BRISTOL, Tenn.—Chris Buescher became the third non-Playoff driver to play spoiler in the first round of the postseason.
With a two-tire stop on Lap 440, Buescher gained the track position necessary to win the Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Buescher took the lead coming off of pit road and held off Chase Elliott over the final 61 laps for the second win of his NASCAR Cup career and the first for Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing.
“This has been number one on my list for a really long time,” Buescher said. “I actually love this racetrack. It’s my favorite place we come on concrete. It’s just so special to get Fastenal their first points Cup race. After all these years we finally got them into Victory Lane. We’ve got a bunch of Fastenal folks out here with us, so that’s really special and to get Ford in Victory Lane and spoil the playoffs.
“Everybody on this team did such a great job, executed all day long and we had a really fast Ford Mustang. A lot of special things came together. I’m just so excited right now. This is one I’ve had circled for a really long time and if there was gonna be one this year to get, this is it.”
Buescher became the 19th different winner this season tying the modern era record set in 2001.
Elliott finished .458-seconds behind the No. 17 Ford. William Byron, Christopher Bell, Kyle Larson, Ross Chastain, AJ Allmendinger, Cole Custer, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top 10.
The final race in the Round of 16 was one of attrition as tires blew, parts failed and pit crews experienced problems.
Two Cup champions—Kyle Busch and Harvick—missed advancing to the next round. For the second time in three weeks, Busch had a blown engine. The No. 4 pit crew experienced an uncharacteristically slow pit stop on Harvick’s final round of service. He lined up 11th for the final run on a track that was difficult to pass. The Richard Childress Chevrolets of Tyler Reddick and Austin Dillon also fell below the cutline after both drivers were collected in an accident triggered by Daniel Suarez.
But many drivers advanced despite a lack of flawless execution. Harrison Burton was the first Ford to blow a right front tire—and he wouldn’t be the last. Austin Cindric was the next victim on Lap 83.
Ryan Blaney led nine laps before blowing a right front tire on Lap 90 while running fifth. After coming to the pits for service, his left rear tire rolled off. The team quickly realized the right-toe link was broken. Blaney was able to make minimum speed which enabled the No. 12 team to get off of the DVP clock. He came in for major repairs on Lap 120 and went behind the wall for 140 laps. Blaney returned to the track 152 laps down and finished 30th.
Brad Keselowski won the first stage on Lap 126. Buescher assumed the lead by staying on track to start the second stage. Power steering woes affected four Toyota drivers, starting with Bubba Wallace on Lap 176. He soldiered on to a 29th-place result but Martin Truex Jr., wasn’t so lucky. He retired after Lap 198 followed by Ty Gibbs on Lap 265. Hamlin also had issues with his steering along with a right front flat on Lap 233. The No. 11 Toyota hit the wall in Turn 4 while running third to trigger the sixth caution.
Bell won the second stage and held the lead for the start of the final segment. The most pivotal wreck occurred on Lap 277 when Suarez lost control of his car entering Turn 3. He ran into Ricky Stenhouse Jr., collected Todd Gilliland and Playoff drivers Reddick, Dillon, Cindric, Briscoe and Alex Bowman. Hamlin went low and avoided the melee but the night ended for Bowman, Dillon and Stenhouse.
Bell retained the lead and held serve until NASCAR called a debris caution after Erik Jones hit the wall in Turn 2 on Lap 352. Larson won the race off of pit road on Lap 357. Thirty laps later, Keselowski took the point. After 26 laps with the lead, Keselowski blew a tire and was forced to pit. Bell assumed the lead on Lap 413—but a tire blew on the No. 20 Toyota 22 laps later forcing the 11th and final caution. Hamlin experienced issues with his hub and dropped to 10th. A two-tire call by crew chief Scott Graves allowed Buescher to vault from third to first. He led a race and career-high 169 laps for his second win in his 250th start.
Buescher credited team co-owner Keselowski with lighting the spark.
“It came up in the shop this week that this was our 250th start,” Buescher said. “I thought that through and thought back through the years, like ‘Man, it's been a rough go at times.’ I've been sitting here trying to fight for top 20s at different points of my career.
That's not where we're at this year. It's not where we've been looking to. We've had high expectations from the get-go.
“I think a lot of that does come from Brad coming over and hitting a reset button. Nobody was ever content with 20th, but we needed baby steps to work our way back up, and this was a big reset this season to say, look, we need to be winning races. Trying to put everything else behind you other than the last week and try and learn from that one to get better.
“Yeah, I guess it's crossed your mind that it's been a long time, and I wasn't counting 2,234 days or whatever that was for sure.”
Keselowski expressed his happiness when he greeted Buescher in the media center. He acknowledged the No. 17 team’s hard-fought win.
“There are forty-some of the best cars that nobody is gonna give you anything,” Keselowski said. “You scratch and claw for every little bit every day and every hour and, if you’re lucky and you don’t wreck, you don’t blow up, you don’t have a problem and you finish 10th to 15th, and if you’re lucky and you’re damn good, you win.
“If you’re damn good and you’re not lucky, you still finish 20th or worse, so we had two cars that were really good today and one that was unlucky and one that executed and everything came the right way for them.”
Elliott holds a 15-point lead over Logano heading into Texas Motor Speedway.