NASCAR Barometer: Buescher Scores Unlikely Win

NASCAR Barometer: Buescher Scores Unlikely Win

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

For the second time this season, a Sunday race at Pocono Raceway was run on Monday due to rain, and it was reigning NASCAR Xfinity champion Chris Buescher who had his car in the lead when bad weather ended the race. Monday's surprise victory was Buescher's best finish in his short Sprint Cup career, and, remarkably, was his first top-10 as well. He and his team will now turn their attention to climbing the points to secure a spot in the top-30 and an entry into the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Early in Monday's rain-delayed race it seemed like Kyle Larson or Joey Logano would walk away with the win, but a wild afternoon of strategy, contact and almost every type of weather left Buescher celebrating in Victory Lane. First, an ambitious Chase Elliott took out Logano, and then Larson slipped down the order as he was forced to pit with others on differing strategies. Tony Stewart continued to prove his recent strength is no accident, while Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski both walked away with top-fives but will feel they could have achieved more.

This week, the teams will tackle Watkins Glen International in the second road course race of the season. Sunday's race is the last hurdle the teams need to clear before earning a deserved week of rest.

UPGRADE

Chris Buescher – Buescher leveraged ideal timing to place his car in the top spot just as fog rolled across the Pocono racetrack and NASCAR halted the

For the second time this season, a Sunday race at Pocono Raceway was run on Monday due to rain, and it was reigning NASCAR Xfinity champion Chris Buescher who had his car in the lead when bad weather ended the race. Monday's surprise victory was Buescher's best finish in his short Sprint Cup career, and, remarkably, was his first top-10 as well. He and his team will now turn their attention to climbing the points to secure a spot in the top-30 and an entry into the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Early in Monday's rain-delayed race it seemed like Kyle Larson or Joey Logano would walk away with the win, but a wild afternoon of strategy, contact and almost every type of weather left Buescher celebrating in Victory Lane. First, an ambitious Chase Elliott took out Logano, and then Larson slipped down the order as he was forced to pit with others on differing strategies. Tony Stewart continued to prove his recent strength is no accident, while Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski both walked away with top-fives but will feel they could have achieved more.

This week, the teams will tackle Watkins Glen International in the second road course race of the season. Sunday's race is the last hurdle the teams need to clear before earning a deserved week of rest.

UPGRADE

Chris Buescher – Buescher leveraged ideal timing to place his car in the top spot just as fog rolled across the Pocono racetrack and NASCAR halted the Pennsylvania 400 proceedings. The 2015 Xfinity champion had a best finish of 14th in the Sprint Cup this season prior to Monday's rain-shortened win. He was sitting just outside of the top-30 drivers in points prior to Monday's race, but he now sits just six points away from earning a spot in the Chase for the Championship as a rookie. Buescher will need to step up his race finishes in the final five races to get into the Chase, but after Monday's unlikely win, anything may be possible for this squad.

Kyle Larson – Larson continued to get along well with Pocono Raceway last week. The driver hadn't finished lower than 12th in five visits to the track, and found himself battling for the win throughout Monday's rain-delayed action. The driver was leading when he battled with Austin Dillon at the half-distance mark and rain threatened, and then the team used strategy to come to pit road as the rain cleared to gain track position when the next caution came. That cycled Larson to the lead once again and he ultimately finished in sixth. Larson has fourth- and 12th-place finishes from his two prior Sprint Cup trips to Watkins Glen, and the momentum gained from Pocono could propel him to another top finish this week.

Austin Dillon – Dillon had a strong car for long runs Monday in Pocono. The Richard Childress Racing driver discovered speed early in the race weekend, and used Monday's race to add another positive outing to the midseason slump reversal he began in June. Dillon was one of the few cars that could match Larson for pace, and the longer the green flag periods were, the more competitive he became. He came on strongly in the final 40 laps of the race, but had extra ground to cover due to his slow final pit stop. In two Sprint Cup races at Watkins Glen the driver of the No. 3 car has a best finish of 16th.

