Race Weekend Central

Chris Buescher P1 on the Pylon, P2 on the Photo at Kansas

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Ford Performance is in the midst of its longest NASCAR Cup Series winless drought since 2010, when it took 21 races to reach victory lane. For a fleeting moment, as race number 12 of 2024 came to a close, the Blue Ovals and Chris Buescher appeared on the brink of a breakthrough.

Turns out NASCAR’s photo finish camera showed otherwise.

After racing Kyle Larson side by side to the line, it was Buescher who got the short end of the stick. In the end, the records will show he was one one-thousandth of a second short, less than a foot from leaving with the trophy.

The RFK Racing driver will simply have to settle for a runner-up result despite a car that was capable of more. Faced with the unenviable reality of coming up short, he tried to remain upbeat.

“We had it from the get-go,” Buescher said. “We drove forward, we led a ton of laps today. It’s huge for us to have that and to know we are in contention. We got to keep that up.”

Indeed, RFK Racing’s No. 17 Ford had the best weekend of their season to date. Buescher qualified 12th and moved up early, charging to fifth by the end of stage one. Stage two was marked by a five-wide restart that sparked his push to the lead, eventually earning his first stage victory of 2024.

In the end, Buescher led a total of 53 laps, third most of anyone in the field. Last year’s three-race winner was showing flashes of how his stock rose throughout 2023.

Then, in an instant, his day seemed doomed after the team was hit with a pit road penalty on lap 168 for having a crew member over the wall too soon. The violation sent him to the rear of the field as the final stage began, forcing him to charge up from around 30th position.

But as the final stage played out, a flurry of cautions allowed a change in fortune. While others stopped in for fresh tires, crew chief Scott Graves kept the No. 17 Ford out on old ones until they found themselves on the front row, in position for redemption heading to a restart with 62 laps remaining.

“We had the one penalty midrace that got us messed up, and we obviously had to go off strategy to get our position back,” said crew chief Scott Graves about the team’s late-race recovery. “There have been a lot of weeks where we feel like if we were up there [track position wise], we would be able to run there.”

Buescher battled from there, tooth and nail with Denny Hamlin for the win before fading while attempting to save older tires and fuel. But then a late-race spin involving Kyle Busch set up NASCAR Overtime, putting everyone on an even playing field and setting up a finish for the ages.

After a strong pit stop, Buescher was again in great position, restarting on the outside of row 1. As Hamlin struggled to get going, Buescher found himself clear and in front as the white flag waved over the field.

If only the race could have ended then.

Kyle Larson was coming, putting together a run on the backstretch that left him alongside Buescher entering turn 3. Allowing the No. 5 Chevrolet to get alongside, the duo raced cleanly, some light bumping coming off the final corner with the finish line in sight.

As the checkered flag flew, there was no clear winner. As Buescher looked up at the pylon, he initially saw what he thought was a call: the No. 17 was listed P1.

It wouldn’t stick.

As NASCAR officials reviewed the photo finish camera, it was clear Buescher was ever-so-slightly edged out. After being told on the radio, he begrudgingly moved his car from the frontstretch to pit road. Climbing out in a daze, he went over the replay with his team while allowing the pain of coming so close to set in.

“It hurts to see the pylon say we get it and then not,” Buescher said about his emotions after the finish. “It sucks to halfway celebrate down the backstretch and then pull up to the front straightaway and be told no…

“Second sucks a whole lot worse than third.”

With that, Buescher left Kansas, but this race won’t leave his mind for a long time. Forever tied to what might have been, we’ll see down the road what a matter of inches would have meant to his season.

Follow @TreyLyleVT

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