Buescher wins in crash-filled finish Nationwide race
James Buescher survived a wild last lap as the race leaders crashed in the final turn to emerge as the surprise winner and collect his first career NASCAR Nationwide Series victory Saturday’s season-opening Drive4COPD 300 at Daytona International Speedway.
Buescher came through as the last man standing following an 11-car wreck in the final turn, tiptoeing through the carnage and dodging the slowed car of Brad Keselowski to lead the final 100 yards and take the checkered flag in his 35th Nationwide Series start.
“It’s hard to put into words,” said Buescher. “They all piled up in front of me and we made it through. It’s hard to describe the feeling when you make it through the wreck and you’re the only guy – you don’t see anyone in front of you and you’re coming to the checkered flag. It’s pretty incredible and I’ll definitely never forget it.
“I can’t think of another race track that I would rather this (win) be at. Daytona is historical – everybody knows that – and every driver dreams of winning here. My goal as a young driver was to be able to race at Daytona in NASCAR and I’ve done that several times, but now I’ve finally won here. I don’t know how to put it into words.”
Elliott Sadler held on to limp his Richard Childress Racing-owned Chevrolet to a second place finish, followed by Keselowski, Cole Whitt and Austin Dillon
Much like Friday night’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race, Saturday’s event was a crash-filled mess of an event that saw eight cautions
The final carnage started with three laps remaining as three separate tandems pulled away from the field to battle it out, with brothers Kurt and Kyle Busch leading, followed by the duo of Joey Logano and Trevor Bayne and the tandem of Tony Stewart and Elliott Sadler.
The Busch brothers stepped out ahead by nearly five-car lengths as they came to the white flag, but Logano and Bayne reeled them in on the backstretch as the Busch brothers tried to throw a block.
Stewart and Sadler took advantage and tried to come along the outside to make it three wide, but Logano and Bayne came drifting up to the high side of the track to pinch off Stewart and Sadler. Bayne got into Stewart, bounced off and into Kurt Busch, who turned into Logano – and the wreck was on.
Kyle Busch managed to get to the low side of the track but was force to check up and was nailed from behind by Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and Cole Whitt.
When the dust cleared, the first 11 cars in the running order were smoking heaps, with some able to limp to the finish line.
Stewart, who was looking for his fifth-straight victory in the season-opening event, ended up with an eighth-place finish despite leading five times for 22 laps.
“The hole that we had all of a sudden not only closed up, it shut – pretty quickly. It got slammed on us. We just ran out of real estate,” said Stewart. “I don’t know how they got there or why they got there, but it was a pretty abrupt right-hand turn in front of us. Just all of a sudden the door got slammed on us. I don’t know why whoever it was turned right, but it wasn’t a very good time to either try blocking or moving.”
The Nationwide Series race was seen as a preview of Sunday’s Daytona 500, where the Sprint Cup teams will be running under a new aerodynamics and engine package NASCAR hoped would eliminate the two-car tandem drafting that dominated last season’s four restrictor-plate races.
Saturday’s race was a mix of two-wide drafting and the more familiar multi-car pack racing, but problems with bump drafting were evident right from the start.
One of the earliest casualties in the vent was polesitter and Daytona media sensation Danica Patrick, who got turned off the bumper of her teammate Cole Whitt on 50.
The first big multi-car crash reared it’s head on lap 105, as the front of the field checked up, causing Justin Allgaier and Kenny Wallace to get together and touch off a 19-car crash that brought out the red flag and set up another restart with eight laps to go.
But cautions breed cautions as they say, and just three laps later Sam Hornish Jr. got turned by David Ragan coming out of turn four, triggering another meat grinder that collected 14 more cars and brought the field back around for the final three-lap shootout.
In all, 18 of the 43 cars failed to finish the event, a potentially troubling omen on things to come in the Daytona 500.
“I think (the Daytona 500) is going to be the same,” said Sadler. “Tomorrow we have less spoiler. Tomorrow, the way the engines are not cooling as well with the radiator, stuff is different, there's going to be a lot more change, a lot more pack racing. I think you're going to see a lot of the same thing. It's the Daytona 500. It's a once-in-a-lifetime race to be involved in and try to win. I think guys are going to go for it when it's show time.”
* Denotes Rookie
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