By Aaron Bearden, Contributing Writer
No one wishes for weather-shortened races, but in small doses the wild card aspect of these events can add excitement and intrigue to an otherwise predictable NASCAR tour.
Chris Buescher’s upset victory at Pocono Raceway in Monday’s Pennsylvania 400 isn’t likely to carry the same praise that other weather-shortened races have provided in the past after mother nature literally rained on the parades of Kyle Larson in his search for his first Sprint Cup Series win.
However, what the win does do is offer storylines that haven’t been seen in years.
First off, Buescher’s victory was the first for an official NSCS rookie since Joey Logano’s 2009 win in – you guessed it – a rain shortened race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. (Note: Trevor Bayne wasn’t an official series rookie when he scored his upset victory in the 2011 Daytona 500.)
In a year in which two rookies, Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney, have contended for victories and Chase berths, Buescher’s unexpected triumph served as a symbolic breakthrough moment for the entire rookie class.
Buescher’s win also marked the first win for a non-Team Penske Ford team since Aric Almirola’s victory in -again- a weather-shortened race at Daytona International Speedway on July 6, 2014, and was the first triumph for a first-time winner since A.J. Allmendinger’s 2014 victory at Watkins Glen International.
Roush Fenway Racing and its affiliates have shown improvement in 2016, but they’ve continued to run in the shadow of the Penske juggernaut in the final year before Stewart-Haas Racing’s arrival in the blue oval brigade. Buescher’s win gave the group a reprieve, letting them celebrate their first win in over two years.
Courtesy of NASCAR’s playoffs, the win might have also altered the story of the season for multiple drivers.
In the past, a surprise win for a mid-pack team would equate to little more than a week-long feel good story. No team knows this fact better than Front Row Motorsports, who earned their first team victory with David Ragan at Talladega Superspeedway in 2013, one year before the adoption of the current Chase format.
However, with the new ‘win and you’re in’ playoff format Buescher’s team suddenly has much more to play for through the rest of the year.
While most eyes were aimed at Allmendinger to be the bracket buster with a second victory next weekend at Watkins Glen, Buescher offered his own surprise with just the second oval victory for a driver outside of the Chase grid since the start of the new playoff format in 2014. Now the rookie sits just six points out of the top 30 in points, and a spot in the 16-team Chase grid come Chicagoland Speedway in September.
The Chase bubble saw a significant shift as a result of the win, with Larson going from would-be winner to Chase bubble jitters over Pocono’s final 20 laps.
With 12 winners on the year, as few as four Chase positions may remain for winless drivers to earn a spot in the postseason.
Thanks to some heavy fog and a few rain showers, it’s possible that a team that entered Pocono with a best finish of 14th could run for a championship.
To some, that’s disgraceful. To others, it’s everything that makes the modern Chase great.
Regardless of your take, you have to admit that it’s interesting and in a modern NASCAR that’s become all-too routine at times, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.