Chris Buescher clinched his third win in 53 NASCAR Xfinity Series starts and his second of 2015 with victory in the Buckle Up 200 at Dover International Speedway on Saturday afternoon, after somehow managing to make one tank of fuel last an astonishing 98 laps of the Monster Mile.
None of his Joe Gibbs Racing rivals could match that sort of fuel economy, and Buescher was helped immeasurably when two of them got handed pit lane speeding penalties in their enforced final splash-and-dash stops inside the final 16 laps, which left them both well out of contention at the finish. In fact only five of the 40 cars were still on the lead lap when Buescher crossed the line, and despite all the fuel conservation the winning margin was over 11 seconds between Buescher and the remaining JGR car of Matt Kenseth.
CLICK: Full race results and updated Xfinity Series championship standings.
But as Buescher marshalled his remaining petrol fumes to just about complete a burnout celebration, the most controversial talking point from the race was the way that Buescher has ruthlessly dispatched his own Roush Fenway Racing team mate Darrell Wallace Jr. with nine laps to go. The pair were on the same strategy and looking on the way to a 1-2 finish, but contact between them resulted in a cut tyre for Wallace that forced the #6 to make a late pit stop where he earned himself a penalty for a commitment line violation that meant he finished in 17th place, three laps off the lead - and not at all happy.
"It is my team mate so I can't really say much unless I see a replay," said a simmering Wallace after the race. "I asked the spotter after the race and he said we got run over ... I was saving fuel there and Chris just ran over me and he ends up winning. It should be interesting Monday morning," he added, referring to the upcoming Roush team debrief about the weekend's events.
"I didn't think I was holding him tight and the next thing you know we are almost in the fence. The crappy part about it is we had a really strong Ford EcoBoost Mustang and we couldn't get off pit road to save us and we got caught in dirty air and then we were in fuel saving mode. I thought we were doing okay until that little incident. I would say I am happy Roush won but I am not."
"It's the first time we've had an incident between our two cars," said team owner Jack Roush. "I know no one meant to have contact so we'll sort that out and get everybody feeling good again.
"No worse horror than two programs in position to win a race and have them have contact," he added. "We'll have to sort that out."
Wallace Jr. had started the race from pole position for only the second time in his Xfinity Series career spanning 18 races to date, his third-round qualifying time of 23.378s (153.991mph) putting him 0.016s ahead of Buescher and ensuring that Roush had locked-up the front row for the green flag.
Wallace went on to lead for the first 41 laps but lapped traffic allowed Richard Childress Racing's Austin Dillon to close up again and then pass on the low side through turns 1 and 2 while Wallace was up high trying to get around David Starr. A debris caution on lap 56 enabled the JGR pit crew to jump Erik Jones into the lead for the first time for the restart, but the race was soon back under caution for the biggest incident of the day on lap 65 after RCR's Brian Scott and Penske's Ryan Blaney collided and went into the Turn 1 wall, where Scott's car was further collected by Jamie Dick. Of the three only the #22 was able to limp back to the garage for repairs, but by the time he rejoined the race Blaney was 69 laps down and would be classified in 34th place. Scott and Dick were both out on the spot, their cars craned away, but both drivers themselves were unhurt.
"The #18 [Daniel Suarez] slipped a little bit off of four and the #2 [Scott] got inside of us and must have got loose or something," explained Blaney. "Unfortunately we got in the fence there. It was unfortunate because I would have liked to see where it went. It was only lap 50 and I wish we could have raced more than that."
"I guess this is just a product of racing at Dover," sighed Scott. "Hopefully we'll have a better day in the Sprint Cup Series race here at Dover [on Sunday.]"
Jones - who had earlier in the day celebrated turning 19 on Saturday with a cake from the team presented on the frontstretch - would go on to lead race-high 70 laps in two separate stints in charge at the front, the first extending to the midway point of the 200-lap race which was marked by Ryan Sieg spinning out in turn 2. Matt Kenseth stayed off pit lane, having been pushed out of sync by the need for an unscheduled pit stop on lap 33 for a suspected loose tyre and now seeking to make lemonade out of the lemons handed him by the situation. RCR's Ty Dillon won the race off pit lane to pick up second place alongside Kenseth ahead of Regan Smith, Erik Jones, Darrell Wallace Jr. and Austin Dillon, with Buescher taking the restart in eighth place just behind JR Motorsports' Kasey Kahne.
Kenseth controlled the lead for the next 50 laps with Jones quickly picking up second from Ty Dillon. Notably sluggish at this point were the two Roush cars as they bedded in for a near-impossible run all the way to the finish without a further refuelling stop, and their task wasn't made any easier by the complete lack of cautions for the rest of the afternoon. Eventually however the race started to come to them as one-by-one their rivals were forced to pit: Kenseth surrendered the lead on lap 153 to make his own four-tyre stop, which in green flag conditions on a short track like Dover meant that he went a lap down and emerged in 18th place.
That handed the lead back to his team mate Jones, who duly pulled out more then a second over Regan Smith. However none of the leaders had done enough to save fuel to get them all the way to the finish, so that on lap 183 Regan Smith and Austin Dillon signalled the start of the charge for one last visit to pit lane for fuel and tyres. Erik Jones relinquished the lead to next time by, only to be hit by a pit lane speeding penalty - as was his JGR team mate Daniel Suarez when he made his own stop a couple of minutes later, a costly lesson for both drivers.
The Roush cars carried on, Wallace picking up the lead but running so slowly compared with the cars not having to aggressively conserve fuel that he was passed by Matt Kenseth, who in doing so had successfully got the #20 back on the lead lap without the need for free passes or wavearounds. Kenseth tried but ultimately failed to eat into the full lap gap between himself and the two Roush cars at the front, but he ultimately came up 11.477s short by the time the chequered flag came out to end the race. At which point, there were not two but just the one Roush car left up ahead, after the decisive but controversial contact between Wallace and Buescher on lap 191.
"There at the end of the race we were both on similar strategies and trying to save as much fuel as possible," Buescher explained. "We were keeping on a little quicker pace and when everybody is lifting halfway down the straightaway it is hard to start a pass, let along finish it.
"I felt like we were in position to make the pass a couple of times and with traffic and some lap cars and everything where it was we got the door closed on us pretty hard on a couple of occasions," he pointed out. "That looked like our opportunity and we had a good run up off the corner and figured we could run hard for a lap or two and not worry about fuel but I was just underneath it there and we were really late into a tyre run and fuel run and it just got a little free on the bottom and didn't have much air on the right side."
"Other than that, we will talk about it. We are heading to the same place right now so we will get it all straightened out," he concluded.
His win this week means that Buescher extends his lead in the NASCAR Xfinity Series championship standings to 15 points over Ty Dillon. Chase Elliott remains in third place, while Regan Smith moves ahead of Darrell Wallace Jr. by two points for fourth.
In the team owners standings, Roger Penske still has a 28 point lead despite a tough day for Ryan Blaney in the #22, with Jack Roush gaining ground with Buescher's victorious #60 car. Richard Childress has the next two spots with the #33 and the #3 driven by his grandsons Austin and Ty Dillon respectively. However, the #33 failed post-race technical inspection when it measured too low on both sides at the rear, meaning that points penalties will likely be forthcoming when the sanctioning body holds its official review of the race on Tuesday at the NASCAR Research & Development Center in Concord, North Carolina.
With the drivers now set for a week off, the next race in the Xfinity Series is in two weeks time at the two-mile Michigan International Speedway on June 13.
Full race results, plus qualifying and practice speeds and updated Xfinity Series championship standings.
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