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Upon Further Review Pocono: Familiar foe, wrecked car, restart prowess

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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.

So why?

“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.

STEPPING UP

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.’’

VAST IMPROVEMENT

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.’’

PIT STOPS

— 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.

Caution comes at wrong time for Denny Hamlin at Las Vegas

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Denny Hamlin said he knew it would happen. He just didn’t know when.

A debris caution during a green-flag cycle proved key to Kurt Busch winning Sunday’s Cup playoff race at Las Vegas and Hamlin finishing third despite leading a race-high 121 laps.

The caution on Lap 237 caught most of the playoff drivers a lap down, forcing them to wave around. Busch was the only playoff driver who had not made a pit stop.

Hamlin, who was leading, pitted on Lap 233. He came in a lap after Alex Bowman stopped. Bowman was running second to Hamlin before the stop.

“Our hand got forced by (Bowman) by him coming in early there,” Hamlin said of his team not wanting to have Bowman gain time with fresher tires. “We both had a lead over the field. I thought we could have run a little bit longer, but we had to answer their strategy because they were within one second of us. We didn’t want to just to kind of give them the lead and count on running them down at the end of the race. You have to keep yourself in front of them.”

Instead of possibly celebrating a win and advancing to the next round, Hamlin left Vegas frustrated with his third-place showing.

“I just hate getting burned by the same thing, that’s it, that’s all I’m saying,” Hamlin said on the radio to crew chief Chris Gabehart after the race. “It’s the same thing I get burned on. I know we had no choice because we were at.”

Gabehart responded to Hamlin on the radio: “The choice is I stay out another five or six laps and if the caution doesn’t come, we have no shot to win. I don’t know what I’d do different. The problem is there is no reason for the leaders to come early because you leave yourself vulnerable to that, but you can’t get all these goofballs to understand that. It’s what happens.”

Even after such a finish, Hamlin is 58 points ahead of Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch, the first driver outside a transfer spot to the next round.

But that wasn’t enough to console Hamlin.

“I just hate missing out on victories,” he said of his playoff spot. “We’re so much better than the six victories that we’ve got. It’s just disturbing. I’ve never been so fast in so many races and not finish it like we feel like we should, but we’re up front. That’s what counts. That’s what’s going to get you to Phoenix, keep getting those wins and keep battling for race wins. You’ll get yourself to Phoenix (for the title race)  and hopefully you’’ll get a championship out of  it. That’s what we’re all here for. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Hamlin’s finish was his best in the playoffs and came after a first round that saw him score a stage win but not place higher than 12th.

Hamlin discounted the notion that putting together a new Cup team with Michael Jordan for next year and signing Bubba Wallace to drive for it had been a distraction earlier in the playoffs.

“I’ve been working for like 10 weeks on stuff, not just racing stuff, but stuff in general,” Hamlin said. “We’ve had bad breaks. Tonight was just another bad break like Darlington was, to be honest with you. Or Bristol. We led laps. We were, I thought, the best car.”

At Darlington, Hamlin missed pit road and had to go back around. Then a debris caution about 10 laps buried him outside  the top 10 with less than 50 laps left. He finished 13th.

At Bristol, Hamlin started at the rear because his car failed inspection twice before the race. He ran fifth when he had contact with teammate Martin Truex Jr. as Truex returned to the track after pitting. Hamlin finished 21st.

Kyle Busch still below playoff cutline after ‘pretty dismal’ Las Vegas race

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Though he finished sixth Sunday night in the Cup playoff race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Kyle Busch described his experience in the Round of 12 opener as “pretty dismal.”

The defending Cup champion now goes into the second race of the round, at Talladega Superspeedway, outside the transfer position to the next round. He trails Alex Bowman, who holds the final transfer spot, by nine points.

“Started a little up, went a little down and finished just kind of mediocre there,” Busch said. “We brought an okay M&M’s Camry. Just didn’t seem to have the overall speed that it needed, especially on the long runs early in the race. Then there late, just no overall speed. Nothing to go blitz anybody and try to make moves and get to the front. We just salvaged along and got what we got. We got lucky to get what we got for sure. It was looking like it was going to be a 12th- or 14th-place day, but came home sixth.”

