LEXINGTON, Ohio — The math didn’t add up.
Crew chief Scott Graves was in NASCAR Nationwide Series rookie Chris Buescher’s ear, telling him he was two laps shy of making the finish. The thing was Buescher was in the lead by more than two seconds when he got the news.
“Not going to lie. Scott about had my nerves shot there at the end,” Buescher said. “We were trying to save all we could there knowing that we were trying to keep the distance on the guys behind us.”
Somehow, someway Buescher did the job, coaxing his No. 60 Ford to the finish line to win the first race of his Nationwide Series career, taking the Nationwide Children’s Hospital 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. He is the third rookie to win this season and the 14th different driver to do so in 2014.
Turns out all the figuring was off a bit.
“It was cool to pull it off and have plenty left over for a good burnout at the end,” Buescher said.
In the 90-lap race, Buescher last pitted on Lap 52 during the fourth caution of the day. The fifth and final caution for Jeff Green hitting the wall in the Esses (Turn 5) lasted three laps and it was a key three laps.
“The way the race played out helped us as well,” Graves said. “When everybody did pit, we had a big enough lead, and I think that allowed him to save a little bit more for a few laps.”
His closest rivals, Regan Smith and Brian Scott, marveled at the mileage he squeaked out of his fuel tank.
“I don’t know for the life of me how the 60 made it on fuel because nobody else in the field was even near that fuel mileage,” Smith said after finishing second in the No. 7 Chevrolet. “That was pretty interesting.”
Smith wasn’t surprised by the speed Buescher showed in the last third of the race, saying the rookie has come a long way this season.
“I was surprised that he made it. I didn’t have much more for him at the end,” Smith said.
Buescher gave the car a little shake on the last lap which Smith thought was a signal that the leader was out of gas, but it was for naught. Buscher got around Ashland’s Tim Cowen in the Carousel and crossed the finish line with 1.114 seconds to spare.
“Sometimes the race comes to you,” Scott said, the third-place finisher in the No. 2 Chevrolet. “I think all the circumstances happened for him. Right place at right time.”
Early in the race Scott, pole-sitter Sam Hornish Jr. and Alex Tagliani had the fastest cars
Hornish led or battled for it for more than 50 laps, but a missed shift hurt the engine and he had to park his No. 54 Toyota in the garage.
“I didn’t give them what they deserved,” Hornish said.
Scott and Tagliani briefly tangled, sending Scott off course and clogging his air intake with grass. He started to overheat but made it to the pits in time to save his race. From there he battled through the field to land on the podium.
“It’s the nature of the beast when these guys come in and are supposed to be road course specialists and are only doing one-off races. They feel they have something to prove and they drive like they do,” Scott said.
Points leader and rookie Chase Elliott was fourth and Tagliani fifth. Justin Marks, Elliott Sadler, Dylan Kwasniewski, Trevor Bayne and Dakoda Armstrong rounded out the top 10.
As for Buescher, he had the added pressure of winning his first race while driving for the race and series title sponsor on the side of his car.
“It was a really humbling experience and really cool to get our first win here under these circumstances,” he said.