DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - James Buescher could hardly believe his luck in the crash-marred finish of yesterday’s Drive4COPD 300 Nationwide Series opener at Daytona International Speedway.
He entered the third turn of the last lap in 11th place, but the 21-year-old driver from Plano, Texas, emerged from the fourth turn in first place after he hugged the apron and navigated his way through an 11-car pileup that claimed the lead pack.
Buescher, a full-time driver on the Truck Series who is running a limited Nationwide schedule for Turner Motorsports, was the surprise winner of a race that was slowed by eight cautions for 35 laps, including three wrecks involving 11 or more cars in the final 16 laps. One 19-car crash forced a red flag period of 4 minutes 12 seconds.
It was Buescher’s first career series victory in the No. 30 Chevrolet.
“It happened quick, but it was kind of slow in the moment,’’ Buescher said of the final crash. “I was far enough back that I saw the outside line going to try and pass for the lead, and whoever was leading, he tried to block a little bit and everybody started rubbing fenders and they all turned into the wall together.’’
Buescher, who visited Daytona’s Victory Lane for the second time, having won the 2009 ARCA Racing Series opener, got past the carnage and went to the front despite getting sideswiped by runner-up Brad Keselowski, who got turned sideways by Sam Hornish Jr.
Elliott Sadler finished third after pushing Tony Stewart to the front in an attempt to make an outside move on the two-car draft of Joey Logano and Trevor Bayne.
Leader Kurt Busch had drafting support from his younger brother Kyle Busch but broke formation and went high to block the Logano-Bayne draft, which pinched off the Stewart-Sadler draft. Bayne turned into Kurt Busch, triggering the fourth-turn wreck.
“I had enough time to point my car to the bottom and thought about going to the apron,’’ Buescher said. “But I was worried if I went to the apron that I’d spin myself out.
“I kept it straight, made it through, dodged all the bullets and was the only car that came out on the other side out front.’’
Patrick gets walloped
Danica Patrick, who won the pole position for the Nationwide race, had her run interrupted by JR Motorsports rookie teammate Cole Whitt, who bumped Patrick from behind on Lap 49 and caused her to spin out on the apron of Turn 3. Patrick’s No. 7 car shot up the banking and slammed into the wall, causing extensive damage to the front. “What the [expletive] was he thinking?’’ Patrick fumed over the radio to crew chief Tony Eury Jr. Patrick brought her car back to the garage for repairs and returned to the race to finish 38th, 48 laps behind the leaders. Whitt finished fourth and was the highest rookie, claiming the honor over fifth-place Austin Dillon.
Fords are fired up
Fords were fast in the final practice for today’s Daytona 500, with David Gilliland and Bayne topping the speed charts in excess of 200 miles per hour. Gilliland went 200.138 and Bayne 200.129 . . . For the first time in Daytona 500 history, a Toyota will serve as the pace car . . . Pro wrestling star John Cena will serve as the honorary starter and wave the green flag, while Jane Lynch and Kate Upton, who are featured in the upcoming movie “The Three Stooges,’’ will deliver the starting command as grand marshals . . . Mathias Kiwanuka, Justin Tuck, and Osi Umenyiora of the New York Giants are expected to attend today’s race . . . Forecasts are calling for a 50 percent chance of rain today with temperatures between 61 and 68 degrees.