Chris Buescher managed to hold off Chase Elliott for the final 50 laps of the Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on Saturday, becoming the 19th different NASCAR Cup Series champion of the year.
Twelve drivers were exhaling sighs of relief and fervently praying for a return to stock-car sanity in the following round after the event that determined the field for the Round of 12 in the series playoffs and eliminated star drivers Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick from the postseason event.
Buescher took the lead for the 444th lap of the 500th lap restart after making a two-tire pit stop under caution on lap 438 of the race. In order to grant the RFK team its first victory since Ricky Stenhouse Jr. took the checkered flag at Daytona on July 1, 2017 at Daytona, the driver of the No. 17 Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing Ford led the final 61 laps and a race-high 169 overall.
The triumph marked RFK Racing’s first since Brad Keselowski joined the team as an owner/driver following the 2021 season. In an unprecedented occurrence, Buescher won a race in the Round of 16 marking the third straight non-Playoff driver to win a Cup Series race postseason.
“It’s so special here… I love this racetrack… I love the fans… I love every time we come here… It’s so special, It’s pretty awesome,” said Buescher, whose previous Cup win came back in 2016 at Pocono.
Despite the fact that everyone in pursuit had four fresh tires, Buescher stated he wasn’t concerned about beginning the last run with just two new ones.
“I wasn’t a bit… It was up to me at that point,” Buescher said. “I made it work, and we had a really fast car.”
“We knew we had a really fast race car in practice and didn’t quite get the job done in qualifying… but what a race car!”
“I don’t know what all to say right now,” he added. “I’m out of breath… This place will wear you flat-out, and I love that about it. It’s just a special night.”
Elliott trailed behind Buescher by 0.458s to finish second as William Byron followed to finish third. Christopher Bell finished in the top five for the third time in a row in the Round of 16 after coming in fourth, followed by Kyle Larson in fifth. Ross Chastain finished sixth with all the five drivers behind Buescher qualifying for the Round of 12.
Denny Hamlin, Chase Briscoe, Daniel Suarez, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, and Alex Bowman all secured berths in the next round despite having significant troubles during the race. On the last two laps, Elliott closed the gap with Buescher but ran out of time.
“I felt like we were gaining, but it was… I wasn’t close enough to do anything with him, but I appreciate the effort,” Elliott said.
“We had a long day yesterday. Was able to battle back from a bad qualifying effort (23rd) to get a top two, so proud of that.”
“Glad to be moving on [in the playoff] and looking forward to some more opportunities here these coming weeks.”
Harvick ran constantly in the top five after remaining out at the end of stage one to gain track position and needing a victory to move on to the next round. However, Harvick’s chances vanished in the pits on lap 438 when his team neglected to secure the left-rear on his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford.
Harvick had to reposition himself inside his pit stall as the tire drifted away. He started the final restart on lap 444 in 10th place due to the lost time. He exited the playoffs in that position, placing 16th overall.
“It was pretty tough… We pitted in front of the No. 17, so just kind of the way the year has gone,” Harvick said. “Just went from having a chance to lead the parade to being a part of the parade. Just difficult to pass.”
The fate of Busch’s elimination was guaranteed, despite finishing seven laps later in 20th place and gaining enough positions by passing back markers to advance, Austin Cindric finished two points ahead of him and Tyler Reddick. Busch experienced his second engine failure in the three playoff races on lap 270 after accumulating 14 points in the first two stages and passing the cut line.
“It just goes with our year,” Busch said. “I don’t even know what to say. I’m flabbergasted. I just feel so bad for my guys.”
“They don’t deserve to be in this spot… They work too hard… We are too good of a group to be this low down on the bottom, fighting for our lives just to make it through.”
“Two engine failures in three weeks; that will do it to you.”
Following a 12-car pileup on the backstretch on lap 277, RCR’s Reddick and teammate Austin Dillon failed to advance to the Round of 12. Both drivers’ Chevrolets sustained significant damage after the crash. Keselowski had led 109 laps and seemed to be in position to win the race before his right-front tire blew out when he was leading on lap 414.