Carl Edwards steps away from racing; Daniel Suarez to wheel No. 19
RELATED: NASCAR Nation reacts to Edwards' news " Quotes from day HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. -- Carl Edwards gave three very detailed reasons why he is stepping away from NASCAR competition, only to circle back to the subject later and put it a bit more succinctly. "Life is short," Edwards told a room full of media, sponsor representatives and other assorted team and NASCAR officials Wednesday. "You've got to do what your gut tells you." And Edwards said his gut told him it was time to move on to something else. Edwards, 37, officially announced that he will not compete in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2017, calling a halt to a career that included 28 victories at NASCAR's top level, 10 Chase appearances and two second-place finishes in the series' championship points battle. The 2017 season was to be his third in the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, his team since joining JGR in 2015 after an 11-year career at Roush Fenway Racing . Instead, it will be 2016 NASCAR XFINITY Series driver Daniel Suarez who will be at the helm of the team's No. 19 entry. Suarez, the first Mexican-born driver to win a NASCAR national championship and a product of the sanctioning body's Drive for Diversity and NASCAR Next programs, will make his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series debut in the season-opening Daytona 500 , scheduled for Feb. 26 (2 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). MORE: Recap Suarez's title year " Suarez returns home to Mexico a champion Edwards, wearing a dark suit and gray dress shirt as he walked on stage at the organization's headquarters here in Huntersville, didn't entirely rule out a return to racing in some form or fashion, explaining that "If I'm going to get back in a race car, which I'm not saying the R (retirement) word here … I'm calling Coach (Joe) Gibbs first. "There is no better race team. There is no faster car than a Toyota Camry. There's no better engine. There's no better crew chief than Dave Rogers. There's no better crew." Why step away when he is seemingly still at the top of his game? He finished fourth in the 2016 points standings and was in the title picture right up until a crash with 12 laps remaining took him out of contention in the series’ final race. WATCH: Edwards takes blame for Miami wreck " Edwards' 2016 in review
Determination, focus drive Martin to Hall of Fame
RELATED: Learn more about the Class of 2017 " Martin's top moments Mark Martin is respected and revered for a 31-year NASCAR racing career that includes 40 Cup victories, 49 XFINITY wins and five heralded IROC championships. He is considered one of the most talented, highly focused and broadly successful competitors in NASCAR history. And later this week, Martin will formally acquire a designation that makes him most proud of all: NASCAR Hall of Famer. "When I'm introduced at a function, now people can call me something, I'll have a title," Martin, 58, said this week with a laugh. "Prior to that, you kind of had to search for a title, although I had done a lot of cool and amazing things in my career." His long list of "cool and amazing things" is what earned Martin this highest of honors. He joins Benny Parsons, Richard Childress, Rick Hendrick and Raymond Parks in this year’s Hall of Fame class and will be formally inducted Friday in Charlotte (8 p.m. ET on NBCSN). RELATED: Parks set early standard " Prolonged excellence Childress' hallmark For Martin, it is a story of supreme determination and talent. In addition to his 40 wins and five championship runner-up finishes in NASCAR's highest level, Martin proved to be one of the series’ most diverse competitors -- ever. He won four GT class championships competing in the Rolex 24 during the 1990s. And his five IROC titles -- and four more runner-up IROC championship finishes -- showed Martin’s great ability bettering the best drivers across all forms of racing from NASCAR to IndyCar to sports cars to sprint cars. It is certainly something that separates and elevates him to the highest of standards through four decades of the best competition in multiple genres. So understandably, Martin had to really think about what in his vast career makes him most proud. "I don't know if there's a single thing," Martin said. "One thing, I would have to say the fact that I made it to NASCAR at such a young age (22). At the time it was an amazingly young age, then I fell on my face and had to go home and start my career again. "So I would say