Tony Stewart’s spot in NASCAR’s Chase is now set. Rookie Chris Buescher’s still isn’t – but he’s in better shape than he might have been.
Stewart finished 21st in Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway. More importantly, he clinched a spot inside the top 30 in the points standings with two races remaining until the Chase begins. That, along with his victory at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway in June, means three-time champion Stewart has also clinched a spot in the postseason for the first time since 2012.
Then there was Buescher, who, like Stewart, entered the race with a win and inside the top 30 -- but still not assured his spot in the 16-driver Chase.
Things couldn’t have gone any worse for Buescher. He experienced plug issues early in the race and struggled to a 35th-place finish. Despite all that, he is still 30th in the points, but just seven points ahead of David Ragan.
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Buescher’s crew got his No. 34 Ford back on the track. He remained competitive enough to keep his Chase eligibility chances alive.
“I know it isn’t fun opening a hood of a race car that is as hot at it is and trying to work on it,” Buescher said. “Kudos to my guys for keeping their heads down and working at it and getting it fixed. Usually when you have engine trouble you are along for the ride. It ended up being something a little bit more simple than I guess we originally figured. We got back up and running and made some laps and made a really terrible day into just an OK day.”
With Stewart and race winner Kyle Larson taking up two more spots in the Chase, the outlook for the final four spots has become more tight with races still remaining at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway and Richmond (Va.) International Raceway.
If Buescher can maintain his top-30 spot, he’s in. Chase Elliott, Austin Dillon and Jamie McMurray are in the top 16 and would fill out the field, but Ryan Newman (17th) trails McMurray by just 15 points. Kasey Kahne’s chances are more remote: he’s in 16th place and trails Newman by 37 points.