Rookie Report: Axalta ‘We Paint Winners’ 400

Chris Buescher waives during driver introductions at Pocono Raceway Monday.
Photo by Dante Ricci/The Racing Experts

By Justin Melillo Staff Reporter June 7, 2016

LONG POND, Pa.—Four of the five rookie-of-the-year candidates were among the 40 starters in Monday’s Axalta ‘We Paint Winners” 400 at Pocono Raceway. Here is how each rookie fared after 160 laps around the tricky triangle.

No. 21 Ryan Blaney
Blaney started 14th, stayed out of trouble and earned his sixth top-ten finish of 2016, coming home tenth.

On the final restart, Blaney was told that he had about 1.5 laps of fuel more than was needed to make it to the end. Blaney made it comfortably to the end, crossing the line as the second highest finishing rookie for the day.

Blaney maintains 15th place in driver points unofficially and has a six point advantage toward making the 2016 Chase for the Championship.

Ryan Blaney qualifies for the Axalta 'We Paint Winners' 400 Friday.
Photo by Dante Ricci/

No. 24 Chase Elliott
Elliott ended up finishing fourth on Monday at Pocono after leading 51 laps, the most led in any race in his career, and the most led overall.

On the final restart, with 33 laps to go, Elliott restarted inside of teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the front row. The two raced hard into Turn 2, which allowed race winner Kurt Busch to take advantage and pass them both the same lap.

Elliott was passed later in the run by Brad Keselowski, and was able to save enough fuel to finish the race. He finished highest of all four rookies.

Chase Elliott qualifies for the Axalta 'We Paint Winners' 400 Friday.
Photo by Dante Ricci/

After the race, Elliott spoke with the media about his performance.

I’m just really proud of the car we had today,” he said. “What a fast NAPA Chevy and had a car that could compete for the lead all day. There were definitely times we were better than others.

“I wish once we had taken a couple of those green flags after the cautions we could have got going and ran some laps.  That is not how the day unfolded, so we will take it and move on.  Just try to be aware of the mistakes I made having a chance there at the end and not getting it done.”

Elliott moves up one position to seventh in the driver standings, leading all drivers currently without a win. Elliott maintains a 79 point advantage toward making the 2016 Chase for the Sprint Cup.

No. 34 Chris Buescher
Buescher had seemingly quiet day, finishing in 25th place as the first car scored one lap down. Buescher started 18th on Monday, his best start since Auto Club, where he started 16th.

Buescher ran around or better than 20th place for most of the event. On the final run of the event, Buescher ran out of gas, costing him a shot to finish in a better position on the lead lap.

Dominic Aragon from The Racing Experts caught up with Buescher after the race and asked him about his run.

“Fun race,” he said.

Chris Buescher races during the Axalta 'We Paint Winners' 400 Monday.
Photo by Dante Ricci/

“Unfortunately, we bounced off of about everything. There’s not hardly not a straight panel on the car. We’ll get better for next time.

“I’m proud of the guys for taking a chance there at the end, and trying to get us to the end, and unfortunately, it didn’t quite get us there, but some of that falls on me too. I’ve got to do a better job saving fuel.”

Buescher moves up one position to 33rd in driver points, 28 points behind 30th place David Ragan.

No. 44 Brian Scott Scott finished 39th after an accident on lap 22 forced the driver of the No. 44 Ford to the garage for over 75 laps.

Coming off the competition caution on lap 16, Scott took two tires and restarted 20th on lap 19. A few laps later, Scott had gearing issues that led to him hitting the wall and spinning down the track. Scott rejoined the race 77 laps down, only able to pass Matt DiBenedetto for position who retired on lap 57.

He was not available for comment post-race.

Brian Scott qualifies for the Axalta 'We Paint Winners' 400 Friday.
Photo by Dante Ricci/

Scott maintains 29th position in points, 12 points ahead of 31st place Regan Smith.

Thanks to Team Chevy and Ford Performance.

Which rookie will finish highest at Michigan next Sunday?
No. 21 Ryan Blaney
No. 24 Chase Elliott
No. 32 Jeffrey Earnhardt
No. 34 Chris Buescher
No. 44 Brian Scott
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