Busch’s issues began at the start of Stage 2 after he earned the lead by getting off pit road first. As he raced Joey Logano for the lead on the Lap 87 restart, he was on the inside of Logano as they drove toward Turn 3.

That’s when Busch’s teammate, Denny Hamlin, dove to Busch’s inside to make it three wide and then take the lead.

But as Hamlin pulled even with Busch, Busch lurched to the right and made contact with Logano. The Team Penske driver would pit to repair a tire rub while Busch continued.

“I don’t know if (Logano) knew that was coming and didn’t adjust for it and didn’t plan for it,” Busch said. “It kind of seemed like he expected me to go to the bottom and run the bottom and he was gonna run my door.”

Logano said on the radio to his spotter he didn’t realize he was three-wide until it was too late.

Later, Busch pit from fourth on Lap 118 and fell to 28th when his front tire changer’s pit gun broke, resulting in a 22.5-second stop.

“We worked on it and I thought we were making some gains on it and then we got that damage and got way back in traffic,” Busch said. “Then there towards the end, was just able to get lucky on a couple of the last restarts in order to pick off a few spots with the M&M’s Camry and get ourselves in a better position for the finish. It was a pretty dismal day I guess.”

Busch heads to Talladega. He has one win in 30 Cup starts there. He has just one top 10 there in the last six races.

How does Busch plan to navigate the race as he faces his nine-point deficit to the playoff cutoff?

“I’ll just do what I’m told,” Busch said.

What drivers said after Las Vegas race

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Here is what drivers had to say after Sunday night’s Las Vegas race.

Kurt Busch — Winner: “This is what kids dream of when they grow up racing. You dream of winning at your hometown track. And for two decades it’s kicked my butt. And tonight, with this Monster Energy Chevy, I’m in awe. I knew the race would come to us. We needed to get to nightfall and one of those quirky Mac McCall (crew chief) pit sequences finally unfolded. We got lucky. You’ve got to be lucky. And you have to be lucky in any race, but we did it tonight with teamwork and pulling through and just not giving up. … Yeah, the No. 11 (Denny Hamlin) had a ton of speed. I was wide-open. And you just have to manipulate the draft. I pulled out some old drag racing skills on the restarts. I knew that was our strong suit. We just put ourselves in position and we held off. Chip Ganassi was up in the suite somewhere and I could feel him breathing over my neck, I want to win. And we did it.”

Matt DiBenedetto — Finished 2nd: “Two seconds at Vegas.  It’s tough to come that close, just wanted it so bad for this team. I love driving for the Wood Brothers.  I want that number 100 for them so bad and for Menards, the whole family and everything they do for us and the team, and having Duracell on the car this week, we’re keeping her charged up good. Our car was the best it had been at the end, just couldn’t get control on those restarts. The 1 car, Kurt, did a great job. We had completely different ratios for the restarts and once he gained control of the race, he played the right games on the restarts, knew what we had on our weakness there. Man, it’s tough to come that close. I just want it so bad, but I’m proud of the team. They did a great job. My pit crew did a great job tonight and really earned that one for us.”

DENNY HAMLIN — Finished 3rd: “We had a dominant car today and I’m proud of the whole FedEx team for giving me such a great car. By far the best car I’ve had in Las Vegas in a long time. It was really, really good. Happy with it and this new tire here. We’ll run that a few more times this year. Really encouraged by the way we ran, but very disappointed that we didn’t get a win. It’s just been the way that the playoffs have gone. Whoever stays out the longest puts themselves in a great spot to win. … I feel good about it. I certainly had a great day. It’s something I’m happy about, it’s about how we ran and how fast we were. We restarted 13th there with just a few laps and then the top got shuffled and we were able to make some ground on the bottom. If either one of the cautions don’t happen, we’re still in great shape, but it took them like seven laps to get a piece of debris off and then we had debris right in the fuel window.

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 4th: “We were right there in the hunt coming down after the last pit stop there under green. We were third and we were tracking them down just a little bit at a time. Felt like we were maybe going to have a three-way race for the win and then that caution came out and put us all the way to the back. To be able to battle through that and ended up pitting again for tires because we weren’t going anywhere and restarted like 24th there on not the last caution, but the one before that. To be able to drive back up to fourth is really something. The Bass Pro Toyota was really strong tonight. We needed just a little bit to be as good as the 11 (Denny Hamlin) and maybe the 88 (Alex Bowman), but we were a third-place car, no question. Just missed it a tiny little bit. Decent night. Just needed a little bit more, but happy with the team and the job they’re doing. See what we can do next week at Talladega.”

