Making the Cut: 3 first-time Chasers looking to regain lost ground at New Hampshire

By Tyler Head
September 25, 2016

LOUDON, N.H.—With two races left before the first round of eliminations in NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup Series Championship, three of the four first-time Chasers in this year’s field find themselves on the outside looking in.

Austin Dillon, Kyle Larson and rookie Chris Buescher are 13th, 15th and 16th in the Chase standings, respectively. After Sunday’s Bad Boy Off Road 300 at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway and next weekend’s race at Dover International Raceway, only 12 drivers will advance to the next round of the Chase, the Round of 12.

Larson will start sixth Sunday at New Hampshire, while Buescher and Dillon are starting 28th and 29th, respectively.

13th – Austin Dillon (1 point behind 12th)

Dillon is one point behind 12th place Tony Stewart in the Chase standings, but his weekend has been lackluster thus far. His 29th place qualifying effort came after an accident in practice Friday forced him to a backup car for the first time in his Sprint Cup Series career.

The Richard Childress Racing team has struggled to find speed in the No. 3 Pumpkin Spice Cheerios Chevrolet; Dillon has been no better than 22nd in any of the weekend’s practices. Nonetheless, Dillon says he feels like his team is capable of turning things around when the green flag drops Sunday.

“We want to advance so there is always pressure there,” Dillon said Friday. He added, “I feel like we can gain points here this weekend. We just have to be smart with what we do from here on out.”   

15th – Kyle Larson (2 points behind 12th)

Larson was running in the top-ten in the late stages of the first Chase race at Chicagoland, but a flat tire relegated him to an 18th place finish. The poor finish did pushed Larson outside the cut line, two points outside the top 12.

The good news for Larson?

He has posted the fastest time in each practice session this weekend. It’s clear the No. 42 Target Chevrolet is fast enough to earn some much-needed points Sunday.

Our short run speed is really good,” the Chip Ganassi Racing driver said after final practice. “ I fall off a little bit too much compared to other people, but I’m sure there are some things I could do differently to help that out.”

16th – Chris Buescher (12 points behind 12th)

Bringing up the tail end of the Chase field is Buescher, who became an unexpected contender with a rain-shortened victory at Pocono earlier this year.

A forgettable performance at Chicagoland has him 12 points behind 12th place entering Sunday’s race at New Hampshire, and much like Dillon he has struggled to find speed in the No. 34 Love’s Travel Stops Ford.

“We have nowhere to go but forward, so there’s a positive to that I guess,” Buescher said after final practice. “Definitely not the speed we wanted from practice, but we’ll keep digging.”

Despite the struggle for the Front Row Motorsports team so far, Buescher says he’s his team can stay within striking distance entering the final race of round one at Dover.

“[Dover] should be a place where we can go gain on some of the guys we’re racing against, but it’s gonna be tough for us,” Buescher admitted. “We’re that underdog story here. We’re a smaller team and we made the Chase and we’ve had a great season, but there’s a lot of work left to do to make that second round.”

One thing holds true for all three of these championship hopefuls; there’s no room for error if they’re going to continue beyond the first round of the Chase.

Which driver has the best chance to advance to the Round of 12?
No. 3 Austin Dillon
No. 42 Kyle Larson
No. 34 Chris Buescher
Poll Maker