When looking at the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rookie class and which of those drivers would be the first to make it to victory lane, very few gave Chris Buescher and Front Row Motorsports a chance to be the first winner with the likes of Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney in the field.
However, Buescher was able to silence the doubters with an assist from Mother Nature as Monday’s Pennsylvania 400 was called 22 laps from the finish due to heavy fog that reduced visibility to nearly zero and impending rain. Buescher cycled through to the lead during pit stops late in the race and was able to stay ahead of Brad Keselowski long enough for the weather to set in and end the race.
Buescher’s race didn’t start as well as it ended, as Buescher had a run in with another driver early in the race, causing a tire rub on his car and forcing him to pit road for repairs. The team was able to get his car repaired and by the time all was said and done, Buescher and Front Row Motorsports were at the front when it counted for the team’s first win since Talladega in May 2013.
With his win, Buescher is now Chase eligible as long as he can break into the top-30 in points by the conclusion of the final regular season race at Richmond next month. As of now, Buescher is just six points out of the top-30, ranked 31st in points.
“That’s pretty awesome. Wild circumstances here at Pocono. 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,” said Buescher in victory lane.
“We’ve been definitely headed in the right direction. The last six or seven weeks have been really good for us. Kentucky was gonna be excellent for us, but is just didn’t play out. It’s pretty awesome to be here right now. I don’t know what to do right now. We don’t have any of the team here right now. The car is out on pit road. This is a little different way to celebrate.”
While Buescher was celebrating in victory lane, the other rookies in the field didn’t fare quite as well at Pocono.
Ryan Blaney came up just short of a top-10 finish, ending the day in 11th, right about where he had been running for the majority of the day. At the start of the race, Blaney moved into the top-10 by lap 20, but a gamble for track position failed around lap 100 and dropped Blaney back to 24th.
Despite the setback, Blaney was able to rebound back to 11th when the fog rolled into to end the race.
“I didn’t think we were too bad. I thought we actually had a really good race car, but it didn’t really play out in our favor of getting track position. We got it and took a gamble on rain and it didn’t, and then we lost all of it and had to drive back up through the field. We should have cycled out about ninth right there and the fog rolled in,” said Blaney
Heading to Watkins Glen, Blaney sits 18th in points, tied with Trevor Bayne, as he is keeping his Chase hopes alive down the stretch.
Chase Elliott hoped to be in the mix for the win, just as he was in the first Pocono race, but this time around, Elliott continued his slump that he has been on over the past month. In the five races preceding Pocono, Elliott had finishes of 21st, 32nd, 34th, 35th, and 15th, with a mid-race run-in with Joey Logano at Pocono handing Elliott another poor finish.
On lap 104, Elliott and Logano went into Turn 2 side-by-side, but Elliott’s car washed up the track into Logano, sending Logano into the outside wall and Elliott spinning back across the track into the inside wall. Both drivers were forced to the garage for repairs, with Elliott’s team able to get his car repaired in short order, but the damage had been done and Elliott would end the day in 33rd, four laps down.
“We came off of Turn 1 and those guys were three-wide. I thought Denny (Hamlin) had the best run, so I elected to push him down the back, down there at the exit of Turn 1; I thought that would be a good move to kind of get him passed, that hopefully he’d drag me by; and I was just still next to him and got in there. I thought I slowed down enough to not get loose, but got loose and collected Joey. So, I apologize to those guys. It was completely my fault. And I apologize to my guys. Man, they gave me a good car. I need to re-think my evaluation of how I’m going to approach these races because it’s not working out right now,” said Elliott.
As for the fourth rookie in the field, Brian Scott, he was able to bring his No. 44 Ford home in 24th with a lead lap finish, but had some tribulations of his own as he nearly lost control of his car early in the race, causing the field to scatter around him, but came away without any damage for his best finish since Dover in May.