The fog appeared at the right time for NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rookie Chris Buescher.
The reigning XFINITY Series champion has always dreamed about winning at NASCAR’s premier division, but couldn’t imagine his dream would come true.
After a Lap 91 restart, Buescher made contact with Brian Scott, who stacked up the tail end of the field. With the contact, Buescher made a green-flag pit stop for having a tire rub. Evidently, he received a pit road speeding penalty, which put him back in the field, one lap down.
However, Front Row Motorsports’ No. 34 car worked back into the top 25 after getting the lucky dog during a Lap 104 caution for an accident in Turn 2 between fellow rookie Chase Elliott and Team Penske’s Joey Logano. As Buescher came down pit road, the team knew he could make it for just over 35 laps.
With strategy on Buescher’s side, veteran crew chief Bob Osborne made the call to wait out the impending weather, rather than pit like the rest of the field.
Evidently, Osborne, an 18-time winner in the Cup Series entering Monday’s race, made the correct call. A heavy fog slowly approached the racetrack, taking control of Turn 1 before flowing over Turn 2 and eventually, the entire Pocono Raceway.
At 2:52 p.m., Buescher’s banged up No. 34 Ford was the first car to hit road as NASCAR officials threw out the red flag. A few minutes later, the Texas native stepped out of the car, taking a deep breath with a giant smile on his face.
Walking out of the car, Buescher was greeted by 2012 Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski. The two spoke for approximately two minutes, with both drivers still shocked at the on-track events.
“I just told him that if I couldn’t win, it was cool to see him win,” Keselowski said. “I told him that I could only imagine what was going through your head right now. He was excited, but he’s kind of the humbled but excited kind of guy.”
Though the fog continued to clear up, NASCAR waited out a potential storm, which hit the track just after 5 p.m. However, a heavy mist was felt on pit road as Buescher and Front Row Motorsports General Manager Jerry Freeze made small talk with one another. The two never moved from their position, just a mere 20 yards from the finish line.
Buescher played the waiting game, along with fans in the grandstands, crew members, media and everyone watching on NBCSN. He was greeted by drivers like NASCAR veterans Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, his fellow Ford comrades and more.
According to NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR was reluctant to call the race due to the heavy fog. As he put it, it was the worst fog he’s seen from the control tower during a race.
At 4:09 p.m., Buescher’s life immediately changed. The 160-lap race was called at 138 laps, giving Buescher his first Sprint Cup victory.
“I was kind of just sitting there on pit road and just waiting,” Buescher said. “I was trying not to get my hopes up, but I knew if I did, the fog would roll out and we’d get back underway. We got a good strategy going to have us in the Chase here in a few weeks.”
For Buescher, this is another step in the right direction for a driver with a small team.
Trophy selfie pic.twitter.com/dApbiGr7hN
— Front Row Motorsports (@Team_FRM) August 1, 2016
“The key is to make the most of your opportunities, and Chris is a master at that,” Keselowski said. “He makes the most out of each and every opportunity, and that’s going to take him a long way in his career. He and his team did that today, so a lot of credit goes to them.”
Coming through the rankings from the ARCA Racing Series, Buescher began his stock car career with a humble beginning. Racing with limited sponsorship, he made it into Roush Fenway Racing’s developmental system, earning an XFINITY Series ride with the organization in 2014. Evidently, he won the championship last year and now, he’s a Sprint Cup rookie contender.
When Buescher got the call to compete full-time in the Cup Series for Front Row Motorsports, the team announced an expanded alliance with the Roush program, attempting to improve both programs. For Buescher, the move was one that gave him stability and put him in a position where he knew it would be a year full of learning.
“Obviously, this [win] puts us in a different place,” Freeze said during a post-race press conference. “When you can say and put in your literature that you are a Sprint Cup Series winning, it certainly gives you a little more clout than otherwise. We saw a bump when we won the race at Talladega. It happened to be the very first race that Love’s Travel Stops was on our car. They took a two-race program that’s now a 20-race race program with us. It evolved over the last three to four years.
“CSX is our other big program with the [No.] 34 program, and they’ve grown with us over the years. They’ve been with us for over five years. I feel like we do a good job for those partners that we have, and I think this win will be a catalyst to have a few more that want to come on board.”
With Monday’s triumph, Buescher is still 31st in the standings. In order to be Chase eligible, he will need to enter the top 30. After Pocono, he sits six points behind former Front Row Motorsports driver David Ragan, who holds a loose grip on the 30th spot in pints.
Playing the role of spoiler in the Chase Grid, if Buescher can crack the top 30, he will become the second rookie to make the Chase since its inception in 2004, with Denny Hamlin being the other driver to do so in 2006, when he finished third in the standings. As of now, Chase Elliott sits 15th on the Chase Grid, 25 points ahead of Kyle Larson, who is currently behind teammate Jamie McMurray for the final playoff position by nine points.
Crew chief, driver, general manager. Oh, and trophy. 👍🏻 pic.twitter.com/CfND3CryTK
— Front Row Motorsports (@Team_FRM) August 1, 2016
For Front Row Motorsports, the victory is the first for the organization since Ragan’s triumph at Talladega Superspeedway in 2013 and the second top-10 finish at a non-plate track in team history, with the other coming in Oct. 2014 at Martinsville with Ragan.
Following Ragan’s victory, the small team that could was able to gain additional funding, propelling the organization to eventually put the focus on two cars that are nearly funded for the entire season. However, there are still the concessional events where either Buescher or teammate Landon Cassill still have blank hoods and quarter-panels.
Buescher is the first rookie to win a race since Logano won a rain-shortened race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2010. He is also the first XFINITY Series champion since Keselowski in 2010 to win a Sprint Cup race.
As Buescher and the rest of Front Row Motorsports soak in the reality of winning a race, he’ll be off to a road course school, preparing for Watkins Glen next weekend as the Cup Series head to the final road course of the year.
The victory was popular among those in the NASCAR realm, with Buescher gaining a sense of acceptance in NASCAR’s most prestigious division. And among those who had ego-boosting comments was O’Donnell, who praised him for “busting his butt.”
“I think when you guys have an opportunity, and you all know Chris, tremendous guy, and I think a terrific opportunity for someone who has really busted his butt in racing,” O’Donnell said. “I don’t think you usually see other drivers tweeting, hey, let’s just call the race because they applaud what he’s done and the effort he’s put in as well as Front Row. Really happy to see that, happy to see the number of different winners. Certainly puts pressure on some of the folks who are looking to maybe be in on points. ut for us, that’s what the sport is all about.”