Chris Buescher snaps 222 race drought, wins a wild Bristol Night Race, my top 5 takeaways

BRISTOL, Tenn — In a race that saw more problems for playoff drivers (13) than lead changes (12), Saturday’s Bass Pro Shops Night Race was an instant classic for the on track chaos.

Brad Keselowski cut a tire while leading on Lap 413. Christopher Bell inherited the lead as a result. The race was setting up to be his. Then he cut a right rear on Lap 435 bringing out a caution. On pit road, Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin each had problems on their final stops which allowed Chris Buescher to exit pit road in the lead after a 2-tire stop for his No. 17 Ford.

Even with just 2 tires on a night that tires were the name of the game, the Texas native held on to lead the final 61 laps en route to scoring his first NASCAR Cup Series victory in 222 races. Buescher’s last win came at Pocono in 2016.

“This is so great. This team does such a great job.” Buescher said. “That’s just — the first Cup win for Fastenal for a points-based race, so that’s awesome. Glad to have Fastenal on board tonight. Just so special here, Bristol. I love this racetrack. I love the fans. I love every time we come here. It’s so special to me.

“Lost one that really broke our heart back in 2015 on the Xfinity side with Graves on top of the box, so this makes up for that. That’s pretty awesome.

“This is No. 1 on the list right here. This is it. Thank you all for coming. That was a great crowd, great weather. We appreciate it. Hope you enjoyed the race. Come back and do it again.”

It was RFK Racing’s 1st win together with the last time the Roush Fenway Racing group had won a race was at Daytona in July 2017 (191 races ago).

BRISTOL, TENNESSEE – SEPTEMBER 17: Chris Buescher, driver of the #17 Fastenal Ford, crosses the finish line to win the NASCAR Cup Series Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on September 17, 2022 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

“Not one bit,” Buescher said when asked if he was worried with having just 2 fresh tires for the final 61 lap run. “It was up to me at that point. Just hold on and make it work. We had a really fast Fastenal Mustang. Just so proud of everybody. We knew we had a good race car after practice and didn’t quite get the job done in qualifying, but what a race car.

“It’s just special. Get RFK in Victory Lane for the first time, and we had great race cars. Brad had really good speed, too.

“I don’t know what else to say right now. I’m out of breath. This place will wear you flat out, and I love that about it, but such a special night.”

It capped an unlikely opening round to which all three races were won by a non playoff driver, a winless driver marches onto the 2nd round even with a 30th place finish on Saturday night, a pair of rookies skate by while a pair of 60 race winners were eliminated.

Buescher beat Chase Elliott by .458-seconds while Elliott’s Hendrick Motorsports teammate of William Byron finished 3rd here for a 2nd consecutive year. Bell rebounded to finish fourth in his No. 20 Toyota with the defending race winner Kyle Larson rounding out the top 5 in his No. 5 Chevrolet.


Cindric Rebounds To Take Last Playoff Spot With Wild Sequences

Austin Cindric had early right front tire problems. He entered the night +2 and was looking like he was down and out. However, a wild chain of events led to Cindric pushing to the end on the plus side (+2) and advancing to the 2nd round of the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs.

“Came in +2 and leave +2, just how we drew it up,” an emotional Cindric said. “For a while I was just trying as hard as I can and as they fell off like flies just trying not to force any issues, try not to force any more right-front tire failures.  From there, I think I was tied with the 18 for 100 laps, but just one hell of a night.  I still don’t think this place loves me back, but it probably showed me a little mercy tonight, so I’ll take it and run with it.  We’ll be on offense for the next three races just like we were to start Darlington this round and have some fun with it. … Yeah, there’s a part of me that wants to go, ‘Man, that’s kind of b.s. I blew a tire and didn’t get a caution,’ but I would also think that NASCAR probably recognized there might be some issues with tires and probably understand that, ‘OK, it’s not just a one-time deal.’  Mine was the first to go. I’m happier about it because I made it in. I’d be less happy about it if I didn’t make it in, but certainly there’s something to be said about coming to a very important race in the year with a new tire, but it’s not my decision to make and just understand how we can make that better on our side.”

It was a wild way to end the Round of 16 cut race. Ryan Blaney suffered a right front tire problem and went behind the wall for lengthy repairs. He finished 30th, 162 laps down. That’s significant because it was 4 spots ahead of Kyle Busch.

Busch blew an engine on Lap 269 and finished 34th. The thing is, Bubba Wallace was behind the wall early too for power steering problems but would end up back on track making up laps late. By virtue of that and Busch behind out, he passed him in the running order taking 1 spot away from Busch.

That plus Blaney getting by took Busch from +2 to +0.

Busch thought he had some help with Daniel Suarez spinning off Turn 2 on Lap 276 and collecting both RCR cars in the process. Austin Dillon’s night ended there. Tyler Reddick was badly damaged and limped home 31 laps down. Still, at the time, Busch was +5 on Reddick and Cindric was multiple points behind.