perseverance, if you want to sum it up in one word. Having to start my career all over again and building my way back. Having a second chance is probably the biggest thing." "And the second thing is what I did in the IROC Series." Martin has acknowledged that he was as focused and intense as they came. He was the first driver to seriously incorporate fitness training into his race preparation -- something that may have eased his ability to compete at such a high level even into his 50s. That determination to find an edge was apparent in the garage, even from an early age. He was among the rare drivers to frequently be seen looking into the hood of his car and working alongside the crew. It was the way he was raised by his father Julian, who took great care in guiding his son's passion. There are photos of Martin’s earliest racing days clearly showing how Julian Martin had gone so far to alter his son's first race cars out of love and safety -- mounting the steering wheel in the middle of the car instead of having it on the far left. Dad and son travelled from their native Arkansas throughout the Midwest following the racing dream and they were very close -- now the hard work rewarded with Martin’s long list of achievements and this highest of NASCAR's high honors. Heartbreakingly, Julian was killed when the plane he was piloting crashed in the Nevada mountains in August of 1998, also taking the life of Martin’s stepmother and 11-year old stepsister. Martin remembers immersing himself in competition as best he could to deal with the tragedy. Martin won the night race at Bristol two weeks after losing his father. Immediately after climbing out of his car in Victory Lane, he emotionally thanked the race fans for "their sympathy, love and support" saying their "love for our family has meant everything." "I felt it was my obligation and responsibility to go racing and that's what my dad would have wanted," Martin acknowledged last week. "It was tough, but it would have been tough sitting on a couch in a daze, too. "To me, racing was sort of a responsibility that I had. I felt responsibility toward the 50 or 100 people that supported the (then-Roush Racing) 6-car and a responsibility to race. I just didn't feel like missing a race because I was grieving. … To me, at the time, it just didn't seem like the right thing to do. "It did help me cope with the horrendous loss I was experiencing because I did have to pick up and go racing." And for Martin, the success he would later experience in the second half of his career is as impressive and inspiring as anything he accomplished. He came as close as he ever had to winning the Daytona 500 in 2007, losing the race to Kevin Harvick by a mere 0.02-seconds -- a hood-length -- in a photo finish that marked Martin’s best ever showing in the Great American Race. RELATED: Closest finishes in the history of the Great American Race Two years later, at the age of 50, Martin challenged Jimmie Johnson for what is now known as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship, winning five races and claiming seven pole positions. Martin led the standings after each of the opening three Chase races, only to finish runner-up to Johnson, a seven-time winner on the year. It marked the fifth and final time Martin was a championship runner-up in an amazing 20-year span of his career. It is a remarkable accomplishment and something he says he is at last comfortable enjoying, free of any near-miss regret. "I never scored enough points to win one, and that's that," Martin said, when asked about it last week. "I would have won one if I had scored more points than anyone else. … and I let that take an enormous amount of joy (from me). "It's something I let go of and I refuse to allow that to rob me of joy. I have a lot to be thankful of, be grateful for. I accomplished a lot in my career and I’m not sour about the things I didn't accomplish." The attitude accompanies good reason -- because by all standards Martin accomplished so much and is admired by so many. Later this week, he will be fittingly celebrated in all the glory he deserves for a career that showed everyone what hard work and mental focus could produce. Forever more, Mark Martin shall be known and introduced as a NASCAR Hall of Famer. "It means more than anything I achieved while I was racing because I was so busy racing, anything I achieved I never paid attention to," Martin said. "I was just storming ahead worried about how I would win the next race. "Now that I've had some time to soak it in, it's the last big deal, the big win, the crown jewel of my career. "Don't forget the people in the Hall of Fame are my heroes, the founders of the sport, the real men that did it with their bare hands. I'm a little bit uncomfortable going in there with them, to be honest with you, because I don't feel like I belong in that kind of company." Perhaps once he stands on stage -- properly celebrated and duly honored -- Martin will accept that he is absolutely a part of that good company. The best. &amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;gt;
