LONG POND, PA — The good news for Roush Fenway Racing’s Chris Buescher? He will start on the pole for Sunday’s Pocono Mountains 350 (3:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN). The bad news? He’s earned that right due to a 20th place finish in Saturday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at the Pocono Raceway.
With an invert of the top 20, Buescher rolls off first in his No. 17 Ford. To further the bad news, he lost the final playoff spot on Saturday as well. See, Buescher has finished 16th, 36th and 20th respectively in his last three starts on the season.
Kurt Busch meanwhile, has came home sixth, eighth and sixth respectively himself. That comes after having 12 straight finishes of 13th or worse. But, with Busch scoring 35 stage points the last three weeks, including two stage wins and Buescher having zero stage points in that span, that’s allowed Busch to make up 87 points on Buescher as he went from -83 to +4 following Saturday’s sixth place finish.
“I thought it was a solid day. It was one of those days where we stuck to our strategy,” he said. “We were going to pit twice; use that track position from our finish last week at Nashville (Superspeedway). That helped us stay up front; helped us stay in rhythm.”
Busch, said that he battled each lap with a loose race car for his No. 1 Chevrolet. Every lap was a handful for him. That’s why he’s ecstatic to get another top 10 and put himself with some much needed momentum heading into Sunday’s second race of the doubleheader.
“The car wanted to just keep getting loose with the rear. We just had to stay out. We just didn’t want to sacrifice our track position. Good calls by Matt McCall (crew chief) – utilized the speed of the track and the car together to keep that track position and to have a solid points day. We won a stage; we were up front. But we have to find a little more pizazz – get that rear stuck and that way I can be more on offense on restarts. Solid day for the No. 1 Monster Energy Chevy.”
Now that Busch is on the good side of the cut line, is he going to give it up? He’s rolling as we head into the final eight races of the regular season. The RCR duo of Austin Dillon and Tyler Reddick sit ahead of him as Dillon has finishes of 13th, 12th and 21st in his last three starts. Reddick, is 19th, 18th and 11th in the same three races. They’re +108 and +49 respectively.
Denny Hamlin finished fourth on Saturday for his first top five in his last six races and just his second in the last nine. By comparison, he had eight top fives in the first nine races of the season. Still, he sits +318 over the cutline.
Kevin Harvick (+149) holds the other wildcard spot as he finished eighth on Saturday. Harvick, has three top 10’s in his last four races on the season but only one top five in his last seven.
Still, with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (-43) having three top 15’s in his last four or Matt DiBenedetto (-46) with seven straight finishes of 18th or worse, no one is really there for the taking to close into Busch other than Buescher.
Ross Chastain is -50 and had three top seven’s in his last five tries, but can he sustain top 10’s to catch Busch now? Daniel Suarez is -61 and has two top 10’s and five top 15’s in his last six, but can he get top fives on a consistent basis to catch Busch?