ALEX BOWMAN – Finished 5th: “I guess it is good to be disappointed in a fifth-place finish. We did not need that caution to come out in the middle of the pit cycle like that. I thought it was going to be ok for us, but we just couldn’t get through traffic as well as we needed to. Our program is continuing to improve and I just feel like this is another Vegas race that go away from us. At least it was a good points day, which is what we need.”

Kyle Busch — Finished 6th: “We weren’t great early on and didn’t quite have the long run speed. We worked on it and I thought we were making some gains on it and then we got that damage and got way back in traffic. Then there towards the end, was just able to get lucky on a couple of the last restarts in order to pick off a few spots with the M&M’s Camry and get ourselves in a better position for the finish. It was a pretty dismal day I guess. I looked like it was going to be about 12th or 14th if we didn’t have some good moves on that last restart there to get us a sixth-place finish.”

Ryan Blaney — Finished 7th: “Overall it was a decent night. We had to start mid pack and were able to drive up through there pretty quick. I thought our Mustang was good and we made good adjustments on it throughout the night. By the second stage I thought we were really strong, we just needed to kind of restart with the leaders and stay in touch with them. That caution that trapped a bunch of us a lap down was unfortunate. I think we were running fourth or fifth at the time. That stunk. We were able to rebound alright and we started third on that last restart and tried to push Matt (DiBenedetto) and get there but the top just kind of trained up on us. It was unfortunate to run seventh but we had a good car and really good adjustments all night. I thought we were right there, it just didn’t all work out. I thought our car was really fast though, so I am proud of that effort.”

Erik Jones — Finished 8th: “It was kind of an up-and-down day. We started off and I didn’t think that our Toyota Camry was really where it needed to be. We were struggling with rear grip in the heat and couldn’t really get the thing going in the right direction. Towards the end, got some track position and had some good restarts and got the car a lot better. We got caught a lap down with the pit cycle and had some contact there with another car trying to avoid (John Hunter Nemechek) and had to come in and pit and fix some damage. It put us behind there with six laps to go, but still good to come home eighth. Top 10, we will take that and move on.”

Kevin Harvick — Finished 10th: “We just missed everything tonight. The car just didn’t drive good. We were slow on pit road and that was pretty much it. We just got buried in the field there.”

Clint Bowyer — Finished 12th: “I was more worried about this race than I am the next two. We didn’t get out of here as good as I wanted to. Obviously, the 1 car was not a car that we needed to win a race. It’s been a hell of a battle back there with cars that are kind of in the same wheelhouse as far as points-wise. Him winning changes that landscape quite a bit, but we’re only 20 points out. It wasn’t near as bad as it could have been. The car was nuclear meltdown and I was lucky to finish, so 20 points is pretty easy to overcome at a track like Talladega that’s for sure.”

Brad Keselowski — Finished 13th: “It just wasn’t the night we wanted. It’s a good thing we had a little bit of a points cushion to lean on and we’ll run our best the next two weeks. It could have been a lot worse. It is frustrating but we are certainly not out of it. We still have a pretty good points cushion so we will try to get through these next two weeks and put up a good race and build ourselves a cushion.”

Joey Logano — Finished 14th: “Unfortunately, we got a little damage there and had to pit for the left-rear tire. You can’t afford to blow a left-rear tire in the playoffs and back the thing in the fence and shoot yourself in the foot. We had to pit and then just no cautions, and then the one time I had a shot at it the 48 just got me, so that was a little unfortunate. Eventually, we got the lucky dog and went around with our Pennzoil Mustang and drove back to 14th. I felt like that second stage, not scoring any stage points there hurts, but we’re still above the cutline and we’ll head on to Talladega and see how that one goes.”

Cole Custer — Finished 16th: “We just didn’t have the restarts we needed tonight. Obviously, the caution that came out in the middle of the green-flag pit stop cycle hurt us. The guys did a good job tonight and were good on pit road too.”

