With the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs less than a month away from commencing, Chris Buescher punched his ticket into the Playoffs following a dramatic victory in the Cook Out 400 at Richmond Raceway on Sunday, July 30.
The 2015 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion from Prosper, Texas, led three times for 88 of 400 scheduled laps, including the final six, in an event where he rallied from starting 26th to challenge for the lead and eventual victory. After assuming the lead for the first time with 195 laps remaining, Buescher would then navigate his way through a series of green flag pit stops and pit strategies to remain upfront.
He was then headed towards a victory when a late caution period with 10 laps remaining briefly stalled his progress. With a fast pit service by his pit crew during the caution period, Buescher was able to retain the lead and fend off Denny Hamlin during a three-lap shootout to grab his first NASCAR Cup Series victory of the 2023 season and become the 12th different competitor to be guaranteed a Playoff spot by winning.
With on-track qualifying that determined the starting lineup occurring on Saturday, July 29, Tyler Reddick notched his first Cup pole position of the 2023 season and the fifth of his career after posting a pole-winning lap at 113.689 mph in 23.749 seconds. Joining him on the front row was Kyle Busch, who posted the second-best qualifying lap at 113.636 mph in 23.760 seconds.
Prior to the event, AJ Allmendinger dropped to the rear of the field due to a driver change after Derek Kraus practiced and qualified his Kaulig Racing entry while Allmendinger opted to pull double duty by competing in Saturday’s Xfinity event at Road America before returning in time to compete for Sunday’s Cup event at Richmond.
When the green flag waved and the race commenced, Reddick pulled ahead while starting on the inside lane and assumed an early lead while Denny Hamlin challenged Kyle Busch for the runner-up spot through Turns 1 and 2. As the field fanned out through the backstretch, Reddick proceeded to lead the first lap in his No. 45 Xfinity 10G Network Toyota TRD Camry while Hamlin and Busch continued to battle for second in from of Chase Elliott, William Byron and Bubba Wallace.
Through the second lap, the field continued to fan out and jostle for early positions while Reddick stretched his early advantage to three-tenths of a second over Hamlin while Kyle Busch settled in third in front of Elliott, Byron and Wallace.
Through the first five scheduled laps, Reddick was leading by nearly four-tenths of a second over Hamlin followed by Busch, Elliott and Byron while Wallace, rookie Ty Gibbs, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Preece and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. were in the top 10. Behind, Brad Keselowski was in 11th ahead of Kyle Larson, rookie Noah Gragson, Michael McDowell and Todd Gilliland while Alex Bowman, Chase Briscoe, Austin Dillon, Joey Logano and Aric Almirola occupied the top 20. Meanwhile, Truex, who made contact with Stenhouse a few laps earlier, had fallen back to 21st ahead of Ross Chastain, Chris Buescher, Harrison Burton and Ryan Blaney while Christopher Bell was mired in 27th.
At the Lap 10 mark, Reddick continued to lead by six-tenths of a second over owner Hamlin while Busch trailed by more than a second. Behind, Elliott retained fourth ahead of Wallace, Byron and Gibbs while Harvick was in eighth ahead of teammate Preece and Stenhouse.
Fifteen laps later, Reddick stabilized his advantage to six-tenths of a second over Hamlin while third-place Busch trailed by more than two seconds. Behind, Wallace moved up to fourth in front of Elliott, Byron and Ty Gibbs while Harvick, Preece and Stenhouse stabilized themselves in the top 10. In addition, Keselowski and Larson were in 11th and 13th, Bowman cracked the top 15 in 15th, Logano was mired in 17th ahead of Almirola, Austin Dillon was back in 21st ahead of Chastain, Blaney, Truex and Bell and Daniel Suarez was in 28th.
Another 10 laps later, Reddick retained the lead by half a second over Hamlin while Busch, Wallace and Elliott continued to run in the top five. By then, Harvick overtook Ty Gibbs to move into seventh place while Keselowski cracked the top 10 as he was in 10th. In addition, McDowell was in 12th and Larson retained 13th in front of teammate Bowman and Gragson while Logano was mired in 18th.