Logano crew chief fined; two NXS teams lose points
Todd Gordon, crew chief for NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Joey Logano , has been fined $10,000 for a lug nut infraction following the completion of Sunday night's AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway . The No. 22 Team Penske group was one of several Sprint Cup Series teams to receive either penalties or warnings, according to the NASCAR penalty report issued Wednesday. Meanwhile, NASCAR XFINITY Series driver Brendan Gaughan 's task of advancing to the title round of the series' inaugural Chase suffered another setback with the loss of 10 championship driver and owner points for a body height violation at Texas, which the penalty report referred to as an "encumbered finish." Gaughan enters this weekend's race at Phoenix International Raceway eighth in points among the eight Chase drivers still in title contention. The points loss leaves him now trailing fourth-place Blake Koch by 33 points . Only the top four advance to the Championship 4 to compete for the series title Nov. 19 at Homestead-Miami Speedway . Shane Wilson, crew chief of the No. 62 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, was fined $10,000 for the violation. Gaughan's team wasn't the only one to lose 10 points for a violation at Texas. The No. 88 Chevrolet fielded by JR Motorsports, and driven at Texas by Sprint Cup Series regular Kevin Harvick , was also penalized 10 championship owner points and crew chief Dave Elenz was fined $10,000. The No. 88 team appealed its penalty today at the R&D Center, but was denied. The team can now appeal to the National Motorsports Final Appeals Officer. Because the finishing positions are considered "encumbered," they would not be factored into any potential tie-breaker scenarios. No driver points were deducted because Harvick does not earn points in any series other than Sprint Cup . The No. 88 teams remains seventh in the owner points standings . For Logano, his No. 22 Ford was found to have only 19 of 20 lug nuts secured following his runner-up finish to Carl Edwards ( Joe Gibbs Racing ) on Sunday. He is one of six drivers vying for a berth in the championship-determining Chase for the Sprint Cup . Edwards and six-time series champion Jimmie Johnson ( Hendrick Motorsports ) have already secured berths in the Nov. 20 finale. Gordon is the fourth crew chief to be fined $10,000 for a lug nut violation, joining Greg Ives ( Hendrick Motorsports No. 88), Drew Blickensderfer ( Richard Petty Motorsports No. 43) and Brian Pattie ( Roush Fenway Racing No. 16). Previous lug nut infractions carried a heftier fine and included suspension before NASCAR officials adjusted the penalty. In addition to the penalty on the No. 22 team, 14 other teams received written warnings for failing laser or template inspection. • Because their teams failed pre-qualifying template inspection three times, drivers Kevin Harvick , Tony Stewart , Edwards and Martin Truex Jr . will lose 15 minutes of practice time this week at Phoenix International Raceway . • The teams of Trevor Bayne , Denny Hamlin , Kyle Busch , Matt Kenseth , Kurt Busch and Matt DiBenedetto received written warnings for failing template inspection twice during the pre-qualifying inspection process. Bayne and Hamlin served penalties at Texas for having four written warnings. • Failing the laser inspection three times in pre-qualifying inspection will cost driver AJ Allmendinger 15 minutes of practice at Phoenix as well. • Written warnings, with no loss of practice time, were given to the teams of Austin Dillon (LIS, pre-race and pre-qualifying), Greg Biffle (LIS, pre-qualifying) and David Ragan (LIS, pre-race). • Additional XFINITY Series penalties from Texas were a $5,000 fine for crew chief Kevin Meendering (JR Motorsports) for a lug nut violation; and a 15-minute loss of practice time for the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing entry at Phoenix. Kyle Busch is scheduled to compete for the team this weekend. Four other teams received written warnings for inspection issues with no loss of practice time.
