James Buescher and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS) made their final trip out west for the 2012 season to the 1-mile tri-oval of Phoenix International Raceway (PIR). This trip marks the NCWTS’ first trip back to PIR since the track went through a major transformation during the summer of 2011. Buescher and the entire No. 31 Exide Batteries Turner Motorsport team looked like they would be leaving with a solid points day until an unexpected blown tire sent Buescher and the No. 31 to the outside retaining wall, succumbing the team to a disappointing 17th-place finish.
Turner Motorsports came into the weekend with a 15-point lead over their nearest competitors in the point standings, aiming to pad that lead heading into the final race of the season. During the two practice sessions that lasted for three hours, the Exide team fine-tuned their brand new race truck that hit the track for the first ever time on Thursday afternoon. The team focused mainly on race trim set-ups during these two practice sessions, trying to find the chassis’ reactions to different changes. The No. 31 team came up short on time in order to make a mock qualifying run during practice.
Not knowing what to expect during the qualifying lap, Buescher laid down a solid lap of 26.922, placing him ninth on the starting grid. Buescher and the whole Exide Batteries team felt they had a great truck for the Lucas Oil 150.
Leading into Friday evening’s race, the Turner Motorsports team continued on with their mindset to race their own race and not worry about their competitors. When the green flag flew over the 36-truck field, Buescher quickly moved up three positions in the opening laps, overtaking some strong competitors. Proving that he had a strong truck, Buescher battled his way up to the sixth position where he settled in and continued to track down the top-five.
It was on lap 36 that the first yellow flag slowed the field for an incident in turn-four. Buescher took the chance to radio into the crew, “The truck is tight off turn four, and it was getting tighter as we went on.” Taking that into account, crew chief Michael Shelton called his driver down pit road to make some adjustments on the No. 31 Exide Chevrolet. Shelton, originally calling for a four-tire pit stop, had to make a quick audible call for two tires when Buescher slid through his pit box and came to a rest too close to the pit wall. The two tire stop ended up working out in the team’s favor as many of the competitors that pitted also took two tires.
It was from the lap 41 restart that a flurry of yellow flags started to fall as the 36-truck field struggled to complete consecutive laps on the slick and dusty 1-mile oval. Buescher didn’t let up, however, trying to battle his way back up from just outside the top-10. Buescher, had to make a couple abrasive moves to avoid being collected in some of the nine total yellow flags that flew over the course of the evening.
The team kept encouraging their driver over the radio as he was picking off drivers, one-by-one on his way to the top-five. On lap 67 during a yellow flag period, Shelton ordered his crew to be up on the wall and ready in the case the leaders decided to come down pit road. Sitting just outside their pit window, the No. 31 of Buescher opted to stay out on the track.
Using up every ounce of luck the Turner Motorsports team had, Buescher had another near miss on lap 73 when multiple competitors spun in front him. This put the No. 31 within their fuel window to make it the rest of the distance. Buescher followed his closest top-five running mates down pit road and took two left-side tires and fuel with no adjustments made to the truck. Restarting 12th on the same pit strategy as some of the early leaders, Buescher had to work diligently back up to the top-five. Buescher cracked the top-five once again with just 30 laps remaining, however, he came under heavy pressure from the sixth and seventh-place trucks. Trying to conserve his brakes, Buescher slipped back to seventh with an eye on the bigger race, the season-long championship. While cruising in the late laps of the race, Buescher unexpectedly melted a bead on his right-front tire with just three laps to go, shooting him hard into the outside wall. Buescher dragged the No.31 back to the team’s pit stall for two new right-side tires and to clean up some of the damage. Buescher was sent back out onto the track to salvage what he could with a battered Exide Batteries Chevy Silverado. Buescher finished in 17th-place, one lap down from the leaders, still maintaining an 11-point lead over second place heading into the final race of the year at Miami-Homestead Speedway.
“It was definitely a disappointing finish to a solid race we had going. It could have been worse, but we have a great team here, we’re still 11 points up on second place heading into Miami. We’ll rebound from this and keep our eye on prize.”
Turner Motorsports PR