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Chris Buescher Scores Third Win of Season in Crash-Marred Race at Daytona; Playoff Field Set

Chris Buescher scooped up his third win of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season with a little help from his teammate Brad Keselowski. However, a pair of horrendous crashes marred the evening.


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Chris Buescher won Saturday night's NASCAR Cup Series Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway, and the 30-year-old is now up to three victories on the season as the series heads into the 10-race Playoff next weekend. Buescher's three wins have come over the course of the last five races, and they have come at three totally different styles of racetracks.

If you believe in momentum, the RFK Racing team has it. Big time.

"Yeah, unbelievable at this point," Buescher said in his post-race press conference. "Yeah, there's been a lot going on. Certainly talked about it after even Richmond itself, but surely after Michigan. Talked about kind of hitting our momentum at the right time. This is another big step in the right direction."

While the ability to close out races in recent months has been incredible, Buescher stopped short of calling his No. 17 team the favorite for the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series title.

"I think we're a contender. We still have work to do. I don't think we're under the illusion that says it has to go through us and us only right now," Buescher explained. "We've got tracks we still need to be better at. We've got work to do as a group and as a team to get in the hunt. I surely feel confident about our ability to drive through the Playoffs and feel like we can certainly be a contender in this thing."

Buescher's teammate and boss, Brad Keselowski came home in second place, and in the closing laps, Keselowski opted to stay tucked in behind his teammate to secure the first 1-2 finish for the organization in more than a decade. Simply put, Keselowski didn't want to make a fool out of himself by wiping out himself and Buescher.

"Yeah, well, second is the first loser. We could have ended up in a ball of flames in three and four, too, that would have looked pretty dumb," Keselowski stated. "The cars were certainly on the edge at the end. I got a good push from Aric. I was able to carry that through to my teammate Chris Buescher. There were a lot of cars breathing down our back. It would have been really difficult to pull a move off without probably wrecking both of us."

Keselowski was able to score the second-place finish despite a weird situation where his car caught on fire during a red flag at Lap 96. Under the red flag, Keselowski noticed his car was smoking and decided to run small circles around a paved portion of the backstretch to extinguish the fire. It worked, and he went on to score another great finish.

"The only way to stop [the fire] was to get air moving through the car," Keselowski explained. "Being under red flag, I had to improvise. There was a pad at the bottom of the racetrack. I knew I couldn't drive around the racetrack without getting in serious trouble, but I figured I could get away with driving on that pad. I just ran on that pad until the flames and the smoke disappeared and called it good."

Aric Almirola just missed out on advancing to the Playoffs, as he tried all he could in the closing laps to mount a challenge, but he was just stuck behind the RFK Racing duo and boxed in by cars in the lower line. Still, the driver of the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang secured a third-place finish.

Like Almirola, Chase Elliott narrowly missed the Playoffs with a fourth-place finish. Joey Logano rounded out the top five finishers in the race.

Alex Bowman, Kyle Buch, William Byron, Kevin Harvick, and Corey LaJoie capped off the top 10 finishers on the night.

Due to no winless driver scoring a victory on Saturday night, Bubba Wallace was able to secure the first Playoff berth of his NASCAR Cup Series career with a 12th-place finish.

Martin Truex Jr. was also able to secure the NASCAR Cup Series regular-season championship after scoring enough points with a 24th-place effort. With the regular season championship comes 15 additional Playoff Points for the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series champion.

"It feels great," Truex said of the regular-season championship. "Obviously at the beginning of the year, you set out to be the best. For the regular season championship, it's a huge deal, the 15 points that come along with it are very, very important for the Playoffs.

"Just really proud of my team. Thankful to turn it around from last year, missing the Playoffs, to being here tonight is a big deal for all of us. Thankful to all our partners and everybody that makes this happen. Hopefully, we can keep this going throughout the Playoffs."

On a normal week, the main talking points would be about the incredible strength of the RFK Racing team. While the RFK Racing strength is impressive, and undoubtedly a major storyline, this was no ordinary race.

Throughout the entire event, the intensity on track was absolutely incredible. Drivers held their lines in three-wide rows throughout the field over the opening 94 laps. Despite several close calls, everyone would keep control of their cars -- that is until they didn't.

The entire industry collectively held its breath through two absolutely terrifying crashes on Saturday night. The first massive incident was an 18-car pileup on Lap 95, which was started after Ty Gibbs was sent turning left after contact from behind by his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Christopher Bell. Gibbs would slide into the right rear corner of Ryan Blaney's No. 12 Advance Auto Parts Team Penske Ford Mustang.

The contact from Gibbs' out-of-control car, sent Blaney's car hard right into the outside retaining wall. As Blaney's car barreled toward the SAFER barrier in Turn 4, the end result was a scary head-on crash at nearly 200 miles per hour.

Thankfully, Blaney was able to walk away from the crash.

With The Big One in the rearview mirror, drivers refocused on the final push. As the race approached its closing stages, the intensity continued to ratchet up. Shoves became harder, and harder. And eventually, one of those shoves led to absolute disaster.

Erik Jones collided with Ryan Preece, who had battled himself into contention after suffering power steering issues on the pace laps of the race. The contact sent Preece shooting to the inside lane of the track, and his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Chase Briscoe had nowhere to go and collected his teammate, who was careening across the race track.

As Briscoe made contact with Preece, Preece spun with a lot of momentum into the backstretch grass. The No. 41 machine would catch a section of the infield road course, and his car would launch into the air. After flipping more than 10 times through the air, pelting hard into the ground numerous times, Preece's car came to a stop on the backstretch.

After some time, Preece emerged from the car and stood on his own two feet. After briefly standing, Preece was loaded onto a gurney, and taken to the infield care center, where Preece would eventually be dispatched to a local area hospital for further evaluation. While no official update on Preece's condition has been given at this time, Preece has since posted on X, formerly Twitter, "If you want to be a race car driver, you better be tough. Dammit. Fast @racechoice @FordPerformance Mustang. I’m coming back.."

UPDATE (Saturday at 2:20 AM ET): Stewart-Haas Racing says Ryan Preece is awake, alert, and mobile, but will remain overnight at Halifax Health Medical Center for continued observation. He will undergo further observation by medical personnel later this morning. An update will be provided in the afternoon.

UPDATE #2 (10:52 AM ET): Stewart-Haas Racing says that Ryan Preece was discharged from Halifax Health Medical Center earlier this morning, after his brutal crash late in Saturday's NASCAR Cup Series event at Daytona. Preece is currently on his way home to North Carolina.

Saturday night's race was a thrilling, yet terrifying reminder of how exciting yet dangerous that auto racing can be. And at the end of the chaos, Chris Buescher took yet another win.

Photo Credit: Nigel Kinrade, NKP, Courtesy of Ford Performance

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