Buescher emerges from fog at Pocono

LONG POND – Chris Buescher sat in his Ford, hoping that the fog would stick over Pocono and the cloud over the rookie’s middling season would start to lift.

Buescher idled in his car, then stood with his arms folded on pit road.

“I tried not to get my hopes up,” he said.

Buescher emerged from the fog to become a surprising winner in Monday’s shortened Sprint Cup race at Pocono Raceway. He is now on the verge of being in the mix for NASCAR’s championship after not finishing better than 14th all season before Monday.

Imagine a title push that kicks off with Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson and little-known Buescher in the field.

“The plan was to always make the Chase,” Buescher said. “We’re that much closer now.”

He’s not there yet. Buescher is six points behind David Ragan for 30th to reach the cutoff needed to become eligible for the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.

Buescher, who drives for underfunded Front Row Motorsports, was the beneficiary on a rare Monday race postponed a day by rain. With nasty weather punishing the track, NASCAR called the red flag with 22 laps left and parked the cars on pit road. Buescher was as much a spectator in the No. 34 Ford as the few fans left in the stands, though NASCAR let drivers get out of their cars after about 10 minutes as they waited out gloomy conditions.

“I’m a little scared to get out,” Buescher said.

No need. He was declared the winner after about an 80-minute delay. He was doused with beer and water in a makeshift victory lane celebration inside a garage stall, his Ford covered on rainy pit road instead of bathed in confetti.

Brad Keselowski was second, followed by Regan Smith, Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart. Jeff Gordon finished 27th driving for the injured Dale Earnhardt Jr.

There are two major requirements to making the Chase: One is winning a race and the other is being in the top 30 in points. Buescher will need to find a way to climb higher over Ragan in the final five races before the Chase field is set.

Buescher won twice last season in the Xfinity Series and won the series championship. He will spend 2016 as basically the fourth Jack Roush driver because of a shared technical alliance between the organizations.

He finished 30th or worse 10 times this season. Ragan had Front Row’s only victory 118 races ago in fall 2013 at Talladega.

Veteran crew chief Bob Osborne gambled with the decision to keep Buescher on the track while others made pit stops with 28 laps left. Once the cars were halted, Buescher and his crew rooted for the rain and fog to stick around. At one point, the 23-year-old Buescher, a former ARCA champion, rested against a fence and was swarmed by fans and photographers wanting a picture before the race was even called.