At the Lap 50 mark, Reddick extended his advantage to more than a second over Hamlin. By then, Wallace moved his No. 23 McDonald’s Toyota TRD Camry up into third place, trailing his teammate and owner by more than two seconds, while Busch and Elliott trailed behind in the top five. In addition, Harvick moved his No. 4 Rheem Ford Mustang into sixth place over Byron while Preece and Keselowski overtook Ty Gibbs to move up to eighth and ninth place, respectively.
Ten laps later, Reddick, who started to approach lapped traffic, extended his advantage to more than two seconds over Hamlin while teammate Wallace trailed in third place by more than two seconds. While Elliott and Harvick continued to run in the top five, Kyle Busch, who started on the front row, had dropped to ninth. In addition, a bevy of names that included Chase Briscoe, Larson, Buescher, Bell, Chastain, Austin Dillon, Blaney, Truex, AJ Allmendinger, Erik Jones, Austin Cindric, Daniel Suarez and Justin Haley were mired outside the top 15 and within the top 30 on the track while Ryan Newman, who was making his third Cup start of the season, was in 30th.
When the first stage concluded on Lap 70, Reddick captured his fourth stage victory of the 2023 season. Teammate Wallace followed suit in second along with owner Hamlin while Elliott, Harvick, Preece, Byron, Aric Almirola, Keselowski and Ty Gibbs were scored in the top 10. By then, 29 of 36 starters were scored on the lead lap, with Suarez, who was in 29th, able to fend off race leader Reddick to remain on the lead lap at the stage’s conclusion.
Under the stage break, the lead lap field led by Reddick pitted for their first round of service. Following the pit stops, Reddick retained the lead after exiting first followed by teammate Wallace, Hamlin, Elliott, Harvick, Keselowski and Ty Gibbs. Amid the pit stops, Preece endured a slow pit service after stopping his car over the pit line and had to reverse to avoid a penalty, which dropped him out of the top 15.
The second stage started on Lap 78 as 23XI Racing’s Reddick and Wallace occupied the front row. At the start and with the field fanning out, Reddick retained the lead by a narrow margin over teammate Wallace, but Wallace fought back on the outside lane as both dueled dead even for the top spot during the following lap. With the momentum on the outside lane, Wallace assumed the lead on Lap 80. By then, Elliott moved up to third after overtaking Hamlin, who was being pressured by Keselowski for fourth while Harvick followed suit in sixth along with McDowell, who used the outside lane during the restart to move into the top 10.
Five laps later, Keselowski overtook Elliott to claim third place while Hamlin situated himself in fifth place. By then, teammates Wallace and Reddick continued to run first and second, with Wallace leading by half a second. Another two laps later, Hamlin dueled against Elliott while running on the outside lane for fourth place as Harvick followed in pursuit.
At the Lap 100 mark, Wallace was leading by more than a second over teammate Reddick followed by Keselowski, Hamlin and Elliott while Harvick, Almirola, Ty Gibbs, Logano and McDowell were running in the top 10. Behind, Buescher was in 11th ahead of Kyle Busch, Preece, Stenhouse and Bowman while Byron, Chastain, Bell, Austin Dillon and Briscoe occupied the top 20. By then, Larson was in 21st, Blaney was mired in 24th behind Erik Jones, Allmendinger was running in 25th ahead of Suarez, Truex was back in 27th and Austin Cindric was mired in 28th.
Ten laps later, Wallace stabilized his advantage to more than a second over teammate Reddick while third-place Keselowski trailed by more than two seconds, all while Hamlin and Elliott remained in the top five in front of Harvick.
Another 10 laps later, green flag pit stops commenced as Preece pitted along with Todd Gilliland. During Lap 122, more competitors that included Redick, Keselowski, Elliott, Buescher, Larson, Cindric, Gragson, Almirola, Bowman, Austin Dillon, Allmendinger, Haley and the leader Wallace pitted. Amid the pit stops, Almirola was penalized for a commitment line violation.