Talladega 'Big One' hits Truck points standings hard
WATCH: Wildest rides of 2015 TALLADEGA, Ala. -- The "Big One" hit in Saturday's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race, and it had an impact as massive as the 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway oval itself. The championship race took a sharp turn when the No. 51 of Matt Tifft came down from the top line into a dense pack of trucks on Lap 92 (of 98), triggering a 10-vehicle incident that brought out the red flag for nearly 15 minutes. It was the last and worst shot to Matt Crafton , who led 43 laps but was involved in that incident that sent him tumbling down the leaderboard. Crafton, who trailed Erik Jones by four points entering the fred's 250 Presented by Coca-Cola, wound up 23 points behind the Kyle Busch Motorsports driver after finishing 24th. Four races remain in the 2015 season. Jones finished fourth. Fellow title contender Tyler Reddick ( Brad Keselowski Racing) was also involved in the wreck, but he rallied for a fifth-place result and is second in the standings , 18 points behind Jones. Two-time defending series champion Crafton was aggravated over the radio at the Talladega-style racing -- "it's the greatest (expletive) racing," he said sarcastically – and brief in his analysis on the points battle following the race. "I had my problems," Crafton said. "If (Jones and Tyler Reddick ) have their problems … I'm not worried about it. We're going to try and go win the next four and see what happens." Crafton was plagued by a spate of bad incidents Saturday that put his hopes for a three-peat as series champion in serious jeopardy. First, there was the large piece of debris that affixed itself to the front of Crafton's No. 88 Toyota, which caused the driver -- in the lead at the time -- to drop back in the field behind the pack, so that the air from the pack would sweep the trash off. That was successful in freeing the debris, but being in the back presented problems on Lap 86 when Stanton Barrett got into the wall, hitting Crafton's truck in the process. The ThorSport Racing driver was making his way up through the field before being drilled and sent into the inside wall, all of which preceded the final blow of the "Big One." Jones led six laps and was up front nearly the entire day after qualifying third. The 19-year-old ran 1-2 with Crafton prior to the No. 88 falling to the back to clean debris and extended his streak of consecutive top-10 finishes to 11, a run that began with his win at Iowa Speedway in June. "Never would have thought that we could have come out of this race that far ahead," Jones said of the points battle. "Everything from the best to the worst can happen here, and fortunately the best happened for us."
Hemric, Crafton move up in standings after last-lap chaos
RELATED: Race results " Updated standings KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- It was a night that an 18-year-old scored his first career in NASCAR's Camping World Truck Series. A two-time champion went from first to 10th to second. And the first- and second-place trucks on the final lap wrecked before they got to the finish line. In other words, Friday night's Toyota Tundra 250 at Kansas Speedway was your typical Truck Series race. "It got pretty exciting there; obviously all you hope for at the end of a deal like this, especially with all the cautions we had in the race, was to have an opportunity," said third-place finisher Daniel Hemric ( Brad Keselowski Racing). William Byron seized the opportunity, picking up the win for Kyle Busch Motorsports after getting nearly overwhelmed on a green, white, checkered restart. But contact between Johnny Sauter (GMS Racing) and Ben Rhodes (ThorSport Racing) while battling for the lead shot their chances and opened the door for Byron. RELATED: Rhodes makes contact with Sauter "It was very interesting," runnerup Matt Crafton (ThorSport), the two-time series champ said, pausing to watch a replay of the final lap play out and the leaders spin. "Wow. He smoked her down in there, didn't he? "I shoved it three wide in the middle and I'm like 'Yeah, this probably isn't the way to go.' I lifted just a little bit, got it back to the bottom and got a decent run. The bottom had been terrible all night and I got a decent run, everybody got loose and checked up … it worked out for me." MORE: Relive the day in photos Hemric and Crafton each improved five positions in the points standings -- Hemric vaulted from seventh to fifth and Crafton returned to the top-10 after sitting on the outside following the season's second and third races. He now sits sixth as the series prepares for to head to Dover International Speedway next week. It will be the first back-to-back race weekends for the series this season. Crafton led 57 laps, tops in a 170-lap race that was slowed by 11 cautions. The leader on a restart on Lap 135, Crafton quickly fell back through the field after contact with the second-place truck of Timothy Peters (Red Horse Racing). Gathering it back in after falling to 10th, he slowly began working his way back toward the front. "I was like, 'OK, we'll probably be all right, probably drive back by here in a minute'" Crafton said of the initial setback. But advancing through the field proved to be a handful and the final restart saw his No. 88 Toyota seventh in the running order. And then? "That last restart was just chaos," he said.
