Saturday, March 2, 2024

Chris Buescher cruises in RFK masterclass at Richmond

23XI Racing and RFK Racing were the stars of the show in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series action at Richmond Raceway, but the latter ultimately stole the spotlight. While the 23XI duo of Tyler Reddick and Bubba Wallace dominated the first stage to finish 1–2, the latter never recovered after a slow pit stop while his team-mate suffered a commitment line violation penalty to drop him out of contention too.

Their team owner Denny Hamlin tried for one last gasp on the final restart with three laps remaining but ran wide while trying to chase down RFK’s Chris Buescher. With Hamlin left to fend off those behind him, Buescher drove off to his first win of 2023 with his boss Brad Keselowski finishing sixth, completing a banner day for the team.

Like 23XI, the RFK duo occupied the top two spots at the end of Stage #2. Keselowski also led the most laps with 102 while Buescher had the second highest at eighty-eight. Buescher enjoyed his third career Cup victory and second at RFK after Bristol, another short track, in 2022. While the team has particularly excelled on short tracks, Buescher feels they have taken strides in their second season under the RFK identity at all track types.

“What I’m proud of at RFK as a group is we don’t have to just talk about short track racing,” Buescher said in his post-race press conference. “We can talk about superspeedway racing and know we’re going to be up front battling for wins, leading laps. We can talk about road course racing and know that we’ve been very competitive at a lot of those and been battling for wins. We can talk about some mile-and-a-halfs and be in the conversation there, as well. Maybe not quite as strong and not have the results, but we’ve had moments at a lot of different styles of race tracks. That’s what I’m most proud of. It would be great if we just stepped up our short track programme and we were competitive at these styles of race tracks. That would put you in a place where we’d be leaving Richmond saying we don’t have another shot until Bristol maybe. I don’t know what the first one would be. That’s not where we’re at.

“We have race tracks that we’re going to be competitive at every week. We do not have to circle race tracks as our chance or this is where we’re going to be really good and we’re going to have to get through this week. We haven’t had that this season. Really didn’t have a whole lot of that last season as well.

“Last season was a building season. It took a lot of work to get there. To see results from all that work is big for us.”

The race was remarkably clean, going without a caution through the first two stages. The lone incident which set up the last restart came with eight laps remaining when Daniel Suárez spun after contact with Noah Gragson. Still, Suárez reached the finish as did all thirty-six cars; it is the first Cup race since 2018 at Homestead where every car completed the race, while the last at Richmond was the 2016 fall event.

While on-track drama was probably scant, plenty took place in the pits. Besides the aforementioned 23XI blunders dooming their day, Aric Almirola suffered a pass-through penalty for a commitment line violation but rebounded for eighth.

In a “continuation” of their clash at Pocono last Sunday, Kyle Larson bumped past Hamlin, though the latter had the last laugh again as he finished second while Larson and Hendrick Motorsports struggled mightily. Chase Elliott was the highest finishing Hendrick driver in a paltry thirteenth while Larson was nineteenth. Regardless, Hamlin expressed understanding for Larson’s action as he was on newer tyres.

Race results

Finish Start Number Driver Team Manufacturer Laps Status
1 26 17 Chris Buescher RFK Racing Ford 400 Running
2 3 11 Denny Hamlin Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 400 Running
3 2 8 Kyle Busch Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet 400 Running
4 23 22 Joey Logano Team Penske Ford 400 Running
5 11 41 Ryan Preece Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 400 Running
6 13 6 Brad Keselowski RFK Racing Ford 400 Running
7 10 19 Martin Truex Jr. Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 400 Running
8 24 10 Aric Almirola Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 400 Running
9 17 3 Austin Dillon Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet 400 Running
10 8 4 Kevin Harvick Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 400 Running
11 20 14 Chase Briscoe Stewart-Haas Racing Ford 400 Running
12 5 23 Bubba Wallace 23XI Racing Toyota 400 Running
13 4 9 Chase Elliott Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 400 Running
14 25 12 Ryan Blaney Team Penske Ford 400 Running
15 7 54 Ty Gibbs Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 400 Running
16 1 45 Tyler Reddick 23XI Racing Toyota 400 Running
17 9 47 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet 400 Running
18 15 48 Alex Bowman Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 400 Running
19 14 5 Kyle Larson Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 400 Running
20 29 20 Christopher Bell Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota 399 Running
21 6 24 William Byron Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet 399 Running
22 18 34 Michael McDowell Front Row Motorsports Ford 399 Running
23 27 43 Erik Jones Legacy Motor Club Chevrolet 399 Running
24 19 1 Ross Chastain Trackhouse Racing Team Chevrolet 399 Running
25 16 38 Todd Gilliland Front Row Motorsports Ford 399 Running
26 30 2 Austin Cindric Team Penske Ford 399 Running
27 36 16 A.J. Allmendinger Kaulig Racing Chevrolet 399 Running
28 12 42 Noah Gragson Legacy Motor Club Chevrolet 398 Running
29 32 51 Ryan Newman Rick Ware Racing Ford 398 Running
30 28 31 Justin Haley Kaulig Racing Chevrolet 398 Running
31 22 21 Harrison Burton Wood Brothers Racing Ford 397 Running
32 31 7 Corey LaJoie Spire Motorsports Chevrolet 397 Running
33 33 99 Daniel Suárez Trackhouse Racing Team Chevrolet 396 Running
34 34 77 Ty Dillon Spire Motorsports Chevrolet 396 Running
35 35 15 J.J. Yeley* Rick Ware Racing Ford 396 Running
36 21 78 B.J. McLeod Live Fast Motorsports Chevrolet 395 Running
Italics – Competing for Rookie of the Year
* – Ineligible for points
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