On Lap 128, more competitors that included Hamlin, Harvick, Ty Gibbs, Logano and Bell, who would be eventually penalized for speeding on pit road, pitted under green. With the majority of green flag pit stops completed by Lap 135, McDowell, who has yet to pit, was leading followed by Wallace while Reddick, Truex and Keselowski were in the top five. McDowell would relinquish the lead to Wallace by Lap 137, though he remained on the track.
At the Lap 150 mark, Wallace was leading by more than a second over teammate Reddick followed by Keselowski, Hamlin and Buescher while Elliott, Preece, Kyle Busch, Logano and Ty Gibbs were in the top 10. By then, McDowell and Truex pitted while on an alternate pit strategy.
By Lap 172, another cycle of green flag pit stops commenced as Ty Gibbs and Austin Dillon pitted. A few laps later, more competitors that included Keselowski, Buescher, Preece, Byron and Newman pitted. The leader Wallace would pit by Lap 174 along with Erik Jones, Chastain, Almirola, Briscoe, Harvick, Elliott, Reddick, Allmendinger, Larson, Stenhouse and others.
On Lap 180, Hamlin, who cycled into the lead, pitted his No. 11 Mavis Tires & Brakes Toyota TRD Camry under green along with Logano, Blaney and Bell. With the majority of the green flag pit stops being completed by then, Keselowski, who overtook Truex on his alternate strategy, was the new leader.
At the halfway mark on Lap 200, Keselowski was leading followed by Reddick, Buescher, Wallace and Hamlin while Truex, Busch, Preece, Ty Gibbs and Austin Dillon were in the top 10. Behind, McDowell was in 11th followed by Harvick, Logano, Bowman and Elliott while Stenhouse, Byron, Almirola, Briscoe and Larson occupied the top 20.
When the second stage concluded on Lap 230, Keselowski claimed his third stage victory of the 2023 Cup season. Teammate Buescher followed suit in second while Reddick, Wallace, Hamlin, Busch, Preece, Truex, Ty Gibbs and Logano were scored in the top 10. By then, 17 of 36 starters were scored on the lead lap while Bowman, who was in 18th, was able to fend off teammate Larson to emerge as the first competitor a lap down and receive the free pass during the stage break.
Under the stage break, the lead lap field led by Keselowski pitted. Following the pit stops, Keselowski retained the lead after exiting pit road first followed by teammate Buescher, Reddick, Wallace, Busch and Hamlin.
With 161 laps remaining, the final stage started as teammates Keselowski and Buescher occupied the front row. At the start, Keselowski rocketed ahead with the lead as the field fanned out through the first two turns. With Hamlin using the outside lane to launch forward into the top five and while battling Wallace, Keselowski maintained the lead ahead of Buescher while Reddick retained third. Behind, Wallace and Hamlin continued to battle while Kyle Busch was in sixth ahead of Preece, Ty Gibbs and Logano.
With 150 laps remaining, Keselowski retained the lead in his No. 6 BuildSubmarines.com Ford Mustang by less than four-tenths of a second over teammate Buescher while Reddick, Hamlin and Wallace were scored in the top five ahead of Busch and Preece.
Fifteen laps later, Keselowski continued to lead by three-tenths of a second over teammate Buescher while third-place Reddick trailed by more than two seconds. Behind, Hamlin and Wallace remained in the top five while Busch, Preece, Logano, Truex and Elliott were scored in the top 10.
With less than 120 laps remaining, green flag pit stops returned as Buescher pitted along with Wallace, Busch, Logano and others. Keselowski would then pit with 115 laps remaining followed by Reddick, Elliott, Austin Dillon, Almirola, Harvick and others. Amid the pit stops, Buescher was able to cycle ahead of teammate Keselowski, who nearly pitted outside his pit box. With 108 laps remaining, Hamlin, who cycled into a brief lead, pitted along with Blaney while Truex, who was running on an alternate strategy was leading, followed by Buescher.
With 105 laps remaining, however, Buescher cycled into the race lead over Truex. Buescher would then extend his advantage to more than four seconds over Reddick with 90 laps remaining while Truex, Wallace and Preece were scored in the top five. Meanwhile, Keselowski was mired back in sixth ahead of Kyle Busch and Hamlin.
