Chris Buescher returned from being sidelined with Covid-19 a week ago to having a shot at winning Sunday’s race at Sonoma Raceway.
Buescher finished second to Daniel Suarez and shouldered the blame for not being one spot better. Having kept pace with Suarez off the race’s final restart with 28 laps to go, Buescher started to fade over the long run and was nearly four seconds behind at the checkered flag.
“This team did a great job and put a really fast Fifth Third Bank Mustang underneath me this weekend,” Buescher said. “What a way to return and come back to the racetrack, but I didn’t get the job done there at the end. I feel like we should have had the win and I didn’t get it. We were close; just needed more.”
Buescher and the No. 17 RFK Racing Ford were fast off the hauler. A third-place qualifying effort was the first for Buescher inside the top five since his pole at Dover in early May. The result, which includes four laps led, is Buescher’s first top-five finish of the season and a career-best at Sonoma. Before Sunday, Buescher’s best at the California road course had been 12th.
It was nearly thrown away, though, on a pit stop before the end of the second stage. Crew chief Scott Graves called Buescher to pit road with three laps left in the stage so that he would cycle near the front of the field when the final stage started.
Initially, the team was called for throwing the fuel can. The penalty would negate Buescher’s stage points and have him restart at the rear of the field. The team argued and used their overheard pit stall camera to make their case. NASCAR rescinded the penalty, and when the other half of the field made their pit stops, Buescher cycled to the race lead to start the final stage.
It was a short-lived stint as Suarez outmuscled Buescher, who went wide through two corners, to grab the top spot. Buescher fell back to fourth early in the stage behind Suarez, Michael McDowell and Kevin Harvick. When Harvick started to make a charge toward the lead, the team told Buescher he needed to get aggressive to keep pace or they’d be in trouble. Buescher charged back to second, where he’d remain for the rest of the race.
“I needed to make it happen on that [last] restart and I didn’t,” said Buescher. “But if we can keep getting cars like this, then a win will come. It was an awesome run and I should be happy, but I’m disappointed to be that close and not get it.”