Chris Buescher became the 12th different playoff eligible winner of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season at Richmond Raceway, but he wasn’t the only one who made out well with his victory.
RFK Racing’s Chris Buescher has flown under the radar for the majority of his NASCAR Cup Series career, but he has been one of the key beneficiaries of RFK Racing’s recent resurgence and now has two wins in the last calendar year.
One of NASCAR’s “good guys” earned his first win in six years last September at Bristol Motor Speedway, and he added to his short track success by earning his first win of the 2023 season at Richmond Raceway in Sunday afternoon’s Cook Out 400.
The first 390 laps of the 400-lap race around the four-turn, 0.75-mile (1.207-kilometer) Richmond, Virginia ran caution-free, aside from the two stage breaks. Buescher was able to hold off Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin on a late restart with three laps remaining following the race’s lone incident.
The only way Buescher doesn’t get into the playoffs is if four new winners emerge in the final four regular season races, he ends up ranking 16th in points of the 16 playoff eligible winners, and the regular season champion ends up being winless.
The highest winless driver in the point standings is currently 110 points out of the lead, so for all intents and purposes, we’re going with the idea that the driver of the No. 17 Ford is indeed “locked in”, even if there is still that 0.000001% chance that he misses out.
But Chris Buescher wasn’t the only big winner in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race.
Yes, his win did eliminate one of the provisional playoff spots behind the race winners. Now instead of five spots still open, there are just four. But Buescher had already been sitting in one of those open spots, meaning that his victory didn’t move the playoff cut line up.
While he did solidify his spot in the postseason for the first time since 2016, he didn’t necessarily take away an opportunity for anybody else, since he was already more than 100 points above the playoff cut line and relatively safe.
The playoff cut line remains between the 16th and 17th place drivers in the point standings, a stark contrast from last year when it ended up below third place driver Ryan Blaney and fourth place driver Martin Truex Jr. ended up missing the playoffs.
In fact, Blaney would have missed from third place (or even second) as well, if not for Kurt Busch’s season-ending injury and subsequent withdrawal from the postseason.
The four playoff spots behind the 12 race winners are currently occupied by Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick (+182), RFK Racing’s Brad Keselowski (+151), 23XI Racing’s Bubba Wallace (+54), and Front Row Motorsports’ Michael McDowell (+18).
If the playoff cut line stays where it is (or even if it moves up a spot or two), Harvick and Keselowski should be safe. As for Wallace and McDowell, there are quite a few other drivers looking to take away their spots.
They too made out well with Buescher’s win, as it kept the cut line below McDowell instead of moving it up a spot to behind Wallace, a 36-point difference.
Joe Gibbs Racing rookie Ty Gibbs is currently 18 points below the cut line, with Kaulig Racing’s A.J Allemendinger 22 points back, Trackhouse Racing Team’s Daniel Suarez 34 points back, and Hendrick Motorsports teammates Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman 40 and 42 points back, respectively.
Had McDowell or somebody from below the cut line won Sunday’s race, those gaps would be 36 points greater since the cut line would have moved up. So while these drivers all would have liked to win Sunday’s race themselves, they were fine with Buescher taking the checkered flag.
FanDuel Sportsbook, which is currently offering fans an instant $100 just for betting $5, lists Buescher at +3700 to win this year’s NASCAR Cup Series championship.
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