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BRISTOL, Tenn. — For the past several years, Chris Buescher and his RFK Racing team had endured long losing streaks concurrently. Buescher had not won a Cup race since 2016, when he scored his lone win at Pocono Raceway. RFK, meanwhile, had not won a race since the summer of 2017. But in a major statement for an emerging organization, both finally found the way back to the Winner’s Circle together in Thunder Valley.
After taking two tires on his final pit stop, Buescher was able to drive away from Chase Elliott over the final 50 laps to win the Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol, his second career victory and the first victory for RFK Racing with Brad Keselowski as part of the ownership group. Buescher’s win not only snaps a 222-race winless streak, but it also makes him the 19th different winner this season — tying the all-time record for the most different winners in a single Cup Series season.
Buescher completed a sweep of the Round of 16 for non-playoff drivers, capitalizing as many playoff contenders fell by the wayside due to attrition. And four drivers — Kyle Busch, Tyler Reddick, Austin Dillon and Kevin Harvick — were eliminated from championship contention.
After the final caution came out when race leader Christopher Bell cut a tire, crew chief Scott Graves gambled on the ensuing pit stop by calling for just two tires to take Buescher from a spot in the top five up to the lead. It was a gutsy call, but one that Buescher had full confidence in.
“It was up to me at that point. Just hold on and make it work,” Buescher told NBC Sports. “We had a really fast Fastenal Mustang. Just so proud of everybody. We knew we had a good racecar after practice and didn’t quite get the job done in qualifying. But what a racecar. It’s special to get RFK in Victory Lane for the first time. We had great racecars, Brad had really good speed too.
“I don’t know what else to say right now. I’m out of breath. This place will wear you flat out, and I love that about it.”
Historically, the Bristol Night Race has always been defined by very high attrition. But rather than copious amounts of accidents and bent sheet metal, the attrition that took place from Lap 1 to Lap 500 on Saturday night came from an unexpected area: cut tires and mechanical failures.
As the Next Gen car hit Bristol’s concrete configuration for the first time, right front tire failures plagued multiple drivers, particularly those who were driving Fords. And it just so happened that several of those failures were among playoff drivers.
Austin Cindric suffered his setback early, losing multiple laps after cutting a right front tire. Not long afterwards, Ryan Blaney cut a tire of his own, setting off a disastrous sequence of events that led to Blaney having to go to the garage with a broken toe link. Joey Logano completed the Penske trio of tribulations, failing to finish due to a suspension issue.
The Toyotas, meanwhile, ended up having major problems of their own. Bubba Wallace and Ty Gibbs both had power steering failures within several laps of each other, as did Martin Truex Jr. Then, Kyle Busch suffered his second engine failure in the last three races, knocking him out of the race and leaving him helpless as he lost spots to other cars that were able to return to the race from the garage area.
Out of the car. Out of the race.
Kyle Busch’s championship hopes may come to an end tonight at Bristol. #NASCARPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/6ogHob9yls
Busch received a temporary reprieve after a multi-car crash on the backstretch on Lap 277 took out Austin Dillon and left Tyler Reddick with major damage. But as the race wound down, Cindric was able to gain positions as Busch lost more, allowing him to move above the cutoff line and knock Busch out.
There was one more knockout blow for a playoff contender, which came via a self-inflicted mortal wound. Running in the top five and in a must-win scenario, Kevin Harvick’s final pit stop was botched when the left front tire on his car was left loose, forcing him to have to back up into his pit stall to get it tightened. Harvick would recover to finish 10th, but the mistake would end his chances of advancing to the Round of 12.
With 12 drivers now remaining in the playoffs, Chase Elliott has re-taken the points lead after the points reset to begin the Round of 12. Elliott holds a 15-point advantage over Joey Logano, while Ryan Blaney currently holds the final spot above the cutoff line by four points over Chase Briscoe. Briscoe, Alex Bowman, Daniel Suarez and Austin Cindric enter the Round of 12 as the four drivers below the cut line.
The Round of 12 opens in Bristol winner Chris Buescher’s native land, as the Cup Series heads to Texas Motor Speedway for the Autotrader EchoPark Automotive 500 next Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET on USA Network and fuboTV (try for free).
The fog of a long winless streak finally clears for Chris Buescher! He wins the Night Race at Bristol to score his second Cup win, his first since 2016, and the first for RFK Racing under Brad Keselowski’s co-ownership!
Buescher becomes the 19th different winner this season, tying the all-time record for different winners in a Cup Series season.
1 – #17 – Chris Buescher
2 – #9 – Chase Elliott
3 – #24 – William Byron
4 – #20 – Christopher Bell
5 – #5 – Kyle Larson
6 – #1 – Ross Chastain
7 – #16 – A.J. Allmendinger
8 – #41 – Cole Custer
9 – #11 – Denny Hamlin
10 – #4 – Kevin Harvick
Episode 3 of Race For The Championship is re-airing on @USA_Network right now! pic.twitter.com/ZvSKxJ1AYg
We really just broke a 5-year winless drought, wow
What a sight. pic.twitter.com/JwgHeMg1Oi
Chris Buescher became the 19th different driver to win a #NASCAR Cup Series race in 2022.
That ties the record, previously set in 2001. pic.twitter.com/PfdVr3hABj
Two points shy of advancing.#NASCARPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/KpNOShvz15
Longshot Chris Buescher plays #NASCARPlayoffs spoiler as he WINS a crazy elimination race at Bristol. pic.twitter.com/lhNqCsyuHx
OH MY GOSHHHHHHH pic.twitter.com/QKlXwJ5XPP
Two former champs see their #NASCARPlayoffs end at @BMSupdates. pic.twitter.com/1511pVEZNk
Owner and driver celebrating together.@Keselowski congratulates @Chris_Buescher after the driver of the @RFKRacing No. 17 car won at @BMSUpdates. pic.twitter.com/ghFbV4whNy
222 race winless streak?
Not anymore for @Chris_Buescher!
#NASCAR Chris Buescher outran the playoff drivers and scored an upset victory Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway. https://t.co/WFvplJFtFX
Kyle Busch, Tyler Reddick, Austin Dillon and Kevin Harvick have been eliminated from the #NASCARPlayoffs. pic.twitter.com/LJpOPzOGEB
What an incredible moment for @RFKracing!@Chris_Buescher | @keselowski pic.twitter.com/8BJvSkfCJX
And then there were 12.#NASCARPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/gHO5U1CVbm
RETWEET to congratulate Chris Buescher on winning at Bristol! #NASCARPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/0q33OFopFQ
And then there were 12. #NASCARPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/MByOneSOLE
UNBELIEVABLE!@Chris_Buescher becomes the third straight non-#NASCARPlayoffs driver to win in the Round of 16! pic.twitter.com/TwsPTMarJs
RETWEET to congratulate @Chris_Buescher!@RFKracing WINS at @BMSupdates. #NASCAR pic.twitter.com/hqUiuWHT9d
Two laps to go. Coming to the white flag.
Five laps to go for Chris Buescher. In addition to his own winless streak, this would also break a five year winless streak for RFK Racing.
Is @Chris_Buescher going to do it??? pic.twitter.com/krndgV6Yeb
10 laps to go for Chris Buescher.
Lead is almost nine tenths of a second for Buescher. Less than 15 to go now.
Tight quarters@CBellRacing | @KyleLarsonRacin pic.twitter.com/S6RPUHL39J
Chris Buescher has opened his lead back up to seven tenths over Chase Elliott. 20 to go next time by.
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