With the new format in the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup, the basic idea was win and you’re in. Well, things aren’t that easy for Chris Buescher this season. And it doesn’t look to get any easier this week.
After cruising to the Xfinity Series championship last season (he never relinquished the top spot over the last 23 races), Buescher finds himself in a real pressure situation now. You see, it isn’t just a win that is needed for entry into the Chase, but a driver must also be in the top 30 in Sprint Cup Series points.
Currently, Buescher holds both distinctions, as he sits 30th in points and picked up his first career Sprint Cup Series win a month ago at Pocono. That wasn’t the case when Buescher sat in victory lane after his win in the Pennsylvania 400 on August 1, however. Despite the win, he was on the outside looking in as he trailed David Ragan by six points for that 30th spot.
After a top-5 finish Bristol two weeks ago and finishing ahead of Ragan in two of the three races since that Pocono win, Buescher is seven points ahead of Ragan. But Buescher can’t let his foot off the gas pedal because Ragan finished ahead of him at Michigan last week.
This week could be a challenge for Buescher, as the series heads to Darlington for the Bojangles Southern 500. Darlington could pose an issue for the 23-year-old driver, who has yet to finish better than 24th this season in six races at 1.5-mile tracks. In those six races, he has yet to finish on the lead lap and has been four or more laps down at the end of the race four times.
A bigger problem for Buescher than his struggles at 1.5-mile tracks could be that Ragan has performed better than he has at these tracks in the last two races. Ragan outgained Buescher by six points at Charlotte and then by 10 points at Kentucky. A repeat of this would lead to a long week for Buescher heading to Richmond with his Chase spot on the line.
One thing that Buescher can fall back on at Darlington, however, is that he had a top-5 at the track last season in the Xfinity Series. While the success might not translate over between the two series, it has to give him a positive mindset going into the weekend.
That might just be a glimmer of positivity in an otherwise stressful weekend. Knowing that you need to keep performing and racing hard just to gain points while other drivers are either locked into the Chase or are racing for the win to clinch their spot puts Buescher in a precarious position.
In the third year of the current Chase format, Buescher is the first driver to race in every event leading up to the Chase and find himself in this predicament. While Kyle Busch last season and Tony Stewart this season both had injuries at the beginning of the season and were outside the top 30 when they picked up their first win, each was able to safely get inside the top 30 with no real problem. In Busch’s case, he ran all the way to a Sprint Cup Series championship.
For now, Buescher would just be happy to survive the next two weeks and gain entry into the Chase.