BROOKLYN, Mich. – After the completion of the FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway, we can hold the following truths to be self-evident:
– Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing is officially “back.”
– Chris Buescher is rapidly gaining elite status as a driver.
– Ford maintained its dominance in the Irish Hills.
– Chase Elliott will have to win one of the next three races to make the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.
– The fastest car didn’t win Sunday’s race.
In an extended, dramatic, nail-biting green-flag run to the finish, Buescher held off hard-charging Martin Truex Jr. to win his second straight Cup Series race.
With team co-owner Brad Keselowski finishing fourth and Buescher winning – the ninth straight victory for Ford drivers at the 2-mile speedway — RFK can claim bragging rights as the top Ford team in the Cup garage, at least for now.
When the race resumed at Lap 75 on Monday after a postponement from Sunday because of rain, Chase Elliott’s No. 9 Chevrolet wasn’t on the track, having crashed out in 36th place on Lap 35 the day before.
Elliott’s deficit to the playoffs’ elimination line grew to 55 points; realistically, the 2020 series champion will have to win one of the next three races to avoid missing the postseason for the first time in his career.
Eight days after winning his first race of the season on the 0.75-mile Richmond Raceway short track, Buescher proved himself a formidable competitor lap after lap in holding off Truex, whose No. 19 Toyota arguably was the fastest car in the race.
With Truex closing the distance between the cars over the final six laps, Buescher roared off Turn 4 and crossed the finish line 0.152 seconds ahead of the runner-up.
“This Castrol Mustang was so good in practice, qualifying,” said Buescher, who picked up his fourth career victory. “Gave me a great car again. Had to work for that one, too, hard racing at the end.
“Martin was very clean with me. I appreciate that. Get to go to Victory Lane two weeks in a row. That’s pretty awesome.”
With 13 laps to go, Truex had his best chance. Buescher slipped slightly off Turn 4, and Truex pulled alongside. The No. 19 Camry edged ahead to the inside, but Buescher doggedly kept Truex beside him for nearly two laps.
Rounding Turn 4 on Lap 188 of 400, Buescher held Truex’s car to the bottom of the track, forcing Truex to slip and lift off the gas. Truex also had to clear the lapped car of Michael McDowell as Buescher opened a gap of 10 car-lengths.
That gave Buescher enough of a margin to hold off Truex for the win over the final 11 circuits.
“I think we needed maybe a little bit longer run to wear the tires some more,” said Truex, who swept the first two stages and increased his series lead to 57 points over second-place Denny Hamlin, who finished third on Monday. “I feel like we were a little better. It’s hard to pass the leader on equal tires.
“We had an unbelievable car today. Hats off to everybody that puts in the work on these things. … It was a rocket. The leader in clean air is really, really hard to pass. Just didn’t quite have enough. All in all, a good day.
“Tough to get a win here. We’ve been really good in the past. Just can’t get it done. Hopefully, I don’t know, maybe next year.“
Kyle Larson finished fifth, followed by Daniel Suárez, Ross Chastain, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Blaney and Erik Jones. Ty Gibbs came home 11th and supplanted McDowell in the 16th and final playoff-eligible position. McDowell trails Gibbs by three points, with Suárez five points back.
With Buescher winning his second race and qualifying for the postseason, all the single-race winners this season also clinched playoff berths on Monday: Christopher Bell, Chastain, Blaney, Joey Logano, Tyler Reddick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Bell, the Michigan pole winner, damaged his car severely with a spin into the wall on Lap 65 on Sunday, but after repeated trips to pit road for repairs, he salvaged a 13th-place result.
Three contenders were sidelined during the early going Sunday, with 74 laps completed before rain forced the postponement. Among them were Kyle Busch, Elliott and William Byron — all of whom retired with damage after contact with the outside retaining wall.
Byron finished 35th, Elliott 36th and Busch was last in the 37-car field after incidents in the opening stage. Busch completed 14 laps before his contact with the No. 12 Ford of Ryan Blaney sent his No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet into the outside barrier. Twenty laps later, Elliott was out after a tire issue on his No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, and Byron — his teammate — exited after a wall scrape on the last lap of Stage 1.
Xfinity Series regular Josh Berry finished 34th as a substitute for the suspended Noah Gragson after a crash early in Stage 2. Berry was making his ninth Cup Series start this season and his first in Legacy Motor Club’s No. 42 Chevy.
The Cup Series’ next race is the Verizon 200 at the Brickyard, scheduled Sunday (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC, IMS Radio, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, NBC Sports App) at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course.
Notes: Buescher becomes the first driver for the Roush Fenway Keselowski operation to win consecutive races since Carl Edwards went back-to-back in 2010. … Post-race inspection was completed in the Cup Series garage without issue, confirming Buescher as the Michigan winner. … Competition officials indicated that six cars will return to the NASCAR Research & Development Center in Concord, N.C. The No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet and the No. 22 Team Penske Ford will be brought back for further inspection, and both cars will join the No. 23 23XI Racing Toyota and the No. 99 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet for engine dynamometer testing. Additionally, the No. 7 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet and the No. 16 Kaulig Racing Chevy will be kept for wind-tunnel testing.
Contributing: Staff reports