Daniel Suarez surges into XFINITY points lead
RELATED: Full race results " Updated series standings LAS VEGAS -- Daniel Suarez experienced a first in his XFINITY Series career, and it wasn't a win. But the Drive for Diversity product snagged the points standings lead from Elliott Sadler after finishing second to Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch in Saturday's Boyd Gaming 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway . This is the first time Suarez has led in the XFINITY standings . In fact, it's the first time a driver born outside the United States has been a series points leader, according to NASCAR statistical services. However, his position atop the standings is not weighing too heavy on his mind. "I think it's too early, we're just three races into the season and with the new Chase format anything can happen," Suarez said. "You need to win a race to be safe and lock yourself into the Chase." This is the first season of the NASCAR XFINITY Series Chase playoffs, similar to the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . XFINITY drivers compete in an elimination-style format that begins with 12 eligible drivers at Kentucky in September and is whittled down to four for the final race of the season at Homestead. A win practically guarantees a driver's position in the Chase, but runner-up finishes go a long way, too. RELATED: Chase format explained "We have to keep working because someone else out there is still faster than us," Suarez said. "And it's good because it's our teammate ( Kyle Busch ) and we know he has the same stuff that we do. "We need to keep working to be consistent ... we need to keep working to get more speed and try to win a race to be more comfortable." Now it's all about maintaining his lead, finding more speed and seeking out that first win, which could come just as early as next week at Phoenix International Raceway , where the No. 19 driver has a best finish of fourth last season. Suarez has shown speed since the 2016 season started, with a eighth-place finish at Daytona and a seventh-place finish at Atlanta. The 24-year-old's second-place finish on Saturday was his best showing since Bristol Motor Speedway in April of 2015, when he was a runner-up to Joey Logano .
Buescher heads to Ohio seeking separation in standings
He has the best average finishing position overall, and the points lead. Now he hopes to build a little separation between himself and the rest of the field. Heading back to Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, where he scored his first career NASCAR XFINITY Series win last year, Chris Buescher likes his chances. The Roush Fenway Racing driver has been atop the series points standings since earning career win No. 2, at Iowa, in a span of near one dozen races. Next up is Saturday's Nationwide Children’s Hospital 200 at Mid-Ohio (3:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR). It's the second of three road-course stops in the span of a month for the series. Given his success at Mid-Ohio, and a third-place run this past weekend at Watkins Glen, it's little wonder Buescher, 22, is looking forward to the next few weeks. "I really hope that road courses will be a strong point for us," Buescher said. "I feel really comfortable going back to Mid-Ohio obviously. Road America (where he finished 18th a year ago) was the one where I needed a little bit more work. "I think we should be able to run top 10 very easily there. I like road racing ... I seem to hang in there and we seem to be able to put fast Roush Fenway race cars on the track." Road America, coming up at month's end, falls later on this year's schedule than in recent seasons when the race there was held in June. Buescher doesn't lead the series as far as average finish on road courses is concerned. In the past two seasons, he ranks fourth (12.8) along with Ty Dillon . Chase Elliott (5.3), Elliott Sadler (7.8) and Brian Scott (8.8) have been a bit more consistent. But Buescher, crew chief Scott Graves and his No. 60 crew have been getting better. Not that there haven't been hiccups, but the team has yet to finish outside the top 20 this season. They've been good, but not great, as the Watkins Glen finish attests. "I like where we’re at right now," Buescher said. "We have speed in our road course cars. The (Team) Penske cars showed up better than us (at Watkins Glen) though. They were very fast, class of the field. That being said, they always run fast at that particular track. "Mid-Ohio, I don't feel like there was a car there that really had something better than us last time around. If we can repeat that, maybe we can improve on it a little bit. I’m pretty comfortable where we're at." Elliott, the defending series champion, trails Buescher by 24 points (724-700). Dillon (also 24 back), Regan Smith (minus-57) and Sadler (minus-58) round out the top five.
