For a long time now NASCAR’s Sprint Cup series has been about a sense of scale.
If you aren’t part of a prominent multi-car team, driving for Joe Gibbs or Roger Penske or Rick Hendrick, then you at least better be in some sort of alliance that helps you acquire quality equipment and technical support.
That’s what made the Pennsylvania 400 at Pocono Raceway a fun oddity. One of those smaller operations, Statesville, N.C.-based Front Row Motorsports, took a gamble when crew chief Bob Osborne told rookie driver Chris Buescher not to pit during a fog-induced caution.
That fog never lifted until NASCAR declared the race over and the Texan from Prosper became the unexpected winner. And with that, Front Row took a huge step toward qualifying for the season-ending Chase playoffs.
Buescher has to finish in the top 30 in driver points, but that’s less of a challenge than winning a race against the likes of Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch and Joey Logano. It gave the sport a sprinkle of variety after Front Row won for the first time in NASCAR’s top circuit since 2013.
“I think it’s just further validation of where Front Row has come over the years,” said general manager Jerry Freeze.
Front Row gets some of its equipment from Roush-Fenway Racing. It’s an operation of about 60 employees and for one week, at least, they were on top.
“Like Bob said, we have just had no luck at all with breaks and it seems like the last few weeks they’re starting to turn our way a little bit,” Freeze said. “Bob makes a call and we’ve got the lead, so you can’t get a better break than that, and then Mother Nature smiled on us” with the late-race fog and rain.
To put this victory in perspective, Buescher’s Ford was listed in Las Vegas as 1,000-to-1 odds to win at Pocono. Buescher has abundant skill — he’s the reigning Xfinity champion — but rookies seldom win Sprint Cup races.
“I hope somebody bet on us and did really well,” Buescher said. “We had pretty steep odds against us, but we’ve been heading in the right direction. We’ve been qualifying better, we’ve been racing better. …We’re just getting to the point now where we need to be able to finish them.
“You take advantage of every situation that is presented to you and that’s what we did today.”
Monday was Buescher’s first top-10 finish of the season, but the trend line has been improving. He finished 18th, 17th and 14th in the past dozen races.
Now, with the chance to qualify for the Chase, there’s a sense of urgency about finishing in the top 30, which is not a given. That entails consistency over the last five races before the Chase field is set. To his credit, Buescher has finished running in all but one race this season.
“Surely, our bad luck has to be past us at this point,” Buescher said. “We’ve been seeing a trend in speed the last six, seven, eight weeks, and we know we’re on the upward climb. We’ve been cutting that points deficit almost every week, so all we’ve got to do is keep doing what we’ve been doing.
“We’re in a good spot and we can definitely make up those six points [to be inside the top 30] and we’re going to try to get a lot more than that.”
On the grid
Cheez-It 355 At The Glen
1:30 p.m. Sunday, Watkins Glen, N.Y.
Track: Watkins Glen International, a 2.5-mile asphalt road course.
Distance: 90 laps, or 220 miles.
TV: USA. (Qualifying, 11:15 a.m., Saturday, CNBC)
Zippo 200 At The Glen: Xfinity Series, Watkins Glen International, 1 p.m. Saturday, CNBC.
Northwest Nationals: NHRA, Pacific Raceway, Seattle. (Qualifying, 9 p.m. Friday, FS1; 6 p.m. Saturday, FS2; Eliminations, 3 p.m. Sunday, KDFW/4)