Chris Buescher gets first win at Pocono
Chris Buescher celebrates at Pocono Raceway after winning the Pennsylvania 400 on Aug. 1, 2016 (photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR).
By AMANDA VINCENT
With an assist from the local weather in Long Pond, Pa., on Monday, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rookie Chris Buescher claimed his first-career series win in the Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono Raceway. The race was called official by NASCAR officials because of fog, rain and severe weather with 22 laps remaining of the 160-lap scheduled distance.
“That’s pretty awesome,” Buescher said. “Wild circumstances here at Pocono. This is gonna change our whole year, right here, so this puts us in a good situation where we had a good day. It was a lot of fun. The guys really toughed it out.”
Brad Keselowski finished second, Regan Smith was third, Kevin Harvick was fourth, and Tony Stewart rounded out the top-five.
“It’s been a strange weekend, really, weather-wise,” Smith said. “There were times yesterday I thought we were going to race, and the track had, like, a pond underneath it, apparently.”
Competitors, with the exception of Buescher and Smith, cycled through their final green-flag pit stops with about 36 laps remaining in the scheduled distance. Buscher and Smith were still on the race track with the yellow flag waved for fog with 27 laps remaining. Five laps later, the race was red-flagged after the completion of lap 138. As NASCAR awaited a lift of the fog, rain mists and lightning arrived, ultimately bringing the end of the race.
“I’m just proud of Tommy (Baldwin, car owner) and then the guys on the box for kind of realizing there was opportunity for a strategy play, there,” Smith said. “We have had a decent run today.”
The race had already been rain-postponed from Sunday afternoon until Monday. Mists then postponed the scheduled Monday start by about an hour before the race finally took the green flag.
Martin Truex Jr. started on the pole and led the first 16 laps before a competition caution. Keselowski and Greg Biffle stayed out to restart the race on the front row. When the race returned to green, Truex hit the wall as a result of an issue with a tire inner-liner valve stem that caused a huge vibration on his No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota, bringing out another caution.
Truex encountered another tire problem on lap 99 that resulted in another caution.
While Keselowski and Biffle were the only drivers off-sequence early in the race, pit strategies began varying further and involving more drivers when wet weather was predicted to return to the track.
Kyle Larson and Austin Dillon, along with a few other drivers, stayed out during a lap 66 caution, putting Larson and Dillon up front. Rain held off for awhile, though, and the race returned to green.
Larson and Dillon battled up front for several laps before they washed up the race track and Joey Logano took advantage by taking the lead. Larson and Dillon then had to pit when the yellow flag waved again, this time for rain, on lap 85.
“That was very entertaining for me,” Logano said. “Those guys were racing the heck out of each other and racing for their first win, and there was rain in the forecast, so that was for the win, in my opinion, and I think they had the same thing on their mind. It was a gift for me.”
As Larson and Dillon before them, Logano, Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth and others stayed out during the rainy yellow flag. Again, though, the race resumed, and the front-runners had to pit.
“Only if it had rained a little earlier, we would have had a lot different outcome,” Logano said.
At least partly due to varying pit strategies throughout the race, no driver was significantly dominant. Logano and Larson were the lone two drivers to lead over 30 laps, with Logano leading a race-high 38 laps to Larson’s 37.
Larson finished sixth, Hamlin was seventh, Carl Edwards eighth, Kyle Busch ninth and Kurt Busch rounded out the top-10.