Chris Buescher scores 1st career Nationwide win at Mid-Ohio

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Late-race fuel issues threatened, but Chris Buescher kept going all the way to his first checkered flag in the NASCAR Nationwide Series today at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

Buescher claimed the lead with 24 laps to go but still had to worry about fuel on his No. 60 Roush Fenway Racing Ford despite getting help from a caution involving Jeff Green with 20 laps to go.

On the final lap, Regan Smith began to cut into Buescher’s lead and in the last few corners, Buescher encountered the lapped car of Tim Cowen.

With a win on the line, Buescher moved Cowen up as they went through the Carousel and then drove to a 1.1 second-win over Smith.

“It was nerve-wracking,” Buescher told ESPN. “I wasn’t sure if I was happy or disappointed [with the Green caution]. I knew we’d have a little more fuel, so that was gonna be good, but it bunched us all up there.

“But this Ford Mustang was fast and we pulled right away – actually, we were just cruising there at the end. My fuel pressure light started flashing at me. But I wasn’t about to tell [crew chief] Scott [Graves] that.”

Brian Scott finished third, followed by Nationwide Series points leader Chase Elliott in fourth, and Alex Tagliani in fifth. Scott led a race-high 39 laps, the bulk of which came in the first half of the race.

Scott and Sam Hornish Jr. battled for the lead as the race moved to the middle stages with Buescher right behind them. Then on Lap 51, Hornish suddenly went to the garage after he damaged the motor after missing a shift; he would return to the pits later, but did not come back to the race.

In a separate incident on the same lap, Kenny Habul came to a stop in the Keyhole grass to bring out the caution. Race leader Scott then led the front runners to the pits, but he was blocked in by Buescher and had to back up in order to get out of his box. That cost him several positions as Smith and Tagliani beat him out of the pits.

A group of nine drivers led by Trevor Bayne stayed out to go ahead of the previous leaders that pitted. When the green came back out at Lap 55, those previous leaders were led by Smith in 10th.

Scott suffered further issues when he and Tagliani made contact coming out of Mid-Ohio’s rhythm section, sending him off-course. On Lap 59, Scott hit the pits to have his crew clear the accumulated grass on his grille and top up the car on fuel.

With 29 to go, Bayne finally went in for service, handing the point to Brendan Gaughan (who had last pitted on Lap 41). Five laps later, Gaughan went in himself and Buescher assumed control.

Running behind Buescher in second was Green. But with 20 laps to go, Green’s throttle reportedly stuck open as he went into Turn 5 and he ran straight into the tire barriers to bring out caution No. 5. He was evaluated and later released from the infield care center.

NASCAR NATIONWIDE SERIES AT MID-OHIO – Nationwide Children’s Hospital 200
Unofficial Results

1. 60-Chris Buescher, led 25 laps
2. 7-Regan Smith
3. 2-Brian Scott, led 39 laps
4. 9-Chase Elliott
5. 22-Alex Tagliani
6. 31-Justin Marks
7. 11-Elliott Sadler
8. 42-Dylan Kwasniewski
9. 6-Trevor Bayne, led 9 laps
10. 43-Dakoda Armstrong
11. 19-Mike Bliss
12. 16-Ryan Reed
13. 40-Matt DiBenedetto
14. 01-Landon Cassill
15. 23-Cody Ware
16. 39-Ryan Sieg
17. 17-Tanner Berryhill
ONE LAP DOWN
18. 86-Tim Cowen
19. 3-Ty Dillon
20. 62-Brendan Gaughan, led 5 laps
TWO LAPS DOWN
21. 44-Carlos Contreras
THREE LAPS DOWN
22. 51-Jeremy Clements
23. 93-Tomy Drissi
FIVE LAPS DOWN
24. 74-Bobby Reuse
SIX LAPS DOWN
25. 99-James Buescher
NINE LAPS DOWN
26. 28-J.J. Yeley
10 LAPS DOWN
27. 52-Joey Gase

28. 4-Jeffrey Earnhardt, Lap 72, Running
29. 14-Jeff Green, Lap 70, Accident
30. 54-Sam Hornish Jr., led 12 laps, Lap 51, Engine
31. 20-Kenny Habul, Lap 51, Engine
32. 70-Derrike Cope, Lap 43, Suspension
33. 87-Stanton Barrett, Lap 35, Transmission
34. 79-John Jackson, Lap 13, Electrical
35. 10-Blake Koch, Lap 12, Vibration
36. 15-Carl Long, Lap 11, Suspension
37. 55-Timmy Hill, Lap 10, Brakes
38. 46-Josh Reaume, Lap 7, Electrical
39. 77-Roger Reuse, Lap 3, Transmission

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

Follow@KyleMLavigne