With Joey Logano having a right front tire problem, Erik Jones having multiple problems and Aric Almirola retiring after 418 laps, it allowed Cindric to rebound to finish 20th. That was enough to get him by despite finishing 35th and 31st in the 2 stages.

He was 16th in the Southern 500, 12th last week and now 20th was enough to skate him by.


Ryan Blaney limps around Bristol after experiencing tire problems on Saturday night

Right Front Tires For Ford’s, Toyota’s Power Steering Problems

With this being the 1st race with the Next Gen’s at Bristol, it proved to be a race of attrition. It started early and often and was very much manufacturer specific.

In Stage 1, Ford’s were battling right front tire problems. It started with both Harrison Burton and JJ Yeley on Lap 41 and carried on through the end of the stage. Austin Cindric and then Ryan Blaney were the next 2 up on Lap 91.

If you noticed a theme?

Team Penske and their alliance car with Burton at the Wood Brothers.

“You never know what can happen and having that flat, there’s nothing that we can do about it,” said Ryan Blaney. ” You’re lucky you have that cushion going into this race.  The most unfortunate part is our car was super fast, too.  That was the terrible thing about it.  The worst part about it now, looking back.  The car was really good and just had no indication.  It seemed like a lot of guys had right-front problems tonight, but I’m proud of everybody for getting it fixed up and just out there to finish the race.  There really wasn’t much we could do, just log laps and let everything play itself out.  That’s why you try to have two good races beforehand because you never know when you’re gonna need some points.”

Stage 2 was power steering problems plaguing the Toyota’s. Bubba Wallace hit pit road on Lap 182 then Ty Gibbs followed seconds later. Each having their power steering bust and leaking all over their right front tires.

16 laps later, Martin Truex Jr. joined them behind the wall with the exact same issue.

Then on Lap 233, it was Denny Hamlin having a right front going down.

The final stage saw more chaos.

On Lap 269, Kyle Busch’s turn with a terminal mechanical failure occurred as he pulled behind the wall with not only his car going up in smoke, but his championship chances as well.

Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Cindric again and Christopher Bell each had tire problems in this final stint to the finish.

“It blew the seal out and pushed all the (power steering) fluid out on the right-front tire. Just unbelievable,” Truex Jr. said. “What did (Kevin) Harvick say? Crappy parts. … You literally can’t drive the car here without power steering. You lose it, you’re done. It’s been a horrible string of luck for us, and we had another strong car tonight. We were working our way forward, every run going forward. Ready for this year to be over and start over.”

Most of this can be tied to a number of factors but the glaring one is the inaugural trip here with this car and not much to base their setups off with. A high banked concrete track with lots of loads on these tires and cars can easily cause mechanical failures like we’ve seen.

To have it in a playoff elimination race?

Chaos.


BRISTOL, TENNESSEE – SEPTEMBER 17: Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Busch Light Ford, and Daniel Suarez, driver of the #99 Tootsies Orchid Lounge Chevrolet, race during the NASCAR Cup Series Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on September 17, 2022 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)

Round 1 Was Filled With Problems For Playoff Drivers

It was a messy first round for the 16 playoff drivers. Each week we saw multiple drivers suffer some unexpected issues. Bristol on Saturday night didn’t spare them.

Austin Cindric and Ryan Blaney had tire problems in Stage 1 with Cindric losing 4 laps and Blaney having to go behind the wall and falling over 100 laps down. Joey Logano had a slower first stop because they struggled with the left rear tire.

In Stage 2, it was Denny Hamlin’s turn on Lap 233 for a tire problem as he restarted in 24th on the tail end of the lead lap.

In the final stage, Kyle Busch blew an engine on Lap 269 and ended his night and playoff chances too. A few laps later, Daniel Suarez spun exiting Turn 2 and collected Austin Dillon, Tyler Reddick and Cindric. Then you had Joey Logano having a right front tire go down, Kevin Harvick having a left front tire not tightened on the final stop and Denny Hamlin a left rear, Kyle Larson skirting against the wall and Ross Chastain missing his pit stall early and that’s 13 of the 16 playoff drivers with problems on Saturday night.

This is after 2 weeks of problems plaguing other drivers too.

For Darlington, Chase Elliott and Chase Briscoe crashed, Kevin Harvick’s car went up in flames, Busch’s car went up in smoke, Daniel Suarez’ car had an inspection process penalty, Kyle Larson thought he had an engine going down and just 6 of the 16 playoff drivers left the South Carolina race track with a top 10.

Last week, Harvick and Tyler Reddick each had tire troubles. Briscoe was speeding on pit lane, Hamlin, Busch, Suarez and Austin Dillon each had equipment interference penalties. Busch later spun on Lap 138, while Ryan Blaney had to pit for a 2nd time for a potential loose wheel.


Kyle Busch’s engine blows on Lap 269 of Saturday night’s Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol

Busch, Reddick, Dillon and Harvick Eliminated…

Kevin Harvick entered the night in a must-win. He didn’t in a 10th place finish. For the first time of his NASCAR Cup Series career, he’s eliminated from championship contention. Same for Kyle Busch who was -2 entering. His blown engine knocked him out.