Aric Almirola — Finished 17th: “Our mile-and-a-half stuff has been really good lately. We ran really good at Kentucky, Texas and we’ve just been solid, so I came in here with a lot of confidence. I thought we would come here and run good. The guys have been working really hard on the cars back at the shop and we just missed it tonight. We were off in speed, off in handling, we were not very good at all on pit road. We didn’t do a lot of things right myself included, so it was just a bad night. Nothing went the way it was supposed to go. We’ve got to be better than that. You can’t transfer through these rounds running that poorly, so we’ll go to Talladega and see if we can’t pull one out of our hat.”

JOHN HUNTER NEMECHEK — Finished 20th: “Man, that was a heartbreaker. Our No. 38 Speedy Cash Ford Mustang was on the free side to fire off and we were bouncing on the splitter pretty bad. Seth (Barbour) and the crew did a fantastic job on pit road getting the handling to where we were comfortable, and we fought our way up into the top five. Unfortunately, we had a tire go down towards the end of the final stage and then made contact a few laps later trying to avoid a wreck. Definitely not the finish my guys deserved today.”

Michael McDowell — Finished 21st: “That was definitely a tough finish to what was a much stronger performance by our No. 34 Love’s Travel Stops | Delo team all race long. We ran inside of the top 20 for basically the entire race, getting as high as fifth or sixth at one point; but unfortunately the handful of late-race cautions and multiple restarts just got us shuffled back to where there weren’t enough laps to drive back towards the front.”

William Byron — Finished 25th: “Just a bummer of a result tonight. We really had a good car. We needed to keep adjusting to keep up with the track but we were running inside the top 10 before that caution during green-flag pit stops. Then we could never rally back unfortunately. Being stuck back there, we then got caught up with two laps to go and couldn’t recover.”

Ty Dillon – Finished 26th: “Our GEICO Military team battled all night long. At the start of the race, the car didn’t have enough rear grip to charge and make speed, but Matt (Borland) kept chipping away at it. Our Chevrolet continued to get better throughout the race. The caution came at the wrong time after our green flag pit stop there at the end, which trapped us a lap down. You can’t control those things though. I’m looking forward to Talladega next week. It is important to our Germain Racing team to finish these final six races strong and we will keep working hard to do that.”

Bubba Wallace – Finished 28th: “Awful. Just missed it. On to Talladega.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 32nd: “We were doing what we needed to do. We were a solid, top-five car in Stage 1 and Stage 2 and were able to earn some points during the end of each of the first two stages. We weren’t so fortunate in Stage 3. We were issued a safety violation on pit road with less than 80 laps to go and had to restart at the tail end of the field. We shook it off because we knew that we work well under pressure. We made our way up to 20th and we were in pretty good shape because we were three cars behind the No. 1 car and we were going to run long, probably. But then I suddenly lost all steering and the water pressure gauge pegged at 400 degrees. We made quick repairs but lost nine laps on pit road and that pretty much did us in. I’m proud of this team for continuing to fight. We’ve got two races left in the Round of 12 and we’re not giving up. It’s on to Talladega Superspeedway where anything can happen, and our goal is to win.”

Tyler Reddick — Finished 37th: “We just didn’t really have any luck on our side tonight. I was a little tight to fire off, but we had good overall speed in our car. Unfortunately after our first pit stop of the night, we had a loose right rear tire so we had to make a second stop to fix that and fell a lap down. It’s frustrating to have a car as fast as the one we had and be trapped a lap down, but as a team, we knew we still had a lot of time to get back on the lead lap and into the mix before the race was over. On the final lap of Stage 2, I got into the wall pretty hard and it ended our night early.”

Las Vegas race results, driver points

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Kurt Busch scored his first career Cup victory at his hometown track, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and is the first driver to advance to third round of the playoffs.

Busch led the final 26 laps, taking advantage when a caution came out in the middle of a green-flag pit cycle. Busch was the only playoff driver who had yet to pit before the caution.

Matt DiBenedetto finished second and was followed by Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr. and Alex Bowman.

Click here for Cup race results

DRIVER POINTS

Alex Bowman holds the final transfer spot to the next round. Kyle Busch trails Bowman by nine points. Clint Bowyer trails Bowman by 20 points. Aric Almirola trails Bowman by 27 points. Austin Dillon trails Bowman by 32 points.

Click here for driver points