DAYTONA BEACH, Fla — Chris Buescher said during his zoom call earlier this week that he wasn’t sure on what the best path would be to win Saturday night’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 at the Daytona International Speedway. The Texas native needed to reach victory lane in order for him to put himself back into the playoff picture and by doing so, he’d take the 16th and final postseason spot available and do so in the regular season finale.
“I don’t have all the right answers here,” said the Roush Fenway Racing driver. “I don’t know if I have even the wrong answers. I’m just trying to figure out what it is that we need to do to be there and hopefully have a little bit of luck on our side at the same time.”
We knew one thing for sure is that the updates to the superspeedway package between the last race in Talladega and this one in Daytona would be vastly different. That meant you likely had to be even more aggressive with your blocking because it would not only pay off, but you could also not have to worry about too big of runs from behind .
“I don’t know where my cutoff is, so to speak,” Buescher said. “I’m usually pretty aggressive with trying to make moves, but I’m also not the most aggressive with trying to block moves.
“That came through my upbringing in racing. If you got blocked, you took care of that person really quickly, and if you blocked, you got sent very quickly as well. … It’s been a little bit tough for me to be able to adapt on throwing the blocks, so that is something I would say is going to have to step up and be more aggressive with.”
Buescher, found himself in positions late in Saturday night’s race to have to block. He found his way to the front and powered his No. 17 Ford to the lead on Lap 154. Chase Elliott had drafting help back by a lap later, but two laps after that, Buescher skated by on the low lane while Elliott moved up high to block Matt DiBenedetto’s run which sparked a 10 car crash in Turn 4.
Buescher, was unscathed and would now hold onto the lead going into overtime. Unfortunately for him, he didn’t get a good push from behind by Austin Dillon while Ryan Blaney had good drafting help from Corey LaJoie instead.
Blaney, who restarted at the bottom, got the push which proved to be the winning move. Buescher, fell back but amounted one more charge to come back up and evaded the last lap crash in Turn 3, but it wasn’t enough. He’d finish runner-up in his No. 17 Ford.
“Yeah, I’d take the bottom this time, right, if I had to go back and look at it,” Buescher said of the final restart. “I think we watched the top work well. To get in line, drop in, have that materialize, then go. I thought we got the initial jump well. Just didn’t have the help behind us to push us beyond that front row and get in front of the 12.
“At the end of the day I’m glad to see another Ford in Victory Lane. That part is cool. Man, I wanted it to be us. Really good finish. Glad to see Ryan in the top five right there with us as well.”
“Yeah, the biggest thing is just getting the push, right, just trying to get a good push. Corey LaJoie gave me a good push two weeks in a row, gotten really good pushes on restarts, able to win the race, so thanks for that.
“No, it really all started with the 7 giving me he a good push, then trying to hold off the 7 and Kevin and a couple other cars, 17.”
Buescher, was dejected though that he missed out on the win by how the final restart transpired.
“Just a little pissed off that we missed it by that close, that tight a margin, right?” he said.
“I think that was what we had to do, we had to be more aggressive on the blocking side. We’ve been aggressive with making moves, not protecting them. We did that today. Back bumper, this thing, it’s rough, I know that. It’s just become a part of this speedway race. The more film you go back and watch the more I realize that’s where we’re getting beat.
“I want to say thank you. It hurts. This one stings a lot. At the same time appreciate everybody at RFR. Awesome weekend for Fifth Third Bank announcing they’re going to come back on board with Roush for the next five years. Last time they made an announcement, we won. Want to get that one for so many different reasons.
“To miss that Playoff spot by one spot, that’s a tough ending to a day. Proud of this group. Proud of the car we brought. I’m sure I’ll play it back and find something else different again. Top line wasn’t as organized on that start. The bottom, they were digging. We were fortunate to get back to second.
Buescher, was in prime position to make the postseason for much of the first half of the year. Going into Darlington back in May, he was +21. He had three top 10’s to that point and 32 stage points. Over the last 14 races of the regular season, Buescher had 11 stage points and two top 10’s including Saturday’s runner-up.
In fact, prior to Daytona, he went 10 straight races without a stage point and had nine finishes of 16th or worse during that span.
That’s how he went from +42 leaving COTA, to +60 leaving Sonoma to -4 leaving Road America. Between Kurt Busch (Atlanta) and Aric Almirola (Loudon) winning and Tyler Reddick getting hot, it led to Buescher’s demise and put him in a position at the final restart to have to win in order to advance onto the postseason.
Still, this was his third top 10 in his last four Daytona starts including six in the last nine with four of which being in the top five. He just needed one more spot to end his 184 race winless drought.
Nevertheless, Buescher’s car ended up being DQ’d due to an illegal track bar mounting system anyhow.