The other two drivers eliminated were both RCR cars. Austin Dillon was caught up in that Lap 276 crash ending his night early with a 29th place result. The driver that had to win the regular season finale at Daytona to get in was eliminated in the opening round. Dillon finished 17th, 14th and 29th in Round 1.

Tyler Reddick was collected in that same crash as his teammate and while he limped around the track trying to gain 5 more spots, he couldn’t in finishing 28th in his No. 8 Chevrolet. A tire problem in Kansas (35th) and tonight, keeps Reddick from advancing even though he was 3rd in Darlington.

“Frustrating for sure,” he said. We didn’t quite have the pace or the balance really to make our car better, and unfortunately, the balance issues we were fighting, we were pretty much limited. We couldn’t really adjust on it without hurting downforce of the car overall, so we were kind of boxed in. Then we just kind of got collected in that accident back there. I checked up in time, but I got absolutely ran over from there. Caught the right front and broke the upper control arm for the second week in a row.”

For Harvick and Busch, they’re the most shocking in a sense that they’ve combined to have won 3 of the 8 championships in this format and each a 60 race winner in NASCAR’s premiere series.

“It just goes with our year,” Busch said. “I don’t even know what to say. I’m flabbergasted. I just feel so bad for my guys. They don’t deserve to be in this spot. They work too hard. We are too good of a group to be this low, down on the bottom, fighting for our lives just to make it through. Two engine failures in three weeks, that will do it to you. I really feel bad for all of Rowdy Nation, everybody at M&M’s, Interstate Batteries, Rowdy Energy, all of the partners that get us going every week. This is not our normal.”

Harvick, won 2 of the final 4 races of the regular season in back-to-back weeks but being 33rd after his car catching on fire in Darlington, 36th after a crash in Kansas and in Bristol eliminates the 60-time winner.

“It was pretty tough (on the last pit stop). We pitted in front of (Buescher), so just kind of the way the year has gone. Just went from having a chance to lead the parade to being a part of the parade. Just difficult to pass. The car is way too fast through the corners. Can’t race.”


BRISTOL, TENNESSEE – SEPTEMBER 17: Chris Buescher, driver of the #17 Fastenal Ford, leads the field during the NASCAR Cup Series Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on September 17, 2022 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)

This Race Was Far From “Old Bristol”

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race on Thursday night got folks perked up. A one lane bottom groove race track that if you wanted to pass, you had to use the bumper. That’s the old Bristol. Would the old Bristol make a return for Saturday night’s Bass Pro Shops Night Race?

The new Bristol has progressive banking to where you can run multiple grooves in the corners with the high lane around the top being one of the preferred lanes.

However, fans were begging for that to go away and a return to the old way. Thursday night proved that it can happen.

The track sprayed PJ1 on the bottom and 4 feet off the bottom lane to. It’s adding grip to the low lane in hopes of making this the preferred groove.

Saturday night was far from it. The exact opposite or so to speak. The high line was the preferred line again tonight and featured a race where the bumper wasn’t once used and 12 lead changes among 6 drivers ensued.

It leads to the question again on if Bristol is in the right place on the schedule. Several drivers have warned over the last few years that a short track in the playoffs is risky because you can’t take the risk of collecting damage early and costing yourself stage points. As a result, you get some follow the leader racing.

Then with the short track package badly needing some help to spice up the racing, you get a parade to where the only drama occurred due to mechanical failures.

To have just 12 lead changes and only a couple of them for on track passes for the top spot and just one real crash that wasn’t sparked by a tire going down, this wasn’t very Bristol like.

“It was pretty tough. We pitted in front of the 17, so just kind of the way the year has gone. Just went from having a chance to lead the parade to being a part of the parade,” Kevin Harvick said. “Just difficult to pass. Parted it way too fast through the corners. Can’t race.”

With this new car, one part to it is an increase in tire size. That bigger tires lead to more grip in the turns and as a result, you get higher cornering speeds.

Denny Hamlin said it felt like they were going quicker in the corners than they were on the straights. With minimal tire fall off outside of the ones that blew, it just doesn’t create for very good racing.

“Had good track position from our qualifying effort but passing was just impossible,” he said. “It was just a type of day where you needed to stay up front at all costs and we just couldn’t quite do it and ended up having a blown tire that set us back and we were trying to play catch up from that point. (The Next Gen car) was tough. I would like to see the racing improve overall. Some lap time variation a little bit. We’re just running around there and it’s like we’re running faster in the corners than we are on the straightaways. Just extremely hard to pass. We had some steering issues, and it looks like our Toyota teammates also had steering issues. We just battled through it and held on to a ninth place today. … We can win anywhere we go to. We’ll go to Texas and try to win like we always do. Just need to get a good, solid round going. Just seems like mechanical stuff with this Next Gen and wrecks are the X-factor in moving on so you just have to be really consistent and with five races to go, that’s when you have to start winning.”

For a short track to work, you need slower corning speeds and more tire fall off. When you get neither, it makes for a tough night.

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