Chris Buescher grabs Cup Series playoff spot with victory at Richmond

AP photo by Skip Rowland / RFK Racing driver Chris Buescher raises the Cook Out 400 Trophy in victory lane at Virginia's Richmond Raceway after winning Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series event. It's his first win of the season and third of his career.
AP photo by Skip Rowland / RFK Racing driver Chris Buescher raises the Cook Out 400 Trophy in victory lane at Virginia's Richmond Raceway after winning Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series event. It's his first win of the season and third of his career.

RICHMOND, Va. — Chris Buescher pulled away on a restart with three laps to go and won Sunday's NASCAR Cup Series event at Richmond Raceway, snagging one of the final spots still available in the playoff field as the regular season zooms toward its conclusion.

Buescher led 88 laps and was ahead by nearly six seconds when a caution came out with less than 10 laps to go. That erased his lead over Virginia native Denny Hamlin, who was booed by his hometown crowd before the race, but Hamlin got a poor final restart and Buescher easily pulled away for his first Cup Series win of the season and third of his career.

"I knew that last restart was going to be tough, but I knew we had the speed in this thing," said Buescher, a 30-year-old Texas native who won at Pennsylvania's Pocoono Raceway as a rookie in 2016 for Front Row Motorsports and at Tennessee's Bristol Motor Speedway last September during his inaugural season for RFK Racing.

Buescher and 2012 Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski, his teammate and RFK's co-owner, led a combined 190 of the 400 laps in their Fords. Keselowski was up front for 102 laps on the 0.75-mile oval and wound up sixth.

Buescher started 26th and had to drive through most of the 36-car field for the win that locked him into the 16-driver playoff field with four races remaining in the regular season. Buescher became the 13th points race winner this year, and there are three playoff spots up for grabs over the next month.

It was the 139th Cup Series win for primary team owner Jack Roush and his second since Keselowski joined the ownership group ahead of the 2022 season. Ford now has 723 wins in NASCAR's top-tier Cup Series.

"Everybody at RFK Racing who has worked so hard to get us to this point," Buescher said.

Hamlin, the winner last week at Pocono, finished second in a Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing. Kyle Busch was third in a Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing, followed by the Fords of Joey Logano from Team Penske and Ryan Preece of Stewart-Haas Racing.

"One win is good, but you get three or four or five, and then you feel a lot better," said Keselowski, who hasn't won as a driver since April 2021 at Alabama's Talladega Superspeedway, when he was behind the wheel for Penske. "It sure beats not having any at all, but we want to keep going. It's nice to have one car locked in the playoffs. We need to get both cars locked in the playoffs. We have a good points gap, but we want wins, and this is where we need to be."

Keselowski is still mathematically in contention for the 10-race playoffs, which begin in September.

The race was slowed just three times by yellow flags, with the final caution sending the leaders to pit road for four tires with eight laps to go. When the green flag was shown again, Buescher used the inside line to pull away and all 36 cars that started the race were still running at the end.

Hamlin's bid for the victory ended on the second lap of the final sprint when he drove in too deep in the first turn and slid up the track. He finished 0.549 second behind Buescher.

"I got a bad restart," Hamlin said. "I had to recover too much ground from what I lost on the front stretch. Almost got to the outside, and then in turn four, almost got to the outside again, and then in turn one, I was like 'I'm just going to ship it in there and try to get to the outside one more time,' and I just carried way too much speed and locked up the left front tires."

Hendrick Motorsports driver Kyle Larson, angered last week when Hamlin caused him to hit the wall while leading as Hamlin went on to win, was running a few laps down when he nudged Hamlin out of the way with 70 laps to go during Sunday's race. Larson, who won at Richmond in April, finished 19th.

"I think he was having a frustrating day," Hamlin said. "It's all good."

With temperatures in the mid-80s, it was about 15 degrees cooler than Saturday, when the temperature approached 100 and the heat index was at least 105. Nevertheless, points leader Martin Truex Jr. still struggled.

"It was definitely really, really hot," he said. "It felt longer than 400 laps. I'll be honest, when we got to the end of stage two, I thought there was no way. I thought that was the checkered flag. It just felt really, really long."

Truex finished seventh in a JGR Toyota, with SHR's Aric Almirola seventh, followed by RCR's Austin Dillon and SHR's Kevin Harvick.

The Cup Series races again next Sunday at Keselowski's home track, Michigan International Speedway. Harvick, in his final season before retirement from the Cup Series, won last year's race at Michigan and followed it with another triumph at Richmond. He hasn't won a race since.

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