With 65 laps remaining and as Buescher continued to lead, another cycle of green flag pit stops occurred as teammate Keselowski pitted. Logano would follow suit to pit along with Preece, Wallace, Harvick, Almirola, Hamlin, Austin Dillon, Elliott, Busch and Reddick. Buescher would then surrender the lead to pit with 62 laps remaining along with Ty Gibbs and Stenhouse while Blaney, who has yet to pit, was leading followed by Truex. Amid the pit stops, Reddick was penalized for a commitment line violation as he smoked the tires to try to enter pit road.
With 54 laps remaining, Buescher, who was able to gain ground on Truex amid the pit strategies, overtook him to reassume the lead. Buescher would proceed to extend his advantage to nearly four seconds with less than 50 laps remaining while Hamlin, Preece and Keselowski were in the top five. Behind, Kyle Busch was in sixth while Logano, Wallace, Harvick and Almirola were scored in the top 10.
Down to the final 25 laps of the event, Buescher was leading by more than six seconds over Hamlin while Preece, Busch and Truex were scored in the top five. By then, Keselowski was in sixth ahead of Logano and Harvick while Wallace fell back to ninth in front of Almirola. In addition, 13 competitors were scored on the lead lap, with Austin Dillon, Briscoe and Elliott occupying the final three lead lap positions.
Ten laps later, Buescher continued to lead by more than five seconds over Hamlin while third-place Preece trailed by more than six seconds as Busch, Truex and Keselowski were in the top six.
Then with 10 laps remaining, the caution flew when Gragson sent Suarez for a spin in Turn 4 as Suarez smoked the rear tires of his No. 99 Jockey Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 before coming to a rest near the apron in Turn 4. During the caution period, the lead lap field led by Buescher pitted. Following the pit stops, Buescher retained the lead after exiting first followed by Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Preece, Truex and Keselowski.
Down to the final three laps, the event restarted under green as Buescher and Hamlin occupied the front row. At the start, Buescher launched ahead to retain the lead while Preece challenged Hamlin for second as the field behind fanned out entering Turns 1 and 2. Hamlin then tried to launch forward towards the lead while on the outside lane entering the backstretch, but he was blocked by Buescher’s No. 17 Fastenal Ford Mustang, who retained the lead with two laps remaining.
When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Buescher remained in the lead by half a second over Hamlin while Logano and Busch battled for third. With Hamlin unable to gain ground for a final lap charge, Buescher was able to navigate his way around the circuit smoothly for a final time and zip back to the frontstretch to claim his first checkered flag of the 2023 Cup season.
With the victory, Buescher, who came into the event 111 points above the top-16 cutline towards the Playoffs, notched his third career victory in NASCAR’s premier series and his first since winning at Bristol Motor Speedway in September 2022. He also recorded the second victory for the newly named Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing.
“Yeah, it was smooth sailing there, trying to take care of Fastenal Mustang,” Buescher said on USA Network. “These guys over at [Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing], this No. 17 team gave me a great hot rod. This thing was so good. [I] Was just trying to take care of it there. I knew even on our green flag stuff, we were so strong during the race. I had a good feeling about it there. Pretty awesome to pull it off. Proud of everybody. That was a long way from the back [of the field] this morning, so heck of a race for us. We’ve had this [race] circled since last fall. I was really hopeful this could be the one that would turn the page for us. Sure enough, right off the truck I thought it was. I hate that qualifying went the way it did. I was sitting there beating myself up trying to figure out what we were going to do there. Made it to Victory Lane here in Richmond. I’d have told you to flood this place three years ago. My opinions are changing quite a bit here. What a day, though. That’s awesome…We’ve been talking about this a lot and you don’t get to ask me about points anymore.”
Despite ending up in sixth place in spite of leading a race-high 102 laps, Keselowski was left pleased in being victorious as a team owner for the second time in his second season as both a driver and owner in the Cup Series for Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing.
