Chris Buescher completes ‘epic comeback’ to finish sixth in Coke 600

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CONCORD, N.C. — Roughly 15 minutes after the end of Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600, Chris Buescher was the last Cup driver to arrive at the pit road media bullpen to discuss his experience in the 400-lap race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

He had a lot to talk about.

“That was a really fun race,” Buescher said. “The most fun I’ve had at one of these 600s.”

That’s not the tone you’d expect from a driver who got into the wall on Lap 116, fell from 11th to 17th and then cut a tire 12 laps later to bring out the caution.

But it is the tone you expect from a driver who came back from being a lap down to finish sixth in NASCAR’s longest race.

As a result, the JTG-Daugherty Racing driver has consecutive top-10 finishes for the first time in his Cup career. Sunday’s finish follows a 10th at Kansas two weeks ago.

“Had great speed from the drop of the green,” said Buescher, who started 22nd. “Second stage just tried to get a little too high and got up in the fence. It’s on me. … We knew we had speed still, but this group did a terrific job repairing. Came in prepared. Worked really hard after practice, made a lot of changes as well. Just a great all around effort. The pit crew did a terrific job.”

Buescher thought his contact with the wall was “going to hurt us for sure.”

“I felt like it probably knocked a bunch of camber into it and was worried about blowing a tire with just wearing out the inside edge,” Buescher said. “(His team) sure made it look good. Tire wear looked good throughout the night. After we got that going we just kept digging harder and harder and stopped worrying about it and there at the end we didn’t have to worry about a thing.”

In five previous starts on Charlotte’s 1.5-mile oval, Buescher’s best finish was 16th in the fall 2016 race.

But Buescher had to survive a “wild” five-lap shootout to end the race, with his car restarting 12th after all but one lead-lap car pitted and Daniel Suarez was penalized for pitting outside his box.

“I need to rewatch the replay to understand what happened,” Buescher said. “I got ran into probably three times. Got ran into the fence at on point when we were four wide. And nobody lifted. Honestly, it’s kind of what we expected all of these races to be like this year. I think it got hot enough, slick enough we finally had one of those nights tonight. It made for some wild racing. Made it frustrating at times trying to get by on the bottom. You had options, you were able to move around. What a great time.”

Buescher’s result comes in the wake of other impressive runs for his team in the previous 12 races that didn’t end as well.

At Bristol he placed seventh in Stage 2 but had to pit from ninth with 41 laps to go due to a loose wheel. He finished 25th.

A week later at Richmond he placed in the top 10 in both stages but finished 22nd.

The Kansas race saw his most consistent run as he placed sixth in both stages before finishing 10th for his first top 10 since Atlanta.

Buescher credited “continuity” and “chemistry” on his team and working “extremely hard through the offseason” to be ready for the new rules package.

“What a terrific finish for us in the JTG-Daugherty Racing group,” Buescher said. “For us to have great runs this season that have been right round top fives and not quite get the finishes out of it, this is a good night to have a pretty epic comeback.”