Eight years after leaving home and bunking with a North Carolina family to further his racing career, 23-year-old Chris Buescher chases that family’s son in his quest to make the Sprint Cup playoffs.
Buescher is not yet eligible for the Chase after his win Monday at Pocono Raceway because he’s not in the top 30 in points. He trails David Ragan by six points for 30th.
It was Ragan’s family who took Buescher in when the Prosper, Texas, native moved to North Carolina to race before turning 16.
“Pretty much took David’s spot when he was old enough to move out,’’ Buescher told NBC Sports after his win. “They got another one.’’
Another racer, another son.
“I worked on David’s race cars early on and did my school work online at the house and was told that as long as I kept up the yard and kept everything looking good, I would have a roof over my head,’’ Buescher said. “It was a huge relief in a situation where my family wasn’t able to up and relocate for me.’’
Buescher has two younger sisters and said “it wasn’t fair for me to ask all of them to uproot for what I was trying to do.’’
So he moved in with Ken and Beverly Ragan and their son Adam. Ken Ragan is a former NASCAR racer who also has been involved in youth racing.
Buescher first met Ken Ragan, then a series official, after a Legends race when Buescher was cited for rough driving. Ken Ragan later encouraged Buescher to move to the Charlotte, North Carolina, area if he was serious about racing. When Buescher said his family couldn’t go with him, Ken Ragan offered to house Buescher.
Monday, Ken Ragan’s son, David, was among the first to congratulate to Buescher after the race was stopped because of fog.
“He said, ‘Man I really hope this works out for you,’ ‘’ Buescher recalled David Ragan telling him. “ ‘If it does, don’t ever let anybody discredit how it was done or what was done that day. You’re a Sprint Cup winner and that’s a pretty huge thing, a pretty huge accomplishment.’’
THREE STRIKES AND YOU’RE OUT?
Monday was a rough day for Martin Truex Jr. Driving the same car he dominated the Coca-Cola 600 — he led 392 of 400 laps in that race — Truex hit the wall multiple times and damaged the special car.
His problems started during the competition caution when a lug nut from the right front tire bounced off the ground and flew through one of the wheel holes, lodging between the caliper and the wheel. The lug nut knocked off the new right front tire’s inner valve stem, causing the tire to go down and sending Truex into the wall soon after the stop.
The team made repairs, but another right-front tire problem sent him to the garage. He later returned only to cause a caution on Lap 100 when he hit the wall.
So why did crew chief Cole Pearn send out the car, one that had been so good earlier this year and a candidate to run in the playoffs, after going to the garage? Truex has a win and is set to make the Chase, so he’s not running for points. There was no chance to win, thus no need to worry about three bonus points. And, this was at a track unlike any in the Chase.
“The only problem the first time was the upper control arm was bent, which we replaced,’’ Pearn told NBC Sports after the last incident. “Not sure what happened here. We weren’t that far into that run. We figured with the threat of rain, get to halfway and pick up a few spots. It doesn’t matter.’’
Pearn said the last contact didn’t hurt the car much worse than it was.
“The body was pretty much killed already,’’ he said.
Still, wouldn’t it have been better to just park the car when they were in the garage instead of risk damaging it further?
“I don’t know how you turn it off, turn it on,’’ Pearn said of such a mentality.
The results don’t show how well Richard Childress Racing ran in Monday’s race.
Austin Dillon, who battled Kyle Larson for the lead at halfway, placed 13th, and Ryan Newman, who spent a good part of the race in the top 10, finished 12th. A mechanical issue caused Paul Menard, who had been fast all weekend with new crew chief Danny Stockman, to finish 35th.
RCR, which last won a Cup race in 2013 with Kevin Harvick, brought new cars the previous week to Indianapolis and saw Dillon finish ninth and Menard 10th.
“We kind of have a direction I think that is showing results on the race track,’’ said Dr. Eric Warren, vice president of competition at Richard Childress Racing. “It’s up to us to prove it and finish it. Being fast in practice is great from a morale point of view, but at the end of the day it’s not what this is about. It’s about Sunday. We have our work cut out for us, but everybody else does as well. We are certainly not going to give up on it.”
The mechanical issue notwithstanding, Menard said that Stockman’s move to the team had an impact in a few days.
“He’s rejuvenated our team a little bit,’’ said Menard, 23rd in points. “We’ve had a rough year. We haven’t run as well as we wanted or expected. Just had to do something.’’
William Byron’s growth continues to stand out this season. Yes, the 18-year-old is driving for Kyle Busch Motorsports and Toyota, but he’s taking advantage of the situation. Saturday, he scored his fifth Camping World Truck Series win, breaking Kurt Busch’s record for wins by a rookie in a season.
What was impressive was in a race with a record nine cautions, Byron had to hold off the field three times on restarts in the final 20 laps at Pocono. It’s a marked difference from Kansas in May when he lost the lead on a late restart but won the race when the top two drivers wrecked.
“Look at where this kid was in Kansas on restarts and compared to now it’s unbelievable,’’ crew chief Rudy Fugle said.
It doesn’t hurt to have Kyle Busch as the team’s owner and someone Byron can talk to about restarts. Brad Keselowski said this past weekend that he thought Joey Logano and Busch were the two best in Cup on restarts.
“It’s important to learn some stuff off of (Busch),’’ Byron said. “It’s also just a confidence thing and also a timing thing. A lot of it is knowing that you can do it and not overthinking because I think a lot of people get to the restart line or box, and they’re having all these thoughts in their head. I’m not too worried about it anymore.’’
— Kurt Busch set a NASCAR record when he completed every lap of Monday’s race. He has completed every lap in each of the first 21 races this season, breaking a tie with Dale Earnhardt Jr., who set the mark in 2012.
— Chris Buescher was the first driver to score his first Sprint Cup victory since AJ Allmendinger at Watkins Glen in 2014.
— Buescher is the third driver to score his first series win at Pocono, joining Denny Hamlin (June 2006) and Jeremy Mayfield (June 1998).
— Regan Smith‘s third place tied for the best finish for Tommy Baldwin Racing. Dave Blaney placed third at the fall Talladega race in 2011. It also was the organization’s fifth career top-10 finish. Smith has two of those finishes, placing eighth in the Daytona 500.
— Kevin Harvick placed fourth to score his eighth top-10 finish in the last nine races.
— Harvick raced without crew chief Rodney Childers, who was serving a one-race suspension for a lug nut violation. Childers is the fifth crew chief to miss a race because of the rule. Three times a driver without his crew chief because of a lug nut violation has finished in the top five. Kurt Busch won at Pocono in June without crew chief Tony Gibson. Kyle Larson finished third at Michigan without crew chief Chad Johnston, and Harvick’s run at Pocono on Monday.