LONG POND, Pa. (AP) Rain, rain, go away. And maybe come back late Sunday with Chris Buescher in the lead.
Buescher was one of the biggest surprise winners in the NASCAR Cup series in years when he took the checkered flag in a rain-shortened race last year at Pocono Raceway.
He had finished 30th or worse 10 times before August when he rolled into Pocono in the No. 34 Ford. There was nothing in his Cup resume that suggested Buescher would sniff the lead, even under gloomy conditions. Buescher hadn't led a lap all season.
But the poor results and underdog status with underfunded Front Row Motorsports hardly mattered on a stormy weekend that had already pushed the race back a day.
With nasty weather punishing the track, NASCAR called the red flag with 22 laps left and Buescher 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.
''Yeah, we needed a jon boat to get back to the hauler afterward,'' Buescher said. ''The garage was about a foot deep (with water). It was a pretty awesome deal getting that win and having everything play out the way it did. It was a big moment for us.''
Buescher's win had ripple effects far beyond hoisting a trophy at Pocono. He made NASCAR's Chase and spent a playoff round racing for the championship with veterans such as Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano and Kyle Busch.
Buescher's win earned him spots in the Clash at Daytona and the All-Star race, marquee events usually reserved for some of the sport's heavy hitters.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., set to retire at the end of the season, recently endorsed Buescher among a small handful of up-and-coming drivers that fans should root for in the years ahead.
''If you want to pick a guy that I think is just as talented as these guys, but you want to work your way up with him, Chris Buescher. I think that Chris did an amazing job in the Xfinity Series,'' Earnhardt said on his Dirty Mo Radio podcast.
Buescher was surprised Earnhardt singled him out as a dark horse pick for Junior Nation to follow next season.
''I just want to tell him, `Thank you for that,''' Buescher said. ''When he talks, our fans listen. And so that's pretty awesome to be talked about in that manner. I think it says like a `dark horse', right? And so that kind of sums it all up, right?''
Buescher's win has turned him into more of a one-checkered wonder than a regular contender. Buescher is under contract with Roush Fenway Racing, who farmed him out to Front Row last season. Roush lent him to JTG-Daugherty Racing for a second Chevrolet entry this season. He's 26th in the points standings and has no top 10s in the No. 37 Chevy this season. He hasn't finished better than 11th.
''We're going to get out there and get a win, the best I can tell, and be able to get into the playoffs that way,'' he said.
Here are some other items of note at Pocono:
Ty Dillon hopes to build off perhaps the best race of his brief Cup career last week at Dover. Dillon led 27 laps (he had led 10 total in his first 30 Cup races) and finished a solid 14th in the No. 13 Chevrolet for Germain Racing.
The 25-year-old Dillon said he's thrilled with his ride in his first full Cup season at Germain. But the question always lingers for a member of one of NASCAR's first families: Would he like to drive for grandfather Richard Childress and with brother Austin Dillon over at RCR?
''That is not anything I'm prepared to talk about right now,'' Dillon said. ''My main focus is on Germain Racing. That is where I'm at and you know they have done a lot for me. Bob Germain has giving me the opportunity to be here at this level and (sponsor) GEICO took a chance on me coming in, a new young guy and it's gone really well.''
A fox is only supposed to be Pocono's mascot.
But a real one scampered on the track during Xfinity Series qualifying and briefly halted the action. Track workers tried to catch the fox but it scampered away inside a SAFER barrier.
Pocono workers covered the soft wall to keep him safe until qualifying finished. Pocono's Twitter account had some fun with the fox and posted (hash)FreeTrickyFox.
Jimmie Johnson has another tribute helmet for Sunday's race. He had a race painted in honor of Cale Yarborough last week at Dover and tied the Hall of Fame driver for sixth on the career list with 83 Cup wins.
Next up, Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip with 84 and Johnson's custom helmet with their images painted on it arrived in time for Sunday's race.
''I now have a chance to honor two more legends of our sport. (hash)respect (hash)84,'' he tweeted.
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