on restarts, and I didn’t know how hard they could go. I just got kind of caught off guard and lost the control.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 5th: “Started off the race near the front and stayed there through Stage 1 and thought we could get a little bit better and maybe have a shot at the couple, three in front of us. We had a pit road penalty and had to go to the back, and it was just an uphill climb from there. Just really tough to get through the field. We got some damage from when someone’s brake rotor exploded, that slowed us down even more. Really with all we went through today, a top-five is a really good day for us. I’m proud of the effort.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished 6th: “We ran pretty good today. Won the second stage which was good, second in the first stage. Just kind of lost track position, lost the lead. Through a couple stops and restarts, we could just never really get it back. I thought that (Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin) and I were similar. It was just a matter of who was out front. I just got a bad restart at the end and fell to sixth. But overall, it wasn’t a bad day. It was a good points day too, and we’ll keep going.”

Daniel Suarez — Finished 7th: “The entire weekend was very solid for us. We barely missed the second run in qualifying and really, we missed it because of me and not because of the car. The car was capable of advancing. In the race, the car was strong right away. It was fun today and we really needed this as a team. We needed a result that we deserved, and I felt like lately it’s been a little difficult on us when it comes to that. Today, I felt like we deserved a top-10 or top-five and we came home seventh, so we will take it.”

Michael McDowell — Finished 9th: “We kind of learned last year that track position is super important. Taking two tires was an option last year, so we knew it’d be one this year. We did it early on and got track position, but we got spun out. So, went all the way to the back and then we put four on, and then you’re just buried back there. So, we had to go for it again, put two on and just left two on. We never took four again. There were a lot of laps on the left-side tires, but track position was super important. We had a great FR8 Auctions Ford Mustang, so I knew we could kind of hold our ground. Those last few cautions kind of hurt us a bit, but still came away with a Top-10. So, it was a good day.”

Chris Buescher — Finished 12th: “That was a long day – long race. There were a lot of cautions and red flags. It really started yesterday. I was in a little bit of a hole after qualifying, and I just didn’t do a good job. I had to dig out of that today. We had pretty good speed in our Fastenal Ford Mustang. I was pretty happy with it, and at times, had to move around the track quite a bit. I figured out Gateway really quickly. Not being able to run here last year, I felt a little behind getting going. Definitely found something there at the end. Honestly wish it was a 600-mile race because I felt like we could have kept getting better.”

Austin Cindric — Finished 13th: “Definitely frustrating having a speeding penalty … I’m a little frustrated with myself with that. You think something at the end of Stage 1 isn’t going to affect your race, but it just put us behind. We tried a bunch of strategy calls to get our Freightliner Ford Mustang up there. Had some good restarts at the end and made the most of it, I feel like. Those restarts got really scrappy. Proud of the team effort, proud of the recovery. Definitely a lot to clean up on my end to maximize what I thought was a Top-10 race car.”

AJ Allmendinger — Finished 14th: “We had an up-and-down day today fighting the balance in our No. 16 Chevy. I felt like we had a top-15 car most of the day, but we had to play defense to stay there. I wasn’t able to roll speed through the corner like I needed to be more aggressive and keep moving forward. We made a strategy call to take two tires, which didn’t work in our favor. Then we got caught up on pit road and restarted pretty far back at the beginning of the third stage. We’ll take a 14th- place finish after everything we battled with our car today and move forward to Sonoma.”

Justin Haley — Finished 16th: It was an up-and-down day for this No. 31 LeafFilter Gutter Protection team. We fired off tight in traffic, and it was just hard to pass. My crew chief, Trent Owens, made some really good strategy calls and we had positive adjustments all day, despite a couple pit-road mishaps. We had another good Chevrolet hot rod, and we will take a 16th-place finish after a hard fought day.

Ryan Preece — Finished 17th: “That was a really long day. I fought a tight race car all day long and every time we came down pit road, my guys made really strong adjustments. It just wasn’t enough to get us to the front and stay there. There were so many cautions there at the end, I was just trying to save the car. Overall, it wasn’t a terrible day for us after qualifying 29th. The fans were out in full force today, too, that was awesome to see. We’ve just got to keep grinding for better finishes.”

Erik Jones — Finished 18th: “Just an up-and-down day for the No. 43 Bommarito.com Chevy team. Didn’t end up how we wanted it to go, but we’ll go to work and get the car a bit better. I thought we had good speed, just didn’t have things go our way. We’ll work on it and hopefully go to Sonoma (Raceway) and have a solid day.”

Aric Almirola — Finished 19th: “We battled handing issues all day and just couldn’t find it. We were loose to start the day and it felt like our car was tight on aero and loose mechanically. Our long-run speed was really all we had today and we could pass cars late in the run, but we had so many cautions in the final stage we didn’t have the chance to run those cars down. Drew (Blickensderfer, crew chief) put me on offense on the last 20 laps with fresh tires and I thought we could’ve driven up to 15th, but someone missed a shift on the last restart and stacked us up and put us behind. Just one of those days. We had to battle to get all we could get.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Finished 32nd: “We kept our track position just like we wanted to. We got stage points, and I felt like we had a top-eight or so car, which was a big difference from last year. Obviously we’re striving to be better everywhere. We had a really good streak going of really good runs. It looked like the No. 2 (Austin Cindric) just, for some reason, right-reared the No. 3 (Austin Dillon) and took both of us Chevy guys out, so that’s a bummer. We definitely had a top-10 car today.”

Tyler Reddick — Finished 34th: “Our day kind of went bad early on, but our McDonald’s Camry was able to get through traffic pretty well, but as the track stated to cool off, it just started going away from us. It was starting to get frustrating out there for sure, to have a car that good, and it felt like it was just going away. I had a bad feeling that was coming soon. I was just getting ready to have to back off with how soft the brakes got, but I obviously should have been thinking about that a lap or two sooner.”

Carson Hocevar — Finished 36th: “I thought it was great. I had a blast. Just so thankful for the opportunity. I don’t have a job for next year. I know Al Niece and Cody Efaw wants me to run for them and I will forever run a race or however many. But man, I’m just so thankful that they gave me the opportunity – the opportunity to drive a Xfinity car and now driving a Cup car. I was running 16th.. just so surreal for the first time ever. I thought we were going to have a good day and be in a good spot for Schluter Systems, Celsius, Spire Motorsports, Ryan Sparks and the No. 7 Chevy team. Hopefully that call for a Cup ride isn’t the only one I get in my life.”

Cup results at WWT Raceway, driver points

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Kyle Busch scored his third Cup victory of the season, winning Sunday’s Cup race at WWT Raceway in overtime.

Busch is tied with William Byron for most victories this season. Busch and Byron have combined to win three of the last six Cup points races (two by Busch and one by Byron).

MORE: Cup race results at WWT Raceway

MORE: Cup driver standings after WWT Raceway

Denny Hamlin finished second. Joey Logano placed third. Kyle Larson overcame struggles early in the race to finish fourth. Martin Truex Jr. completed the top five.

Corey LaJoie finished 21st, driving the No. 9 for the suspended Chase Elliott.

Ryan Blaney placed sixth and took the points lead from Ross Chastain, who placed 22nd. Chastain fell to fifth in the standings.