Chris Buescher has had a rough – some might go so far as to say foggy – rookie season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
But in Monday’s rescheduled Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono Raceway, fog was definitely Buescher’s best friend as not being able to see the racetrack ultimately sent him to victory lane for the first time in his 27th career Sprint Cup start.
NASCAR halted the race, which was originally postponed from Sunday to Monday because of rain, with 22 laps remaining in the scheduled 160-lap event. Before it was called, the race had been red-flagged for an hour and 16 minutes by a heavy fog layer impeding visibility at the 2.5-mile “Tricky Triangle.”
While NASCAR drivers waited by their cars on pit road for the fog to lift, the rain returned to scrub the final 22 laps. As a result, Buescher — who took the lead on Lap 127 when race leader Austin Dillon pitted — earned his first career Sprint Cup win, as well as the first victory for Front Row Motorsports in 118 races (since FRM’s first Cup win as an organization with David Ragan behind the wheel at Talladega in May 2013).
MORE: Dillon, Newman climb in points; Elliott falls two spots
MORE: Results from Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono Raceway
“(This is) pretty awesome, wild circumstances here at Pocono,” Buescher said in a makeshift victory lane that was moved inside due to pounding rain outside.
“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.”
The last NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race to be so affected by fog was the 1972 Winston Western 500 at Riverside International Raceway. Richard Petty won after the scheduled 191-lap race in Riverside, California, was shortened to 149 laps by fog.
With the win, Buescher moved closer but still isn’t quite eligible to make the 16-driver field for the upcoming Chase for the Sprint Cup. He leaves Pocono six points shy of 30th place in the standings.
Buescher, who becomes the 12th different driver to win a race this season, must be within the top-30 in the points standings after the regular-season finale Sept. 10 at Richmond International Raceway.
Buescher’s previous career-best finish in the Sprint Cup Series was 14th last week at the Brickyard 400 Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Prior to that, Buescher’s best finish was 18th at Dover in June.
Brad Keselowski finished second, followed by Regan Smith, Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart.
Sixth through 10th were Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch and Kurt Busch.
HOW BUESCHER WON: Veteran crew chief Bob Osborne made an outstanding call to keep his driver on the racetrack while other drivers pitted around Laps 125-127. As a result, Buescher assumed the lead from Austin Dillon and earned his first career win. It was also Osborne’s 19th career win as a Sprint Cup crew chief.
WHO ELSE HAD A GOOD RACE: Third-place finisher Regan Smith equaled Tommy Baldwin Racing’s best finish ever in Sprint Cup competition (Dave Blaney, Fall 2011, Talladega). … Tony Stewart earned his second consecutive fifth-place finish and fourth top-five (including his win at Sonoma) in the last six races. … Kyle Larson continues to get closer to his first career Sprint Cup win. He led 37 laps, second-most of any driver, before finishing sixth.
WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Pole-sitter Martin Truex Jr. had a day he’d rather forget, suffering three tire failures through the course of the race and finishing 38th. … Joey Logano, who led a race-high 38 laps, appeared as if he had the car to win until Chase Elliott made contact with Logano on Lap 105, sending the latter into the wall. Logano finished 37th, while Elliott finished 33rd. … Aric Almirola’s day came to an end early when he wrecked with Jeb Burton, each driver finishing 39th and 36th, respectively.
NOTABLE: Buescher becomes the third driver to earn his first career Sprint Cup win at Pocono. The others were Jeremy Mayfield (June 1998) and Denny Hamlin (June 2006). He also becomes the first Rookie of the Year contender to win a Cup race since Joey Logano did so in 2009. … Regan Smith’s runner-up finish is the best showing ever for Tommy Baldwin Racing.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Yeah, we’ll walk in here. This is going to stir up our whole year. …. Now we have to make sure we’re top-30 in points (after Richmond to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup).” – Race-winner Chris Buescher on walking inside for victory celebration instead of driving into Victory Lane.
WHAT’S NEXT: Cheez-It 355 At The Glen, August 7, at Watkins Glen International. The race starts at 2:30 p.m. ET and will be televised on the USA Network. The series then has its final off-weekend of the season on Aug. 14 before the schedule resumes at Bristol on Saturday night, Aug. 20.