“I’m happy for Chris,” Keselowski, who celebrated with Buescher in Victory Lane, said. “We are incrementally building. Solid day for both teams here at RFK. I’m happy for everybody that works on these teams, everybody that supports us with Fastenal and Ford and Build Subs. We led a lot of laps with both cars. Neither cars, we really started up front. Drove through. Great job with the pit crews. A lot to be proud of today. Of course, I want to win as a driver, but just happy that we’re as competitive as we are. We want to keep building and keep being more competitive every week.”
Meanwhile, Hamlin, who led 20 laps and was coming off a milestone victory at Pocono Raceway, settled in the runner-up spot for the second time this season.
“I drove in way too deep [in Turns 1 and 2],” Hamlin said. “I was trying to get to the outside there. [I] Really had a great run off of Turn 2 on the restart and off of [Turn] 4 again. But, yeah, I was just so close to him there that I wanted to try to squirt a little extra gas to try to get to the outside. Just too much brake. Man, I’m happy for Chris, [Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing], those guys. I know they worked really hard to get to this point. I can appreciate the struggle that it is to get to this point. Congratulations to them. Definitely a great job by this Mavis team. Kept me in it all day long. We just lacked a little, little bit to be the best there. So we just need to improve on it. Still a good day.”
Kyle Busch came home in third place followed by Logano while Preece achieved a strong fifth-place result. Keselowski finished sixth while Truex, Almirola, Austin Dillon and Harvick, who made his final start at Richmond, completed the top 10. Notably, Wallace ended up 12th in front of Elliott and Blaney, rookie Ty Gibbs finished 15th, pole-sitter Reddick ended up 16th, Larson ended up 19th, the final competitor on the lead lap. Austin Cindric and AJ Allmendinger ended up 26th and 27th, respectively, after both wrecked while finishing the event.
There were 18 lead changes for eight different leaders. The race featured three cautions for 21 laps. While all 36 starters finished the event, 19 finished on the lead lap.
With four regular-season events remaining of this year’s Cup Series schedule, Martin Truex Jr. leads the regular-season standings by 39 points over teammate Denny Hamlin and 43 over William Byron.
William Byron, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson, Ross Chastain, Tyler Reddick, Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano, Christopher Bell, Chris Buescher and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. are currently guaranteed spots for the 2023 Cup Series Playoffs based on winning at least once throughout the regular-season stretch. Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Bubba Wallace and Michael McDowell currently occupy the remaining vacant spots in the Playoffs based on points, with McDowell occupying the 16th and final vacant spot by 18 points Ty Gibbs, 22 over AJ Allmendinger, 34 over Daniel Suarez, 40 over Chase Elliott, 42 over Alex Bowman, 64 over Austin Cindric, 70 over Justin Haley, 86 over Aric Almirola and 88 over Ryan Preece.
1. Chris Buescher, 88 laps led
2. Denny Hamlin, 20 laps led
3. Kyle Busch
4. Joey Logano
5. Ryan Preece
6. Brad Keselowski, 102 laps led, Stage 2 winner
7. Martin Truex Jr., 18 laps led
8. Aric Almirola
9. Austin Dillon
10. Kevin Harvick
11. Chase Briscoe
12. Bubba Wallace, 80 laps led
13. Chase Elliott
14. Ryan Blaney, two laps led
15. Ty Gibbs
16. Tyler Reddick, 81 laps led, Stage 1 winner
17. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
18. Alex Bowman
19. Kyle Larson
20. Christopher Bell, one lap down
21. William Byron, one lap down
22. Michael McDowell, one lap down
23. Erik Jones, one lap down
24. Ross Chastain, one lap down
25. Todd Gilliland, one lap down
26. Austin Cindric, one lap down
27. AJ Allmendinger, one lap down
28. Noah Gragson, two laps down
29. Ryan Newman, two laps down
30. Justin Haley, two laps down
31. Harrison Burton, three laps down
32. Corey LaJoie, three laps down
33. Daniel Suarez, four laps down
34. Ty Dillon, four laps down
35. JJ Yeley, four laps down
36. BJ McLeod, five laps down
Next on the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series schedule is the series’ lone visit of this season to Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan. The event is scheduled to occur next Sunday, August 6, at 2:30 p.m. ET on USA Network.