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Chris Buescher Drives to Coke Zero Sugar 400 Victory

Chris Buescher raises his arm in victory after the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona. (Photo: Christopher Vargas | The Podium Finish)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The summer of Chris Buescher and RFK Racing pressed onward to last Saturday night’s Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona.

For the past five weeks, Buescher has been the talk of the town in the NASCAR Cup Series. Back-to-back wins at Richmond and Michigan along with a seventh place finish at Watkins Glen boosted him from 13th to seventh in the standings.

More importantly, he moved inside the top 10 in the Playoffs rankings. Another win for the Prosper, Texas native would boost him inside the top five in the Round of 16 Playoffs round.

The 30-year-old RFK Racing driver has been in the midst of a career season with two wins, five top fives and 11 top 10 finishes. Heading into the regular season finale at Daytona International Speedway, the 2015 NASCAR XFINITY Series champion sought for more momentum before the Cook Out Southern 500 at Darlington.

Qualifying 11th for last Saturday night’s race at Daytona, Buescher bided his time, placing 13th in Stage 1 before tallying a 19th place result in Stage 2. Along the way, Buescher dodged the mayhem that ensued on Lap 95 in Turn 4,

Before Buescher mounted a charge in the final laps of Round 26 of the season, Martin Truex Jr. won Stage 1 while Brad Keselowski, Buescher’s teammate and co-owner of RFK Racing, emerged victorious in Stage 2.

The carnage on Lap 95 eliminated reigning Daytona 500 champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ty Gibbs, Ryan Blaney, Austin Cindric, Riley Herbst and Brennan Poole. In the case of Gibbs and Cindric, it ended their hopes for making this year’s Playoffs.

Once Stage 3 was underway, pole sitter Chase Briscoe reassumed command of the race for 45 consecutive laps. While the Stewart-Haas Racing driver seemed in prime position to win at Daytona, Kevin Harvick took the lead from his teammate on Lap 148, ready to tally his first win at “The World Center of Racing” since 2010.

Trouble ensued on Lap 157 with Briscoe and Ryan Preece involved in separate backstretch incidents. Preece’s No. 41 Ford Mustang flipped violently about 10 times before coming to a rest right side up. Preece emerged out of his car before being assisted to a stretcher.

Initially taken to the infield care center, Preece was transported to the nearby Halifax Health Medical Center before being released on Monday morning.

With Preece out of his machine and the race ready to resume in Overtime, Harvick led the final restart before Buescher took the lead on Lap 162.

The No. 17 Ford Mustang was more like the top of the heap at Daytona. (Photo: Christopher Vargas | The Podium Finish)

Buescher, looking like Matt Kenseth in 2009 and 2012, rocketed to a thrilling victory over Keselowski and Aric Almirola, leading to a clean podium sweep for Ford Performance.

Following an exciting burnout on the tri-oval, Buescher praised his teammate Keselowski for the hardy assist in the final two laps.

“It’s so awesome,” Buescher said. “So proud to get Fifth Third Bank in Victory Lane here with this Ford Mustang. What a heck of a push from Brad in those closing laps for that entire restart. We lined up and worked to get connected.

“We hardly came disconnected those last couple of laps and it was a little squirrely at times, but that’s what we work so hard to execute superspeedway racing for two years now. We’ve been so close. We’ve been within the last five laps of so many of these things to finally get it done here tonight is special.”

Considering the upcoming Playoffs, Buescher feels confident about his chances to have a meaningful, deep run for the championship.

“We certainly have the momentum on our side right now,” he said. “Shoot, for Playoff points, that’s a huge step in the right direction. That puts us in a great spot here to head through the first round and all the way to Phoenix, but there are so many races along the way that I feel like we have such a good shot at.

“To get this done here today, oh man, this is so cool. That’s an RFK win right there. That was as much Brad driving or maybe even more than me down here tonight, but so cool to be right here in Victory Lane.”

Keselowski considered the progress of his team, immediately celebrating the team’s first 1-2 result since Carl Edwards and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s top two result in the 2014 Food City 500 at Bristol.

“Just a really great day for RFK,” Keselowski said. “A few weeks ago, we were sitting down, kind of going over the goal and visions, what we value. One of the things we brought up was 1-2 finishes. It’s been a long time since this company has had 1-2 finishes. I can’t stay say a specific date.”

As RFK regaled in their Daytona glory, Almirola, while tallying a strong podium, could only consider the possibility that did not get realized about their Playoff prospects.

“I’m just dejected,” Almirola said. “It was such an amazing race car. Drew (Blickensderfer, crew chief) and all these guys brought and incredible Smithfield Ford Mustang and we should have won the race. I’m just disappointed.”

In the meantime, Buescher enters the upcoming Round of 16 with three well-timed victories and plenty of steam. While Martin Truex Jr. won the regular season title, sharing the points lead with William Byron, the Texan may be the man to beat.

For now, he hopes to cross off one immediate bucket goal list if he advances to the Round of 12.

Buescher enjoys the thrill of that winning feeling at Daytona. (Photo: Cornnell Chu | The Podium Finish)

“In that sense, it’s amazing here,” Buescher said. “To get one of these things. Superspeedway racing is slowly growing on me. It’s not always been my favorite, but I’m sure enjoying it the last several years.