Crafton holds points lead heading to Dover
Jones, Reddick chasing two-time defending champ in standings Five races into the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season, the cream is still on top. Matt Crafton ’s third-place finish last Friday in the North Carolina Education Lottery 200 at Charlotte Motor Speedway allowed the series points leader to maintain his top spot. Crafton, driving the No. 88 for ThorSport Racing, now has 217 points on the strength of two wins, four top fives and a series-best five top-10 finishes. The 38-year-old Crafton is trying to three-peat as the Camping World Truck Series points champion. Crafton has 343 Trucks races under his fire suit, starting with the Motorola 200 at Fontana back in 2000. His first-ever win was the 2008 edition of the North Carolina Education Lottery. He has a modest seven career wins, but consistency works in his favor. He’s placed among the top 10 in his Trucks races 57.4 percent of the time (197 out of 343). Erik Jones ’ epic battle with Kasey Kahne , which included side-by-side racing for most of the final lap and a photo finish, is the type of excitement NASCAR officials — and fans — want to see. Kahne won the race by 0.005 (that’s not a typo) of a second. The No. 00 Truck failed the post-race inspection for a ride-height violation. Kahne does, however, get to keep the win. Driving the No. 4 for Kyle Busch Motorsports, Jones led 88 of the 139 laps at Charlotte. Jones, who turns 19 on May 30, ranks second in the points standings . He finished 18th last year. Just two points behind Jones in the standings sits Tyler Reddick , who picked up his fourth top-five finish of the year by placing fourth last week. Driving the No. 19 Truck for Brad Keselowski Racing, Reddick already has one more top-five finish than he had in 16 starts as a rookie in 2014. The 19-year-old placed 12th in the standings last year. More than a decade removed from his rookie season in a NASCAR national series, Johnny Sauter is chasing his first-ever Truck Series title. Sauter, who turned 37 earlier this month, ranks fourth in the current standings . His best season was a second-place finish in 2011, and he placed fourth in the standings the past two years. John Wes Townley moved into the top five with a sixth-place finish at Charlotte. Townley doesn’t have a win in his 74 career starts on the circuit. He was 15th in the final 2014 standings , and his best year was an 11th-place showing in 2013. Up next for the Camping World Truck Series is the Lucas Oil 200 at Dover International Speedway on May 29 (5:30 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1, MRN, SiriusXM). FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Chris Buescher's determined path to points leader
CONCORD, N.C. -- Chris Buescher always dreaded this part of the job. He had just finished wheeling the No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing Ford to a seventh-place result at Michigan International Speedway on June 15, 2013. Now, as the race at Road America approached, Buescher was tasked with taking his seat out and putting another one in back at the shop. It's a simple maneuver, one that's necessary in NASCAR as the race car seats are form-fitting to each driver. But the seat represented another ride that was not his, another driver who would be piloting the No. 16 instead of him, while he stood on the sidelines as a part-time employee in the race shop. "It took a lot of will power to take your seat in and out of a race car and put another driver's in it, knowing that that's exactly where you wanted to be, but were not able to at the time," Buescher said about a task he performed nine times in 2013. "It was a tough one for me, to be able to do that. I had to go to the race track, had to help the guys through the weekend, had to put the pit sign out for pit stops, get the guys on the right spot." But soon, it would be just his signature –- no one else's -- on top of the Roush Fenway Racing Ford. All paths lead to North Carolina Relaxed and dressed in work pants, a T-shirt and sneakers at the capacious Roush Fenway Racing campus in Concord, North Carolina, Buescher is the epitome of a man's man -- absent is the air of fame that surrounds many who spend their lives in the spotlight. He grins when he recalls having to buy a tuxedo because he didn't even own a suit -- much less a tux -- until recently. And he recounts moments of humbleness and times of challenge that molded him into the driver he is today: A winning wheelman who is leading the NASCAR XFINITY Series points standings in his second full-time year in the series and ready to contend for his first championship title. Anything to race Buescher is 12 years old. He's seated in his living room in his Prosper, Texas, home with his parents. And they're asking him to make a big decision, one that will impact his entire life. He still remembers that day vividly. "They said, 'Look, if you want to do this as a hobby, great. We'll go run on Saturday nights, we'll have fun here in Texas and you can continue to go through school and figure out something you want to do as your career. Or you can make racing your career.'" Buescher surrounded himself with racing. He spent summers racing Legends cars in the racing capital of the United States -- Charlotte, North Carolina. He slept many nights on the couch of now-No. 16 Sprint Cup crew chief Matt Puccia, trying to gain experience during the summer in the little time he had away from school. "Just happened to be the short couch, so my knees would end