NASCAR Cup Series
Denny Hamlin, Joe Gibbs 11 Have Work to Do on Pit Road
Aug 14, 2022
Chris Buescher came excruciatingly close to significantly shaking up the NASCAR Cup Series playoff picture at Richmond Raceway.
Inside of 50 laps to go, Buescher had closed to within a half-second of leader Kevin Harvick as they raced through lapped traffic. His teammate, Brad Keselowski, played blocker for the organization but KHI client Ricky Stenhouse deferred to the head of his agency to offset the gains.
Buescher kept it close in traffic but Harvick drove away once he finally got into clean air -- ultimately winning by .441 over a hard charging Christopher Bell.
But it was all fair game.
"Everyone is in the way equally at that point," Buescher said. "When you’re fighting for the lead, you feel like the whole field is in your way."
Sure, the tease of a potential playoff altering victory appeals to the RFK Racing No. 17 driver, but he was more blown away by the speed of his car at Richmond Raceway. The Herico County short track is near the bottom of his favorite tracks list and there he was, a variable away from winning at a place he wouldn’t have minded falling off the schedule entirely.
His best finish at Richmond was a 15th and that came in April.
"This has been a racetrack that I’ve wanted to fill with water or put dirt on or something for a long time," Buescher said. "We came here in the spring, had a tremendous run, I’ll say a top-10 run, and not quite the finish we needed, but I was finally optimistic coming back to Richmond.
"After practice yesterday, I don’t know if I would have stayed with that sentiment, but the group did a really good job overnight. [They] found a lot of speed in this Fastenal Ford and put us in contention to win a race. [I] wasn’t quite able to get it, just ate up the rear tires a little bit, had some lapped traffic that just in the way, and couldn’t pick and get by them."
The most invested party to that battle wasn’t even aware of what was potentially unfolding.
Had Buescher closed out on the second win of his career, it would have eliminated Blaney from the provisional playoff cutline, despite the Team Penske racer sitting second in the championship standings. He was in the midst of a battle with Kyle Busch and William Byron to score a top-10 and was completely oblivious.
"I had no idea," Blaney said with a laugh. "I had so much shit going on."
Part of that was the points battle with Martin Truex Jr. because a new winner isn’t the only way Blaney could fall out of the playoffs. If Truex finds a way to take second in the standings away from Blaney without a new winner, Truex would be in and Blaney out.
Truex finished seventh on Sunday afternoon, three positions better, but Blaney scored 10 stage points more than his closest pursuer and actually gained over the 2017 champion by the tune of 26 points.
Blaney is well aware of the importance of a potential new winner, but just couldn’t keep up with it in real time because he was racing Truex throughout the day too.
"It’s part of it, right? You have to understand we’re kind of racing him for the points a little bit," Blaney said. "Not a little bit, but for the final spot if no one else wins. So, you have to be aware of that and doing all you can.
"It was a good day for the stage points side of getting more than he did and kind of stretching it a little bit. But just got to keep doing the same thing every weekend, I mean that’s all you can control."
As for Truex, who is remarkably third in points, and currently on the outside looking into the playoffs, he isn’t going to stress over it.
"We're going to just go race for the next two weeks," Truex said. "It will play out however it plays out and there's no sense in losing sleep over it."
The final two races of the regular season take place at Watkins Glen and Daytona International Speedway -- a road course and superspeedway.
Buescher could break through that way, but so can literally anyone else, especially after the regular season finale.
"The Glen has been circled as a pretty high spot," Buescher said. "Road races have been really good to us. The test went really well — the tire test we were able to do a while back — and I think we learned a lot from that that’s probably applied everywhere, but we’re constantly learning still. So is the rest of the field, so we know we’re not going to be able to stroll in there and it be easy, but I think we’re going to have a heck of an opportunity."
PROVISIONAL PLAYOFF GRID
Chase Elliott 25 Playoff Points
Ross Chastain 15
Joey Logano 13
William Byron 13
Denny Hamlin 13
Tyler Reddick 12
Kevin Harvick 10
Kyle Larson 8
Christopher Bell 7
Kyle Busch 6
Alex Bowman +107 points
Daniel Suarez +89
Austin Cindrick +71
Chase Briscoe +64
Ryan Blaney +26
Martin Truex Jr. -26
Aric Almirola -214
Erik Jones -226
Bubba Wallace -249