Usually a stupid Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway. Chris Buescher outpaced 16 Cup playoff drivers for his second career win.
The 500 lap race, one of the toughest of the season, ran into a lot of problems across much of the playoff bracket and made the line between those advancing and those leaving a moving object for much of the night. There were tire issues, power steering issues, and engine issues. It seemed that no one was immune from imminent danger.
Buescher, however, jumped ahead thanks to a two-tire pit stop late in the race and ran away from the rest of the field to end a 222-race winless drought. Buescher pitted on lap 439 and moved from fourth to first with a two-wheel stop. He led the last 57 laps.
Buescher said he was not worried about tire problems in the final miles. “At that moment, it was up to me,” he said. “Just hang on and make it work. We had a very fast Fastenal Mustang. I’m just so proud of everyone. We knew we had a good race car after practice and we didn’t quite do it in qualifying, but what a race car. It’s just special. Get the RFK for the first time at Victory Lane and we had some great racing cars. Brad also had very good speed.
“I don’t know what else to say right now. I was out of breath. This place will bore you to the bone and I love it, but such a special night.”
Second place put Elliott in the lead in points.
Büscher, 29, became the 19th different Cup winner, setting a modern-era record. His win gave Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing its first Cup win since July 2017.
The biggest blow of the night was experienced by the two-time Cup champion Kyle Bush, who lost an engine near the middle of the race and was eliminated from playoff competition in the first round for the first time in his career. This was the second time in three races that Busch failed to finish due to engine problems. “This is not our norm,” Bush told NBC Sports.
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Bush joins former champion Kevin Harvick, Austin Dillon as well as Tyler Reddick as the riders failed to qualify for the 1/8 finals. Harvick lost his chance to fight for victory when his team mishandled their last pit stop.
In the 1/8 finals go Christopher Bell, William Byron, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Alex BowmanChase Elliott, Kyle Larson, Ross Chastain, Daniel Suarez, Austin Sindrik as well as Chase Briscoe.
Bell, who had one of the strongest cars of the evening, seemed destined to win until his right rear tire blew out with 64 laps to go, repeating the illness that several other teams had experienced.
A multi-car crash on the restart on lap 278 left playoff drivers Daniel Suarez, Dillon and Reddick in a pit with damage.
Tire problems plagued playoff drivers Ryan Blaney and Sindrik during the first leg of the race.
Blaney was badly injured as his Ford sustained significant damage to the right rear. His car then lost a wheel as he left the pits, an incident that will likely result in a four-race suspension for team members in the midst of the playoffs.
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Buescher won his 250th Cup start. After the checkered flag, he pulled up next to the car of Keselowski, the owner of his team, as they celebrated victory in this tough year.
For the first time in playoff history, non-playoff drivers (Eric JonesBubba Wallace and Buescher) won every race in the playoff round.
Stage 1 winner: Brad Keselowski
Stage 2 winner: Christopher Bell
Who had a good race: Chris Buescher, who had strong cars this year but was short on a winning streak, finally got the ball rolling, ending an unbeaten drought of 222 races. … Brad Keselowski, co-owner of Buescher’s Ford, took his first stage win of the season, leading the first stage. He finished 13th. … Michael McDowell (11th) and Justin Hailey (12th) survived the night’s chaos and finished confidently on the lead lap.
Who had a bad race: For the second time in three races, Kyle Busch parked with engine problems and missed the playoffs. … Austin Dillon was involved in a multi-car accident, parked his Chevrolet, and was one of only four playoff drivers not to advance to the second round. … Kevin Harvick needed a win to get ahead and was able to fight for it until a long pit stop ruined his chances. … Six playoff drivers finished 25th or worse.
Next: The playoffs continue on September 25 with the first race (3:30 pm ET USA Network) of the Round of 16 at Texas Motor Speedway.
BRISTOL, Tennessee. The Next Gen car endured a durability nightmare on its debut at the hard concrete Bristol Motor Speedway with power steering failures, blown tires and mechanical gremlins.
On top of that, doing the 500 laps on Saturday night on the 0.533 mile long oval with high banks was difficult.
There were 12 leader changes (only four under green), the fewest in more than 13 years at Bristol, as the lack of tire wear made it easier for the leader to control the race. Race winner Chris Buescher led the final 61 laps after a two-wheel stop, with Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing maintaining a solid lead over second place. Chase Elliott (who took four tires at his last stop).
“Just went from being able to lead a parade to participating in a parade,” 10th– place finisher Kevin Harvick said Dillon Welch of NBC Sports. “It’s just hard to get through. The car is turning too fast. Can’t race.”
The lack of off-road capability, combined with reliability issues, has sparked a new round of complaints about the car, which has come under increasing criticism in recent weeks for hard knocks and faulty components. Next Gen marks the first time in NASCAR’s 74-year history that the premier Cup series has used a “special” model in which virtually all parts and chassis are made and sourced from a single source for an entire area.
We need NextGen 2.0. It remains to be seen who will pay for it.
— Denny Hamlin (@dennyhamlin) September 18, 2022
“The transfer was just not possible,” Hamlin told NBC Sports’ Dave Burns. “It was the kind of day where you had to stay ahead at all costs and we just couldn’t do it and ended up having a blown tire that sent us back and from that point on we were trying to catch up.
“(The next generation) was hard. I would like the racing to improve in general. Slight change in lap times. We just run there and we seem to be running faster in the corners than in the straights. It’s just very hard to get through. We had some steering issues and it looks like our Toyota teammates had some steering issues too.”
All six Toyotas on the field had tire problems (Hamlin, Christopher Bell), steering (Martin Truex Jr., Bubba Wallace, Ty Gibbs) or engine (Kyle Bush), and there were plenty of tire problems all over the field.
Having completed (and won) the first stage of 125 laps without changing tires, Brad Keselowski he mysteriously suffered a flat tire while leading with 87 laps remaining. But the owner of the winning team defended Next Gen’s throughput, acknowledging that it still needs to be improved.
“I restarted third (140 pounds) and was able to get around the front two cars to get ahead,” Keselowski said. “I feel like yes, I can get through. It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t supposed to be easy either. Would I like us to keep working on cars? Absolutely. I’ve said it to NASCAR, I’ve told the media before, and I’ll say it again: if the next generation car looks like this year’s car, then we’ve failed. We must continue to grow. We must keep learning. We must continue to make it better.
“There are probably some car owners who don’t want to hear about it because it costs money to replace cars, but like anything else, when you build something new, like a next generation car, there will be optimized things, and there will be be things that don’t exist. I think there is scope to keep making this car better and with it the racing. I think it’s still a step up from where we’ve been in a lot of ways. I think we have seen great races because of this great parity. There are many big benefits. As with any industry, we probably lean more towards the negative than the positive, but I feel like there are two camps.
“It’s all wrong at this car camp and everything’s fine at this car camp and I’m trying to…