Chris Buescher takes Bristol as playoff field trimmed to 12

Chris Buescher became the third non-playoff driver in the postseason to race to the checkers first, winning Saturday night’s Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tenn.

In the third race of the playoffs, Buescher’s No. 17 Ford beat Chase Elliott’s No. 9 Chevrolet by just under half a second to record the second win of Buescher’s Cup Series career.

His previous victory was at Pocono Raceway in August 2016 — 222 races ago.

He became the 19th different winner in 2022.

“It was up to me at the point — just hold on and make it work,” Buescher said of the late two-tire stop that gave him the lead for good. “We knew we had a good race car in practice.”

Erik Jones won the playoff opener at Darlington Raceway two weeks ago, and Bubba Wallace was triumphant last Sunday at Kansas Speedway — both drivers who were ineligible to challenge for a championship in NASCAR’s 10-race playoff.

William Byron, Christopher Bell and Kyle Larson rounded out the top five finishers at Bristol.

The Round of 16 was trimmed to 12, with Kevin Harvick, Austin Dillon, Kyle Busch and Tyler Reddick eliminated from title contention.

Riding in second place and needing a win to advance, Harvick’s No. 4 Ford had a loose wheel on pit road and he lost valuable spots with 61 laps to go.

“It’s pretty tough. We pitted in front of the 17 (of Buescher). It’s kind of the way the year’s gone,” said Harvick, who finished 10th.

Brad Keselowski held off Bell to win Stage 1, and Busch — below the cut line — came in third for seven bonus points to put him inside the top 12.

However, Busch hit the wall to bring out the eighth caution. He then took his No. 18 Toyota to the garage with engine failure — his second in three weeks.

“It just goes with our year,” said Busch, who announced Tuesday that he will drive the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing in 2023. “I’m flabbergasted. I just feel so bad for my guys. They don’t deserve to be in this spot. We’re too good of a group to be this low down on the bottom.”

When the field went back to green, the ninth caution quickly flew during a messy wreck involving postseason competitors Reddick, Dillon, Daniel Suarez and Alex Bowman.

“We put ourselves in a bind after the first two races (of the playoffs),” said Dillon, who won in the final regular-season race at Daytona to make the 16-race playoff field. “We brought something we could race with today and felt good about it. … We just needed to miss that one.”

NASCAR Cup Series Race – 62nd Annual Bass Pro Shops Night Race

Bristol Motor Speedway

Bristol, Tennessee

Saturday, September 17, 2022

1. (20) Chris Buescher, Ford, 500.

2. (23) Chase Elliott (P), Chevrolet, 500.

3. (16) William Byron (P), Chevrolet, 500.

4. (8) Christopher Bell (P), Toyota, 500.

5. (5) Kyle Larson (P), Chevrolet, 500.

6. (12) Ross Chastain (P), Chevrolet, 500.

7. (13) AJ Allmendinger(i), Chevrolet, 500.

8. (11) Cole Custer, Ford, 500.

9. (4) Denny Hamlin (P), Toyota, 500.

10. (7) Kevin Harvick (P), Ford, 500.

11. (18) Michael McDowell, Ford, 500.

12. (19) Justin Haley, Chevrolet, 500.

13. (10) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 499.

14. (2) Chase Briscoe (P), Ford, 498.

15. (31) Corey LaJoie, Chevrolet, 497.

16. (27) Harrison Burton #, Ford, 497.

17. (32) Cody Ware, Ford, 497.

18. (30) Todd Gilliland #, Ford, 496.

19. (29) Daniel Suarez (P), Chevrolet, 494.

20. (9) Austin Cindric # (P), Ford, 493.

21. (24) Erik Jones, Chevrolet, 492.

22. (35) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 492.

23. (36) JJ Yeley(i), Ford, 491.

24. (33) BJ McLeod(i), Ford, 491.

25. (17) Tyler Reddick (P), Chevrolet, 469.

26. (34) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, Steering, 457.

27. (15) Joey Logano (P), Ford, Suspension, 437.

28. (1) Aric Almirola, Ford, Steering, 418.

29. (14) Bubba Wallace (P), Toyota, 408.

30. (6) Ryan Blaney (P), Ford, 338.

31. (28) Austin Dillon (P), Chevrolet, DVP, 279.

32. (3) Alex Bowman (P), Chevrolet, Accident, 277.

33. (26) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Chevrolet, Accident, 276.

34. (21) Kyle Busch (P), Toyota, Engine, 269.

35. (25) Ty Gibbs(i), Toyota, Steering, 265.

36. (22) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, Steering, 198.

Average Speed of Race Winner: 88.286 mph.

Time of Race: 3 Hrs, 1 Mins, 7 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.458 Seconds.

Caution Flags: 11 for 80 laps.

Lead Changes: 12 among 6 drivers.

Lap Leaders: A. Almirola 1-35;R. Blaney (P) 36-44;A. Almirola 45;B. Keselowski 46-128;C. Bell (P) 129;C. Buescher 130-237;C. Bell (P) 238-356;K. Larson (P) 357-387;B. Keselowski 388-413;C. Bell (P) 414-435;K. Larson (P) 436-438;C. Bell (P) 439;C. Buescher 440-500.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): Chris Buescher 2 times for 169 laps; Christopher Bell (P) 4 times for 143 laps; Brad Keselowski 2 times for 109 laps; Aric Almirola 2 times for 36 laps; Kyle Larson (P) 2 times for 34 laps; Ryan Blaney (P) 1 time for 9 laps.

Stage #1 Top Ten: 6,20,18,14,5,48,17,8,24,19

Stage #2 Top Ten: 20,1,14,9,18,48,24,3,5,4