It’s been 1,904 days since Roush Fenway Racing – now RFK Racing – last won in the NASCAR Cup Series. In a similar fashion, it’s been 2,238 days since Chris Buescher won at NASCAR’s top level.
Thanks to a drama-filled Saturday night in Bristol, Tennessee, both of those long-term droughts have been snapped, with Chris Buescher bringing his No. 17 Fastenal Ford Mustang to victory lane in the Bass Pro Shops Night Race.
With basically zero tire fall-off over the course of a run, it was a bold two-tire strategy by Scott Graves that placed Buescher back into the lead after the race’s final caution of the event, leaving the Prosper, Texas-native to fend off the pack for the final 61 laps.
Despite Graves’ successful strategy call, the victory for RFK Racing was anything but a fluke, as the team’s two entries combined to lead 278 of 500 laps. Additionally, both Keselowski and Buescher had a shot to win in the race’s closing laps.
While leading the race with 87 laps to go, Keselowski, now a partial owner of the newly-rebranded RFK Racing, was forced to make an unscheduled stop from the lead, after having a flat tire, ultimately taking away his shot at the win.
The Rochester Hills, Michigan-native was one of the numerous drivers – some inside and outside of the Playoffs – to suffer tire issues, as the NextGen’s first race at Bristol Motor Speedway took a toll on the field.
Harrison Burton, Ryan Blaney, Austin Cindric, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, Christopher Bell, Ty Dillon, JJ Yeley, and Erik Jones were among those to also have at least one tire issue throughout the event.
Despite indications that these tire issues were related to setup issues rather than tire issues, concerns were raised when Buescher attempted to make a 60-lap run to the finish on only two tires.
Saving the tires from their explosive tendencies, Buescher was able to hold off regular-season champion Chase Elliott for the victory, crossing the start-finish line just under a half-second ahead.
Finishing in third, William Byron picked up his first top-five result in the last 21 NASCAR Cup Series races, easily advancing into the ‘Round of 12’. Christopher Bell and Kyle Larson completed the top five.
Ross Chastain, AJ Allmendinger, Cole Custer, Denny Hamlin, and Kevin Harvick all maintained finishes inside the top-10, with Michael McDowell and Justin Haley rounding out the 12 lead-lap finishers.
The name of the game in Saturday’s event was adversity for many, many drivers involved in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, with six drivers finishing 25th or worse, while half the playoff field finished five or more laps down.
Kyle Busch, in his final season with Joe Gibbs Racing, was the lowest finishing driver still eligible for the title, after his engine exploded – for the second time in three weeks – just after the halfway point of the event.
On the ensuing restart, Alex Bowman, Austin Dillon, and Tyler Reddick, and Daniel Suarez were all engulfed in a 12-car accident that started when the No. 99 got really sideways and spun in front of the pack.
Ryan Blaney, the only winless driver in the Playoffs, had major issues super early in the race, after his No. 12 Ford Mustang cut down a tire and impacted the wall significantly, bending the front suspension.
Team Penske would bring his car to meet the minimum speed, put him in the garage, and repair the car so that Blaney could return to the track, finishing 30th, 162 laps down.
Leaving Bristol, the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs have completed the first round, eliminating Kyle Busch, Tyler Reddick, Austin Dillon, and Kevin Harvick, making quite a shakeup in the remaining Playoff field.