Rookies Chase Elliott And Chris Buescher Battle Adversity In Richmond For Chase Seedby Hunter Thomas September 12, 2016 0 comments
RICHMOND, Va. – Chase Elliott and Chris Buescher became the first Sunoco Rookie of the Year contenders on Saturday to make the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup since Denny Hamlin did so in 2006.
Heading into the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway on Saturday night, Elliott’s and Buescher’s seasons were on the line. Elliott had the best scenario out of all the Chase bubble drivers, but he wasn’t absolutely secured. As for Buescher, he entered the weekend 30th in the championship standings, and with a win at Pocono Raceway back in August, he had to leave Richmond within the top-30.
Elliott started 34th towards the back of the pack, but he ran inside the top-25 for the majority of race. As the Georgia native was making his way through the pack, he brought out the caution on lap 96 after pounding the outside wall in Turn 1, following a cut left front tire.
“Very lucky our tire cut down when it did, was able to get up against the wall and kind of get slowed down before I had a big hit,” Elliott said. “That was just luck, I guess, and how that worked out. Like I said, we’ll take it, and we’ve got to capitalize on it now.”
Photo Credit: Barrett Goodson
The 20-year old’s tire was cut after contact with four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion and Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Jeff Gordon. Ryan Newman got into the back of Gordon as they dove into Turn 1. Gordon then slid up the track, making contact with Elliott. Not long after, Elliott’s tire went down as he entered Turn 1. The No. 24 3M/American Red Cross Chevrolet SS pounded the outside wall, and the car began to bottom out as Elliott limped around the track. Although Elliott was fairly safe to making the Chase entering the race, the cut tire and hard contact with the outside wall could’ve been catastrophic to his chances.
Photos By: Barrett Goodson
“I just think we have to first off be thankful that we were able to get in tonight after the night we had,” Elliott said. “I can’t thank my guys for working as hard as they did. I’ve never had to go through ‑‑ I’m sure they haven’t, either, all the stuff we went through tonight, so hats off to them, fixing our car multiple times. I appreciate our 3M NAPA group for doing that and we’re excited about these next 10. We have to go in with the mentality that we can give ourselves a chance at Homestead, and if not then we should have let the next one in.”
Chase Elliott battled his way into the top-20, and he received the free pass, placing him back on the lead lap during the seventh caution of the night on lap 266. Elliott was able to salvage a 19th place finish, and he will now be seeded 14th in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Elliott kicked off the season with the pole in the Daytona 500, but on lap 19 of the prestigious race, he crashed on the frontstretch. The 37th place finish put Elliott into a huge hole, but by the 11th race of the season at Kansas Speedway in May, he made his way into the top-10 in points, where he stayed until mid-July, when three back-to-back-to-back finishes outside of the top-30 dropped him to 11th in the championship standings. This past weekend’s race at Richmond International Raceway was just another obstacle for the Hendrick Motorsports No. 24 Chevrolet SS team, but now that they’ve made their way into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, all of the hard work has begun to pay off.
As for Front Row Motorsports’ Chris Buescher, he already had a win, but finishing out the regular season inside the top-30 was no easy task. On Saturday, Buescher entered the race only nine points ahead of David Ragan, who held the 31st position in the championship standings. Buescher went a lap down early in the Federated Auto Parts 400, but ironically, it was the caution that came out for Chase Elliott that earned Buescher the free pass.
Photo Credit: Hunter Thomas
Like Elliott, Buescher made his way into the top-25 early in the race. Buescher also had his share of drama in the race as well. On lap 364, the caution came out for a crash involving eight cars in Turn 3. The accident began when Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart made contact entering Turn 3. Both drivers crashed, collecting Carl Edwards, David Ragan, Brian Scott, AJ Allmendinger, Dylan Lupton and Chris Buescher. As the cars scattered in the turn, Buescher almost made his way through unscathed, but hit right front bounced off of Newman’s car.
“It was a crazy race,” Buescher said. “I can’t believe how many cautions we had. We got involved in one of the accidents, had a tire go down, just a very eventful day. Just so proud to be here.”
Buescher was involved in the wreck, but on the flip side for the driver of the No. 34 CSX – Play it Safe Ford Fusion, Ragan’s car was heavily damaged, and he was unable to continue. In the end, Buescher finished 24th, only 21 points ahead of David Ragan. Buescher will be seeded 13th in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup beginning this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway.
“Now we talk a different strategy,” Buescher said. “We get a lot of things changing now. Just really cool to be a part of it at this point. We look at this first round, and we want to make it past that round. We want to move through the Chase, and then we can reevaluate from there. If we can keep going farther and improve our program each and every weekend, that’s always going to be what we’re aiming to do. That’s the plan. We’ve got to do and try and progress through the Chase and see what we can pull off.”
Photo Credit: Hunter Thomas
The start of Chris Buescher’s rookie season was much different than Elliott’s. The Texas native won the rained shortened race at Pocono Raceway in August, giving him a chance at making the Chase, but even after the victory, he was only 31st in the standings. Two races later at Bristol Motor Speedway, an impressive fifth place finish propelled Buescher into the top-30. The next three races at Michigan, Darlington and Richmond were all about survival for the team.
Now that the two drivers are competing for the championship, it’ll be interesting to see how they perform in the final 10 races of the season. Elliott is piloting a top-notch Hendrick Motorsports car, and Buescher is the defending NASCAR XFINITY Series champion. If the two drivers can survive the opening Round of 16, then there’s a chance that one, if not both of them can capture a competitive finish at Talladega Superspeedway, catapulting them into the Round of 8. At that point into the Chase, the heat will be on to see who will be one of the Championship 4 as the series visits Homestead-Miami Speedway for the final race of the 2016 season in November.
The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup begins on Sunday, September 18 at Chicagoland Speedway. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400 will broadcast live on the NBC Sports Network (NBCSN) and the Motor Racing Network (MRN) at 12:30 p.m. ET.