“I just want a road course win. It’s time for a road course win somewhere here along the way.”

Stage 1 Top 10 Results
  1. Martin Truex Jr.
  2. Christopher Bell
  3. Kevin Harvick
  4. Ty Gibbs
  5. Joey Logano
  6. Bubba Wallace
  7. Austin Cindric
  8. Denny Hamlin
  9. Chase Briscoe
  10. Daniel Suárez
Stage 2 Top 10 Results
  1. Brad Keselowski
  2. Kyle Busch
  3. Daniel Suárez
  4. Alex Bowman
  5. William Byron
  6. Tyler Reddick
  7. Chase Elliott
  8. Austin Dillon
  9. Ross Chastain
  10. Joey Logano
Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona International Speedway Race Results
Finish Start Car No. Driver Sponsor/Make Status
1 11 17 Chris Buescher Fifth Third Bank Ford Running
2 12 6 Brad Keselowski King’s Hawaiian Ford Running
3 2 10 Aric Almirola Smithfield Ford Running
4 23 9 Chase Elliott LLumar Chevrolet Running
5 14 22 Joey Logano Shell Pennzoil Ford Running
6 31 48 Alex Bowman Ally Arena Chevrolet Running
7 18 8 Kyle Busch Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen Chevrolet Running
8 27 24 William Byron Chevrolet Running
9 10 4 Kevin Harvick GEARWRENCH Ford Running
10 37 7 Corey LaJoie NEGU Chevrolet Running
11 30 77 Ty Dillon Gainbridge Chevrolet Running
12 4 23 Bubba Wallace Columbia Sportswear Company Toyota Running
13 39 34 Michael McDowell Fr8Auctions Ford Running
14 26 62 Austin Hill (i) United Rentals/Beard Oil Chevrolet Running
15 36 13 Chandler Smith (i) Quick Tie Products Inc. Chevrolet Running
16 15 20 Christopher Bell Yahoo! Toyota Running
17 25 1 Ross Chastain Worldwide Express Chevrolet Running
18 24 43 Erik Jones Allegiant Chevrolet Running
19 33 51 JJ Yeley (i) Biohaven/Jacob Co. Ford Running
20 22 99 Daniel Suárez Chevrolet Running
21 28 31 Justin Haley Celsius Chevrolet Running
22 29 42 Josh Berry (i) Sunseeker Resort Chevrolet Running
23 38 78 BJ McLeod B’laster Chevrolet Running
24 13 19 Martin Truex Jr. Bass Pro Shops/Ducks Unlimited Toyota Running
25 20 45 Tyler Reddick The Beast Unleashed Toyota Running
26 19 11 Denny Hamlin FedEx Cares Toyota Running
27 7 5 Kyle Larson Chevrolet Running
28 3 21 Harrison Burton DEX Imaging Ford Running
29 17 16 AJ Allmendinger Action Industries Chevrolet Running
30 1 14 Chase Briscoe Magical Vacation Planner Ford Accident
31 9 41 Ryan Preece Ford Accident
32 35 38 Todd Gilliland Boot Barn Ford Overheating
33 21 3 Austin Dillon BREZTRI Chevrolet Accident
34 32 47 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Boost by Kroger/Entenmann’s Chevrolet Accident
35 5 54 Ty Gibbs (R) Monster Energy Toyota Accident
36 8 12 Ryan Blaney Advance Auto Parts Ford Accident
37 16 2 Austin Cindric Menards/Cardell Cabinetry Ford Accident
38 6 36 Riley Herbst (i) Monster Energy Zero Sugar Ford Accident
39 34 15 Brennan Poole (i) Finance Pro Plus Ford Accident
NASCAR Cup Series Round of 16 Playoffs Standings
Position Driver Points Points Behind Points Next
William Byron 2036
Martin Truex Jr. 2036
3 Denny Hamlin 2025 -11 -11
4 Chris Buescher 2021 -15 -4
5 Kyle Busch 2019 -17 -2
6 Kyle Larson 2017 -19 -2
7 Christopher Bell 2014 -22 -3
8 Ross Chastain 2011 -25 -3
9 Brad Keselowski 2010 -26 -1
10 Tyler Reddick 2009 -27 -1
Joey Logano 2008 -28 -1
Ryan Blaney 2008 -28 0
13 Michael McDowell 2007 -29 -1
14 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 2005 -31 -2
15 Kevin Harvick 2004 -32 -1
16 Bubba Wallace 2000 -36 -4


Rob Tiongson is a sports writer and editor originally from the Boston area and resides in the Austin, Texas, area. Tiongson has covered motorsports series like NASCAR and INDYCAR since 2008 and NHRA since 2013. Most recently, Tiongson is covering professional basketball, mainly the WNBA, and women's college basketball. While writing and editing for The Podium Finish, Tiongson currently seeks for a long-term sportswriting and sports content creating career. Tiongson enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat. Tiongson is an alum of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and St. Bonaventure University's renowned Jandoli School of Communication with a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism.

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