Chris Buescher Wins Stage, has ‘Solid Day’ at Sonoma

By Seth Eggert, Associate Editor

Cautions may have placed Chris Buescher in an opportune position to challenge for the win at Sonoma Raceway, but the difference in tire life ultimately meant he couldn’t hold onto the lead.

Multiple cautions in the first two stages of the Toyota / Save Mart 350 ultimately put Buescher’s No. 17 Ford Mustang Dark Horse in the lead at the end of Stage 2. The strategy by crew chief Scott Graves not only earned the Prosper, TX native 10 Stage points but also one Playoff Point.

A caution-free final stage of the 110-lap race allowed Buescher to be among the first to hit pit road. The RFK Racing driver slowly cycled back to the lead as others also pitted. However, by the time Buescher moved back into the lead, Martin Truex Jr. was hot on his heels. The constant hounding from Truex also allowed Kyle Larson to chase both drivers down.

For three laps Buescher held both former NASCAR Cup Series champions off. As his tires heated up over the course of the green flag run, the Ford Performance driver slipped. That first allowed Truex by for the lead, then Larson for second. Buescher faded to fourth as Michael McDowell snuck by in the final laps. Both moved up another spot as Truex ran out of fuel on the final lap with Buescher taking the checkered flag in third.

“It was really good strategy on the day and an awesome finish,” Buescher said. “I wasn’t quite able to hold the lead there and that bums me out. I was trying. I’ve got to be better and ultimately figure out how to make that last a little bit longer, but our team did a really nice job. To start where we did and finish right here at the front with our Ford Mustang. I’m really proud of that. Just another close one at the end of the day.”

Buescher qualified an uncharacteristic 26th on the newly repaved racetrack. Three cautions in Stage 1 jumbled the running order. That, along with another three cautions in Stage 2 allowed Buescher and Graves to split the strategy and move forward.

“Ultimately, we started deep in the field, and it was going to be hard to make it work, but Scott and our group did a fantastic job,” Buescher explained. “They played it well and got us up front. We got a stage win, a playoff point, but ultimately at the end I (couldn’t) hold on. If that was just a little bit of tire difference late in the run or how hard I ran at the beginning I’m not sure. It’s just a really solid day considering where we started. That’s a ton of positions gained on the day and really, really good.”

The third-place finish was Buescher’s third top-five of the season. It was also his 22nd career top-five finish in the Cup Series.

The top-five finish, along with the Stage 2 win, moved Buescher up from 14th to 13th in the points standings. He is 149-points behind the leader, and race winner, Larson. Buescher is also 24-points ahead of the playoff cutline, currently held by Bubba Wallace.

Next for Buescher is the Cup Series’ inaugural trip to Iowa Speedway for the Iowa Corn 350 powered by Ethanol. In four NASCAR Xfinity Series starts at the 0.875-mile oval he has one win in 2015.

The Iowa Corn 350 powered by Ethanol at Iowa Speedway is scheduled for Sunday, June 16 at 7:00 p.m. ET on USA Network. The race will also be broadcast by both the Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.

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