By Brian Smith
The ending of Saturday’s “Buckle Up 200” presented by Click It or Ticket NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Dover International Speedway was nothing if not unconventional. One driver thought he was racing for the lead – but he wasn’t. Other drivers were struggling with pit road. And the eventual winner, who’d just knocked his teammate out of the way to take the lead, was actually driving as slowly as he could without losing it.
The result was a win for Chris Buescher in the “Buckle Up 200” presented by Click It or Ticket NASCAR XFINITY Series.
The incident that will probably result in some awkward moments at Roush-Fenway headquarters happened with nine laps remaining, when Wallace was trying to hold off Buescher for the lead. The two made contact, with Buescher catching Wallace’s left front. That caused a tire rub and an eventual flat tire; Wallace at one point tried to get to the pits but couldn’t and had to stay out off the pace. He ended up finishing 17th.
“We were both on similar strategies, trying to save as much fuel as possible,” Buescher said. “When everybody is lifting halfway down the straightaway, it’s hard to start a pass, let alone finish it. We had a good run up off the corner and thought we could run hard for a lap or two and not worry about fuel. We just got a little free on the bottom and didn’t have much air on the right side.
“We’ll talk about it. We’re heading to the same place right now, so we’ll sort it all out.”
Immediately after the race, Wallace was understandably upset.
“He’s my teammate, so I can’t say much until I see the replay,” Wallace said. “I asked the spotter after the race, and he said we got run over.”
Further complicating matters at the end of the race was the pit cycles, which were such that just about every car couldn’t make it to the end on fuel. However, Buescher was on his way to pulling what was an almost supernatural 98 laps on one tank of gas. As a result, as the race wound down, Buescher had a 20-second lead on Kenseth and Smith, who were running second and third.
The problem with that was Buescher was way low on fuel, and as such needed to slow down and take advantage of that 20-second lead so he didn’t run out completely. So he was doing a lot of coasting, which is almost a completely foreign concept to a race car driver.
“I can’t believe how slow we were having to run to be able to do it,” Buescher said. “That whole run there we were just trying to be easy on the throttle, and towards the end we were having to clutch it and coast half to three-quarters of the straightaway. We’re clutching it before the start finish line and just letting it roll.”
Meanwhile, on the other side of the track, Kenseth and Smith were battling. But Smith thought they were battling for the lead – he didn’t know Buescher hadn’t had to pit. Despite that, Smith won the $100,000 bonus in the XFINITY Dash for Cash, a very nice consolation prize.
“We had to work overnight – I didn’t like where we were with the car yesterday,” Smith said. “I thought I made a mistake going to the outside… I thought it was for the win, I didn’t realize the 60 had made it. Nonetheless, very proud of the effort today.”
When their contact occurred, Buescher and Wallace were essentially the two cars left on the track that were up front after everyone else stopped for gas. Kenseth was leading when he had to stop, but that was expected – he was off-cycle after having to pit on lap 33 because of a loose wheel. Kenseth thought the race would still be there for him when he got back out, but Buescher never had to come in.
“We had a great race car,” Kenseth said. “But we had a wheel come loose early and had to put off sequence, and that left us a set of tires short. Really I thought we were in good shape; we had the lead and got our tires way earlier than anyone, and I didn’t think anybody could run that long on fuel.”
After Kenseth stopped, Erik Jones took the lead. It was his 19th birthday, and he was hoping to become the first driver to win an XFINITY Series race on his big day. But he ran into trouble with Dover’s notoriously difficult pit road. He locked up his brakes and came in too fast, resulting in a pass-through penalty that took him out of contention. Jones finished ninth.
Once Jones was in the pits, it was between Wallace and Buescher. Wallace led initially until the two had contact. Had they not done so, it may have made for a very interesting nine laps of who could have run the slowest, but the fastest, while not running out of gas. Instead, there will be other drama. But Jack Roush said he feels everyone will be able to iron things out.
“That’s the first time in my 28 years that two of our cars have made contact and one hasn’t been able to finish because of a flat tire,” Roush said. “I know nobody wanted contact there – Bubba didn’t and certainly Chris didn’t – so we’ve got to work on the feelings there and get everybody feeling good about being teammates.”
Austin Dillon finished fourth, but was dinged by NASCAR in post-race inspection for being too low on both sides in the rear. Kasey Kahne was fifth, followed by Chase Elliott, Brendan Gaughan, Ty Dillon, Jones and Jeremy Clements in the top 10.
Buescher left Dover with the series points lead, holding a 15-point advantage on Ty Dillon. Elliott is 37 points out, followed by Smith (-47) and Wallace (-49).
There were seven lead changes among five drivers; Jones led 70 laps, the most of the five. The race had four cautions for 23 laps and ran at an average speed of 115.774 MPH.