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Youth Movement Moves Into The 2016 Chase

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 11 2016
Rookie Chris Buescher drove his way in the 2016 Chase playoffs on Saturday night in Richmond, Va. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

Rookie Chris Buescher drove his way in the 2016 Chase playoffs on Saturday night with a 24th-place finish in Richmond, Va. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer

RICHMOND, Va. – Austin Dillon could barely contain his excitement, Chase Elliott talked with reporters then quietly sat down beside his race car on pit road to catch his breath and drink fluids, Chris Buescher calmly dealt with the media bombardment and Kyle Larson assumed a seat on the outer pit wall.

sprint-logo-08The four young men averaging 23.25 years in age had just recorded an accomplishment that many drivers only fantasize about: They had secured a position in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship for the first time in their careers. It was an accomplishment that in some respects seemed surreal.

After all, both Elliott and Buescher are rookies on NASCAR’s prestigious circuit and the first to make the Chase since Denny Hamlin, the winner of Saturday’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway, did so in 2006. Elliott made the Chase on points while Buescher pulled the upset of the regular season by winning the rain delayed/rain shortened August Pocono race. Neither rookie, however, had an easy road into the Chase Saturday night in the race that had a record 16 caution flags for 89 laps.

Elliott cut a tire and hit the first turn wall on lap 95 of the 400-lap race. Throughout the race he was in-and-out of the 16-driver Chase field. He also was assessed three pit road penalties.

“I think we have to be thankful we were able to get in tonight after the night we had,” said Elliott, who finished 19th. “I’ve never had to go through (and) I’m sure they haven’t either, all the stuff we went through tonight … fixing our car multiple times. When you’re in that position you really don’t have a choice but to try to fix it the best that you

Kyle Larson is one of an impressive group of young drivers who will compete in this year's Chase. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

Kyle Larson is one of an impressive group of young drivers who will compete in this year’s Chase. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

can and move forward.

“I was very lucky our tire cut down when it did. I was able to get up against the wall and kind of get slowed down before I had a big hit.”

Buescher also faced numerous challenges throughout the night, from having a tire go down to squeaking through an eight-car crash with minor damage with 37 laps remaining.

“It was a crazy race,” said Buescher, who finished 24th. “Everything worked out the way we needed it to, to pull this night off the way we needed to. When we were finally making progress and getting the car balanced better, we were to the point where we felt like we could start driver forward and they said we don’t need to. There was just no risk at this point.”

Dillon made the Chase with a 13th-place finish in a race that had so many twists and turns that his grandfather and team owner Richard Childress didn’t think it would ever end.

“I think that was the longest race I’ve ever been through,” Childress said about the event that consumed 3 hours 33 minutes 31 seconds.

“He’s worked so hard all year. He’s had a lot of bad breaks. They just kept digging. I was really proud of them. I told him to run his normal race and not overthink it, just race.”

Dillon said it was a nerve-racking race and he was glad to be through points racing like he was forced to do at the end of the Richmond race.

“This is huge … and I’m just proud to be in the Chase,” an excited Dillon said. “We had to play some strategy and do all kinds of different things. We have some good tracks in this 10, so we might be a force to reckon with.”

Larson solidified his spot in the Chase with his first-ever career victory at Michigan in August. Teammate Jamie McMurray raced his way into the Chase at Richmond, making it the first time in the history of Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates that the team has ever had both of its drivers in the title hunt.

“It’s a testament to the people that work on the cars,” Ganassi said. “We’ve got a good group of people and they’re working well with each other … they’re teaching the young people coming along how to do things. Our cars are good. It’s a nice feeling (to have both of them running for the championship).”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 11 2016
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