up on one armrest and my neck on the other," Buescher joked. "Not the most comfortable way to spend three months." "It usually started out with, 'Hey, do you mind if we stay at your house for a few nights?' " Puccia said with a chuckle at Talladega Superspeedway on Oct. 23. "And it ended up being the whole summer and into fall sometimes. "But you could tell really at a young age when he was first running Legends cars how much talent that he was going to have. He just had a natural ability of being able to adapt to those cars." Eventually it was time for him to make a more permanent decision. In 2008 -- without a driver's license, even -- 15-year-old Buescher left his childhood town in Texas for Charlotte. This time, he wouldn't return home at summer's end. "(I said to myself) 'Man, you better take this opportunity or somebody else will,' " Buescher said. "... It was that time where you really had to commit. I had to drive the 17, 18 hours up to Charlotte, unpack what little belongings I had at the time and try and make racing work." "... That was the hardest part of it was trying to leave home so young, knowing I had two sisters, I had all my friends back there still and not wanting to leave at all just to try and make this work." But Buescher wasn't alone. He had a family waiting for him up in the Tarheel State that was ready to embrace him with open arms and would ultimately help advance his racing career: The Ragans. A second family Buescher had met Ken Ragan -- Cup driver and father of Sprint Cup Series regular David Ragan -- while racing Legends cars. At the time, Ragan was in charge of 600 Racing, Inc., a company that manufactures and sponsors Legends cars worldwide. Their initial meeting, however, wasn't ideal. "Through unfortunate circumstances, (I) got to be in his office for a lengthy lecture after I got black-flagged one weekend," Buescher recalled with a smile and chuckle. "So, it was a rocky start, but it turned into a great friendship over the course of the next few summers." The Ragans gave Buescher a roof over his head, while offering a valuable connection to the racing community. He maintained the family's yard, completed his high school work online and tried to make it as a race car driver. Soon, that success came for Buescher, as he joined Roush Fenway Racing as a part-time XFINITY driver in 2011 and won his first ARCA championship in 2012. But even in times of triumph, the journey to the top doesn't always pay as it should. "It got to the point where I was ready to go get a job part-time so I could afford to live and still race," Buescher said. The solution came in the form of a job as an interior specialist in the shop, which provided him with the monetary support he needed -- and allowed him to learn how his own race cars operate. "You want to know if a piece of suspension is broken and you're out on the race track, you want to be able to describe where it's coming from and you want to know a basic idea of what you're describing," Buescher said. "You want to be able to tell them, 'look here first.' ... And I think that's important and there's a lot of guys that don't have that now." Buescher enjoyed the side gig so much that he continues to work in the shop today, decaling many of his own helmets, helping the shop employees during teardown and even building a small AC box for the garage. It's a bit of an old-school approach, reminiscent of a time in NASCAR when drivers would pull their own trailers to the track. But that's just how Buescher operates -- an old soul in the body of a 23-year-old race car driver. Turning bad luck into opportunity Mother Nature was not on Buescher's side that day down at Daytona International Speedway . He had finally gotten his start as an XFINITY Series full-time driver for Roush Fenway Racing and was set to qualify for his first race that season in February 2014. During the opening round of knockout qualifying, rain began to fall, halting the first session and ultimately cancelling the final two rounds. Buecher's No. 60 Ford didn't make the field. "I didn't get to run the first race of the season and that really hurt," Buescher said. "That was one of those times when you had to sit in a motorhome or on a pit box during the race and watch when you should have been in there, that you were fast enough all through testing, that you were fast enough through practice, you were top-five on the charts -- there was no reason not to be in that race. "And you sit there the whole time and think, 'What can I do to make sure this never happens again?' And that was the time we really put our heads down as a team -- we're a new team, we're all together for the first race, and we didn't get to run it. So, as we went into the next handful of races in the year, we decided we had nothing to lose. We could take chances, let's all learn together and let's go win some races." That's what they did. Buescher earned his first XFINITY win at Mid-Ohio that year, carrying momentum into the 2015 season, where two wins and 11 top-fives have propelled him to No. 1 in the series standings . With three races remaining on the schedule, the No. 60 driver's chance at a trophy draws closer. "I looked at what we have coming up and I feel great about our chances," Buescher said. "... It's been a tough several weeks leading up to this point and these last (three) are not going to be any easier. I know that." The champion won't be crowned until November, but given his chances as we look to Homestead, Buescher had better have a tuxedo ready -- just in case.