Tony Stewart – The final races of Stewart's full-time career have been top-tier performances and signal that he could be a contender for the title. He was competitive all afternoon at Pocono, and that effort was just a continuation of the strength he's enjoyed since winning at Sonoma earlier this season. Being such a good road course racer makes Stewart an excellent fantasy option at Watkins Glen. He not only won on a road course earlier this season, but he has five victories at the track along with four top-10s in the last six races. The race-winning Stewart we used to know has returned for these final races and he should be a top fantasy choice this week on the New York road course.

DOWNGRADE

Martin Truex Jr. – The chances of converting his pole position in Pocono went away early for Truex. The driver was arguably the fastest throughout practice and looked set for a terrific chance at victory in the rain-delayed race. Instead, Truex lost a front tire and headed into the wall and to the pits for repairs. The team worked hard to get the car back on track only to suffer two more flats, which dropped the car even farther behind than it already was. Truex will now need to focus on reviving his momentum before the Chase commences. In 10 visits to Watkins Glen, the Furniture Row Racing driver has a best finish of third and finished 25th at the track last year.

Paul Menard – Menard surprised at Pocono by having a quick car in practice and qualifying for the Pennsylvania 400. The top starting position was a good boost for the team that has largely underperformed so far this season, and they would have been desperate to convert the opportunity to a top result. Instead, transmission trouble put him 17 laps behind the leaders only for a flat tire to then drop Menard completely out of contention just before the half-distance mark on Monday. Things will have to make a significant turnaround for Menard to make this season's Chase, and with no top-10s in 12 career starts at Watkins Glen things do not appear to be getting any better soon.

Joey Logano – Logano had one of the cars to beat in the first half of Monday's Pennsylvania 400. The Penske Racing driver led the most laps in the first half of the race, and took command as the distance moved into the second half when Kyle Larson and Austin Dillon made contact while fighting for position. The move came just as rain began to fall on the speedway, but the decision not to pit under that caution dropped him the order. That loss of track position led him to contact with Chase Elliott as the young driver tried to force a late pass taking both out of contention. Logano is now left to pick up the pieces in Watkins Glen where he won last season.

Chase Elliott – Monday's result was a serious disappointment after such a strong debut at Pocono earlier this season. The Hendrick Racing driver who led 51 laps in the spring race attempted an ambitious pass on Logano with less than 60 laps remaining. That move caused a collision with Elliott spinning to the inside of the track. He immediately took the car to the garage for repairs, and that incident extended his streak without a top-10 finish to six races. It continues to get more difficult for Elliott to remain in contention for the Chase, and with no Sprint Cup starts at Watkins Glen there are big question marks ahead of this week's race. Elliott does have two top-10 Xfinity finishes at the track, though.

Jeff Gordon – Gordon continued to substitute for Dale Earnhardt Jr. in Pocono, and the veteran driver had just worked his way into the top 10 when he felt his seat belts loosen. He got out of the throttle to secure himself in the seat, but dropped all the way back to the last car on the lead lap once he sorted things out. All the work he and the team put in to gain that position evaporated in the blink of an eye. No one knows when Earnhardt will return to the driver's seat, but Gordon has said he'll be available to substitute until he does. We would expect to see Gordon next week at Watkins Glen where he has four victories but hasn't finished in the top 10 since 2010.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Regan Smith – Overshadowed by Buescher's unlikely victory on Monday was a similar strategy play that vaulted Smith to his best finish of the season. The team, like Buescher, was able to leverage track position at the most ideal time to convert a 30th-place start to a third-place finish. The finish was just his fourth-top-five finish in the Sprint Cup series and his first since 2012. Smith has been a driver fantasy players should consider relatively frequently this season and paid dividends for those who chose him last week. Despite crashing out of last year's race at the Glen, Smith does have a top-10 finish at the track from 2012 and that could be a signal for fantasy players to include him in consideration this week.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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