chris bueschler wins the bass pro shop night race former champs eliminated from nascar cup series playoffs
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Bueschler wins Bass Pro Shop Night Race: Former champs bounced from NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs

chris bueschler
RFK Racing’s Chris Buescher celebrates his first win in 222 races in Victory Lane at the Bass Pro Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway. (BMS Photo)

Chris Buescher held on to win Saturday’s Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol Motors Speedway, becoming the 19th different NASCAR Cup Series winner this season.

While Buescher was celebrating his first win in 222-races, his second overall and his first with RFK Racing, and first for RFK Racing since Brad Keselowski joined the organization as an owner/driver after the 2021 season.

The race also set the field for the Round of 12 in the series playoffs and the elimination of four drivers, reducing 16 drivers to a field to 12 heading into Texas next week.

Saturday night’s race eliminated former NASCAR champions Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick from the postseason, along with Tyler Reddick and Austin Dillon.

Denny Hamlin, Chase Briscoe, Daniel Suarez, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney and Alex Bowman  clinched spots in the next round, despite all encountering serious issues with their racecar during the race.

For Buescher, he was the third straight non-Playoff driver to win a race in the Round of 16 and at a track he loves; Bristol Motor Speedway.

“It’s so special here,” replied Buescher after the race. “I love this racetrack. I love the fans. I love every time we come here. It’s so special. It’s pretty awesome.”

The driver of the No. 17 Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing Ford led the final 61 laps and a race-high 169 overall to give the RFK organization its first victory since Ricky Stenhouse Jr. took the checkered flag at Daytona on July 1, 2017 at Daytona.

Given the issues with the Goodyear tires on the concrete surface, tire failure on the right side of the race car, Buescher made a pit stop in the final stage taking on two fresh tires while everyone else chasing Buescher took on four tires. The Texas native said he wasn’t worried.

“I wasn’t a bit,” he replied. “It was up to me at that point. I made it work, and we had a really fast (car). We knew we had a really fast race car in practice and didn’t quite get the job done in qualifying (20th)—but what a race car. I don’t know what all to say right now. I’m out of breath. This place will wear you flat-out, and I love that about it. It’s just a special night.”

Former series champion Chase Elliott finished second and was .458 seconds behind Buescher at the finish. William Byron finished third, followed by Christopher Bell, who posted his third straight top-five finish in the Round of 16, finishing fourth and Kyle Larson was fifth.  Ross Chastain finished the race sixth, with all five drivers immediately behind the race winner in the finishing order, and moved on to the Round of 12.

Elliott was disappointed that his Hooters Chevy couldn’t close the gap in the final laps.

“I felt like we were gaining, but I wasn’t close enough to do anything with him,” Elliott said. “But I appreciate the effort. We had a long day. Was able to battle back from a bad qualifying effort (23rd) to get a top two, so proud of that. Glad to be moving on (in the Playoff) and looking forward to some more opportunities here these coming weeks.”

As for Harvick, the California driver needed a victory to advance to the next round. Harvick ran consistently in the top five after staying out at the end of Stage 1 to gain track position. But on Lap 438, Harvick’s chances went rolling away as his crew failed to secure the left-rear on his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford. With the damage done, Harvick went back out and nabbed the 10th spot on Lap 444 and that’s where he finished the race, exiting the Playoffs in 16th place.

“It was pretty tough,” Harvick said. “We pitted in front of the 17 (Buescher), so just kind of the way the year has gone. Just went from having a chance to lead the parade to being a part of the parade. Just difficult to pass.”

For Kyle Busch, it was a series of positives and negatives as he had accumulated 14 points in the first two stages and was running above the cut line when his engine blew on Lap 270.  It was the Joe Gibbs Racing team’s second engine failure in the three playoff races.

“It just goes with our year,” Busch said. “I don’t even know what to say. I’m flabbergasted. I just feel so bad for my guys. They don’t deserve to be in this spot. They work too hard. We are too good of a group to be this low—down on the bottom, fighting for our lives just to make it through. Two engine failures in three weeks, that will do it to you.”

Car owner and driver Brad Keselowski led 109 laps and for a time looked to be the car to beat  until his right-front tire went flat on Lap 414 while he was leading.

“We had two cars that were really good today and one that was unlucky and one that executed, and everything came the right way for them,” said Keselowski after the race.

The playoffs move to Texas Motor Speedway this week and on to Talladega the following week.

Rod Mullins

Rod Mullins covers NASCAR for AFP, and co-hosts the mid-week “Street Knowledge” focusing on NASCAR with AFP editor Chris Graham. A graduate of UVA-Wise, Rod began his career in journalism as a reporter for The Cumberland Times, later became the program director/news director/on-air morning show host for WNVA in Norton, Va., and in the early 1990s served as the sports information director at UVA-Wise and was the radio “Voice of the Highland Cavaliers” for football and basketball for seven seasons. In 1995, Rod transitioned to public education, where he has worked as a high school English, literature, and creative writing teacher and now serves as a school program coordinator in addition to serving as a mentor for the robotics team.