Although there were a few close calls along the way, rookie Chris Buescher locked up a somewhat improbable playoff berth late Saturday at Richmond International Raceway.
Buescher's game plan to qualify for NASCAR's Chase for the Sprint Cup was rather straightforward: He would exercise patience, not take unnecessary risks, attempt to complete all 400 laps and hopefully enjoy a stress-free evening culminating in solidifying his playoff spot. Needing to stay in the top 30, he entered Richmond 11 points ahead of 31st-ranked David Ragan.
Despite his best intentions, however, Buescher's night was anything but humdrum. On more than one occasion he found himself mired in heavy traffic, including an instance where he was running to the outside of two cars then got pushed up the track, and another where contact cut a tire on the No. 34 car, which necessitated a green flag stop dropping him two laps behind.
"It was a crazy race," Buescher said. "I can't believe how many cautions we had. We got involved in one of the accidents, had a tire go down, just a very eventful day."
But Buescher did recover and finished 24th. That was enough to stay inside the top 30 in points, the threshold NASCAR mandates for drivers to be Chase eligible if they've won a regular season race, which Buescher did Aug. 1 at Pocono Raceway.
Adding to Buescher's accomplishment of earning a Chase spot is he did so with Front Row Motorsports, a midsize team that's never had a driver ranked better than 26th in the year end standings. Now, Buescher is guaranteed to finish no lower than 16th.
"It's obviously a big night for Front Row Motorsports and (owner) Bob Jenkins for a small team like we are to be able to pull it off and get that win at Pocono and find ourselves in the Chase right now," Buescher said. "It's pretty special."
Buescher wasn't alone in securing a playoff spot on Saturday night. Also qualifying were Chase Elliott, Austin Dillon and Jamie McMurray, all of whom got in based on their respective points rankings. Both Elliott and Dillon are making their first appearances in the Chase.
The 10-race Chase begins Sept. 18 at Chicagoland Speedway.