LONG POND — Strange. Just plain strange.
The unexpected just kept coming and coming at Pocono Raceway on Monday as NASCAR tried to get in the Pennsylvania 400 a day late.
So strange that rookie Chris Buescher won the race because – of all things – a fog bank rolled over the 2.5-mile track and caused the race to end after 138 of 160 laps.
“That’s pretty awesome. Wild circumstances here at Pocono,’ said Buescher, who drives the No. 34 Ford for Furniture Row Racing. “This is going to change our whole year right here … this puts us in a good situation where we had a good day. It was a lot of fun.”
NASCAR waited about an hour and 20 minutes after stopping the race to make it official. Fog and mist was present at the track when the race ended. There were also storms approaching and the raceway tweeted out warnings to fans to seek shelter. Those storms struck about an hour after the race.
Buescher was an also-ran throughout the day, but because he hadn’t pitted while others did he ended up in first when the caution came out on lap 132 because of limited visibility due to the fog.
Buescher became the first Xfinity Series champ to win a Cup race since Brad Keselowski in 2010. He became the first Cup rookie to win since Joey Logano in 2009.
“That’s pretty good company as well,” Buescher said. “Pretty evidentful weekend. It worked out really well at the end. I thought we headed in the wrong direction when I cut a rear tire down trying to avoid a wreck and we ended up in a good spot at the end.”
Buescher also left in a better position to make the Chase, a 10-race playoff at the end of the season involving 16 drivers to determine the Cup champion. Any driver with a victory and at least in the top-30 in drivers points makes the Chase. Buescher is six points from 30th.
Keselowski finished second and Regan Smith placed third. Kevin Harvick was fourth followed by Tony Stewart.
“We hit the green-flag pit cycle perfectly to take advantage and what was going to give the lead to us and give us the prime opportunity to win the race,” Keselowski said. “Unfortunately, that cloud came rolling in at the right or wrong time, how you want to look at it, to box us out and we ended up finishing second today. We needed about three more laps (before the fog), but it is what it is.”
Smith differed in his opinion. Like Buescher, he drives for another small team in the series — Tommy Bladwin Racing — that doesn’t have the resources of multi-car teams.
“We played the same strategy as Buescher and those guys did to get us up there,” Smith said. “As Brad alluded to, the cloud kind of came at the right time for us. We were within five or six laps before we had to pit. Credit to my guys to see the opportunity to do that strategy.
“When you’re a small team trying to work hard to go up against some of the bigger teams we do, you have to take the opportunities when they present themselves.”
The drivers ran six laps under caution before being parked on pit road due to the fog.
The oddities began Sunday when the race was postponed to mark the first time in NASCAR history that a track had both races rained out in a season and moved to Monday.
Once the race started just after noon on Monday, an hour later than planned because of fog and a light mist, pole winner Martin Truex Jr. led the field to the green flag. Three blown right front tires later and Truex’s race was over after completing 82 laps.
Paul Menard, who qualified third, saw transmission woes early crush his hopes. He hobbled home in 35th.
Keselowski and Biffle battled for the lead about 50 laps in based on being on a different pit strategy than many of the other drivers. Neither pitted on lap 16 after NASCAR had a competition caution period due to the huge amount of rain throughout the weekend.
The gameplan worked for awhile before it was turn for Kyle Larson and Austin Dillon to fight for the lead. And it was a heck of a fight as the two raced hard with rain and the midway point of the race, which would make the event official, both approaching.
Dillon passed Larson. Then the opposite happened. Then the unthinkable. Dillon and Larson made contact between turns two and three, sending Logano to the front on lap 81 as the race was yellow-flagged because of rain.
“That was very entertaining for me,” Logano said. “Those guys were racing the heck out of each other and racing for their first win, and there was rain in the forecast so that was for the win in my opinion.”
Logano dominated last year’s August race before running out of fuel with three laps remaining. Of course, the way Monday was going, his luck wasn’t going to last.
The race resumed on lap 92 with Logano out front. But he and other frontrunners pitted on lap 99 when Truex, who was several laps down, tore up yet another right front tire.
Logano came out 16th when the race was restarted on lap 104 and a lap later Chase Elliott pushed him into the wall in the tunnel turn. Logano finished 37th and two laps down.
Logano’s absence put the Larson-Dillon show back in focus, with Kyle Busch lurking in third throughout. But the three, as well as a good portion of the field, began pitting under green starting on lap 125.
Seven laps later, an eerie fog began engulfing the track in turn one and moved over turn two. The drivers completed six more laps under caution before the drivers were brought to pit road and the race was red-flagged with 22 laps remaining.
Even Jeff Gordon, out of retirement to replace injured Dale Earnhardt Jr., wasn’t immune from the quirkiness of Monday’s race.
Gordon was up to seventh on lap 111 only to have the right side of his seat belt come apart. He had to slow to fix it and ended up 28th.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever had that happen with this type of mechanism,” Gordon said, “where you just plug it in and it latches.”
Reach John Erzar at 570-991-6394 or on Twitter @TLJohnErzar