LONG POND, Pa. (AP) — Chris Buescher waited out a foul-weathered end on pit road to become a stunning winner in Monday’s Sprint Cup race at Pocono Raceway.
Buescher, who drives for underfunded Front Row Motorsports and hadn’t finished better than 14th all season, was the beneficiary on a rare Monday race postponed a day by rain.
Buescher entered the race outside the top 30 in points, and cracking the top 30 was one of the two major requirements of making the Chase. The other is winning a race. Buescher now has the first Cup victory of his career, and will need to find a way to wrangle a spot in the top 30 over the final five races before the Chase field is set. He is still six points behind David Ragan for 30th.
NASCAR called the red flag with 22 laps left and parked the cars on pit road. Buescher could only sit and wait in the No. 34 Ford, though NASCAR let drivers get out of their cars after about 10 minutes as they waited wait out the gloomy conditions.
“I’m a little scared to get out,” Buescher said.
No need. He was declared the winner after 80 minutes on pit road.
Buescher won twice last season in the Xfinity Series and won the series championship. His FRM team will spend 2016 as basically the fourth Jack Roush driver because of a shared technical alliance between the organizations. He finished 30th or worse 10 times this season.
Ragan had Front Row’s only victory 118 races ago in fall 2013 at Talladega.
The 23-year-old Buescher, a former ARCA champion, rested against a fence and was swarmed by fans and photographers wanting a picture with him before the race was even called. With veteran crew chief Bob Osborne calling the shots, Buescher and his crew rooted for the rain and fog to stick around.
“I’m trying to remember every rain dance I’ve ever learned,” he said in the car.
How about a raucous victory celebration instead?
“If he gets it, he deserves one,” Tony Stewart said over the radio.
Buescher is on the brink of becoming the first Chase for the Sprint Cup championship bracket buster. Led by four-time winners Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski, there are 11 slots seemingly set for race winners, and Buescher would make 12. Chase Elliott, Austin Dillon, Ryan Newman, Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson are the four winless drivers battling for the final four spots.
Dillon and Larson nearly crashed the party.
Pocono became the first track in NASCAR history to have two races pushed to Monday because of rain, and nasty weather affected the racing all day. With rain looming toward the halfway point, Larson and Dillon engaged in a thrilling five-lap battle for first. Larson kept his tight lead with a timely block of Dillon just two laps shy of the halfway point. Dillon dipped low and briefly snagged the lead, only for Larson to snatch it right back at the halfway point that made the race official.
But Larson and Dillon took their door-to-door battle on the high line, allowing Joey Logano to swoop low and seize the lead in one of the most exciting mid-race moves of the season. Logano, the 2015 Daytona 500 champion, pulled away in the fog — but Elliott got loose and turned Logano into the wall with 55 laps left in the race and sent his 22 to the garage.
Larson and Dillon resumed their race for the lead shortly before the fog came, but both faded.
Keselowski was second, followed by Regan Smith, Kevin Harvick and Stewart. Larson finished sixth and Dillon 13th. Jeff Gordon finished 28th driving for the injured Dale Earnhardt Jr.