While Chase Elliott achieved a historic win in the inaugural Daytona International Speedway Road Course event on Sunday, August 16, teammate Jimmie Johnson and Chris Buescher achieved much-needed runs inside the top five and in their quest to contend for the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series championship battle.
For Johnson, who sported a new white and purple primary scheme to his No. 48 Ally/Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE, his race started in 11th place. Following the opening lap, the seven-time Cup champion made his way into the top 10. Throughout the first stage spanning 15 laps, he continued to methodically work his way towards the front and was scored in third place when the stage concluded, thus collecting a handful of stage points.
Due to a series of pit strategies made among multiple competitors, Johnson restarted in 20th place for the stage of the second stage and after he made a pit stop for four fresh tires and fuel under the first stage’s break. Throughout the second stage that also spanned 15 laps, he raced and battled within the top 15 to top 20. Despite sustaining a hole to the front nose of his car due to contact on the restart to start the second stage, Johnson was able to settle in 14th place when the second stage concluded.
Restarting in sixth place for the final stage, Johnson was running in fourth place and battling for more when the race was delayed due to weather with less than 30 laps remaining. Nearly half an hour later and when the race restarted, he continued to flex his muscles as he worked his way as high as second place, trailing teammate Chase Elliott, before he fell back to fifth.
With five laps remaining, Johnson was poised for a top-three result behind Elliott and Denny Hamlin when the caution due to a single-car incident flew with five laps remaining. During a final three-lap dash to the finish, Johnson continued to battle for a spot in the top five before he crossed the finish line in fourth place, three spots behind race winner/teammate Elliott.
Johnson’s third-place result in the inaugural Daytona Road Course event marked his best result and first top-five result since finishing third at Bristol Motor Speedway in May. It also marked his 12th career top-five result at Daytona in his penultimate run at the world center of racing. Despite his top-five run, Johnson trails teammate William Byron by 25 points for the 16th and final spot to the 2020 Playoffs with three regular-season races remaining.
“Good job to everyone on my No. 48 Ally Chevy team,” Johnson said. “I just lacked that rear grip at the end there. That was a really fun and a solid day, that’s what we needed and now we go to my favorite track – Dover. So proud of Chase, what a road racer he is.”
For Buescher, who carried a special message on his No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford Mustang in celebration of a 10-year partnership between RFR and sponsor Fastenal, his race started back in 21st place. Following the first 10 laps, however, he was back in 24th place. When the first stage concluded on Lap 15, he was scored in 30th due to making a pit stop under green two laps earlier. Restarting in 14th place for the start of the second stage, Buescher spent most of the run inside the top 20 before he made a pit stop under green. When the second stage concluded, he was in 23rd.
Lining up in 13th place for the final stage, Buescher was in ninth place when the race was delayed for nearly half an hour due to weather. When the race resumed with 26 laps remaining, he continued to race inside the top 10 before he pitted under 20 laps remaining. When he returned on the track, he was back in the top 15 and was charging to get back into the top 10. By the time he moved up to ninth place, the caution flew with five laps remaining due to a single-car incident.
During a three-lap dash to the finish, Buescher wasted no time charging his way into the top 10 and for more as he made his first appearance inside the top five. When the checkered flag flew, he was able to cross the finish line in fifth place and as the highest-finishing Ford competitor.
The fifth-place result was Buescher’s sixth of his Cup career and his best since finishing in third place in the Daytona 500 in February. With his result, however, he is 174 points below the top-16 cutline and will likely need a race win to qualify for the 2020 Cup Playoffs with three regular-season races remaining.
“That was just a fun day for our Fastenal Ford Mustang team,” Buescher said. “We needed that after a couple of hard weeks. Some decent runs and some bad luck and that was fun. I was able to mix it up and steadily work our way forward. We kept learning as we went and there at the end we got beat up. All four corners of this Mustang are beat up but we got the finish out of it. That was a good one. A good day.”
Johnson and Buescher, along with their fellow Cup competitors, will return next weekend for a pair of NASCAR Cup Series races at Dover International Speedway. The first Cup Dover event will occur on Saturday, August 22, at 4 p.m. ET on NBCSN while the second Dover race will occur on Sunday. August 23, at 4. p.m. ET on NBCSN.