Chris Buescher grabbed his first Sprint Cup Series win Monday, using pit strategy to put the No. 34 Ford out front before bad weather cut the race short at Pocono Raceway. The victory is the second for Bob Jenkins’ growing team and the first since David Ragan took the No. 34 to Victory Lane in 2013.
Buescher overcame a cut tire and a speeding penalty that put the Dockside Logistics Ford Fusion a lap down earlier in the race. The 23-year-old rookie had worked his way back to the lead lap when fog and rainy weather began to approach. As the rest of the field dipped to pit road for green-flag stops, crew chief Bob Osborne kept his driver on the track, low on fuel but in the lead, knowing the race might be halted.
As fog began to envelope the track and sprinkles began to fall, officials waved the caution flag and then the red flag, bringing the field down pit road with 22 scheduled laps remaining. Buescher then had to wait a nerve-wracking 80 minutes before the race was called official and the team rolled to Victory Lane to celebrate.
“This is going to change our whole year right here, so this puts us in a good situation,” Buescher said. “It was a lot of fun. The guys really toughed it out. It’s pretty awesome to be here right now.
“I was sitting there on pit road just kind of waiting for everything to happen,” Buescher continued. “And, to be quite honest with you, we’ve had some awful luck this year and a lot of things not quite go our way. I tried not to get my hopes up because I knew as soon as that fog rolled on out, we would have been restarting again. I was being a little bit selfish, but doing a rain dance and hoping the fog didn’t roll out.”
The start of the race had already been postponed a day by rainy weather. But, in hindsight, the team didn’t mind waiting an extra day to run the biggest event in Buescher’s young Cup career.
“I’m extremely proud of how far this team has come,” Jenkins said. “Chris is a proven champion and one heck of a driver. He drove the wheels off that car today and Bob (Osborne) made a great call. I’m disappointed I couldn’t be there to celebrate with the guys, but I’m absolutely enjoying this moment. I’m very proud of this team.”
Buescher is the first driver in the 2016 Sprint Cup rookie class to earn a win this season. He sits 31st in the championship standings, six points outside the top 30. He needs to be within the top 30 for his win to earn him a berth in the Chase. Five races remain in the regular season for him to move up in the standings and secure a spot in NASCAR’s playoffs.
“We had pretty steep odds coming into this one, but we’ve been heading in the right direction,” Buescher said. “There’s no mistaking that. We’ve been qualifying better. We’ve been racing better. We’ve had better speed, better averages. We’re in a good spot and we can definitely make up those six points. And we’re going to try to get a lot more than that and be ready when the Chase does start to make sure we can advance as it goes through.”
The victory is the 19th Cup career win for Osborne.
“I thought we had a top-15 car,” the veteran crew chief said. “It was decent and it was heading in the right direction from where we were the first race here and for where we are with our program. But with fate really going our way today and calls going our way, which we haven’t had a lot of this year, it put us in position to win it.”