Truck points race turns on a dime in Chicago
Defending series champion Crafton takes over lead, others take step back JOLIET, Ill. -- In the shadows of the garage area, Ryan Blaney stood over the engine that had blown a cylinder during Saturday night's Lucas Oil 225 at Chicagoland Speedway and stared blankly while shaking his head. The blown engine combined with some bad timing on a late caution led to a 12th-place finish for the driver of the No. 29 Ford for Brad Keselowski Racing. It also caused Blaney, who entered the race 13 points behind Johnny Sauter in the standings , to slip to 16 points out of first place. It was a night when the points standings got shuffled thanks to situations that played out in the final 40-45 laps. Blaney and Johnny Sauter were both victimized by late-race mishaps. Meanwhile, Matt Crafton rode to the front of the standings in part by managing to stay out of trouble. Before all the mayhem occurred Blaney had pulled to within eight points of the lead on NASCAR.com's live standings . When informed of this, Blaney raised up from looking under the hood and calmly shook his head yet again. "We had an engine problem," Blaney said. "That's part of racing. These are the things that you have to overcome. We can bounce back from this; there's still seven races to go." Blaney, who had run in the top five for the first 110 laps of the race, had a truck that was capable of second place on a night when Kyle Busch ran through the entire field on more than one occasion en route to the victory. And after finishing fourth in Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series race, Blaney was on course for quite the doubleheader in a city where the Cubs' Ernie Banks made double dips famous. But it wasn't meant to be as the race started to unravel for him on Lap 111. That's when Blaney came to pit road along with the race leader Austin Dillon . One lap later, Todd Shafer spun on the infield grass to bring out a caution. The top five were still out on the track, and after the caution, Blaney found himself a lap down. By Lap 138, Blaney's cylinder was going bad, and he had no chance to make up the ground he lost on that fateful pit stop. Earlier, around Lap 108, Sauter came to pit road, but after that stop, he had to serve a pass-through penalty for speeding. That sequence sent him on the way to a 14th-place finish and relinquishing the points lead to ThorSport teammate Crafton. Sauter is now five points behind. Interestingly, though, it was Crafton who offered some hope for Blaney and Sauter by saying it's too early to start counting points . "We had to do a points race last year, and it was one of the most miserable things that I had to do," Crafton said. "Those sleepless nights that you'd wake up and say, 'Oh my God, am I going to lose this?' " "(This year) we're just going to go to each and every race and try to win each and every damn race. I've won one (championship). I have zero pressure. I'm having a great time knowing that I have a truck to win every week." Blaney and Sauter could both easily say the same thing if it weren't for the late-race problems. And they might be able to say it again if situations play out differently the next time the trucks take the track, which is next Saturday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the UNOH 175 (1 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1). And while Crafton might not be counting points , fans of the Camping World Truck Series certainly can. Chicagoland proved to be a good time to start a little scoreboard watching. MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: NASCAR Chase Grid games WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule