Due to driver injury and illness, a few fortunate drivers have been given the opportunity to shine in the Sprint Cup Series as substitute drivers. Here’s a look at how the subs performed at Auto Club Speedway.
Chris Buescher, second in the point standings in his second full season in the XFINITY Series with Roush Fenway Racing, got the call to sub for Brett Moffitt in the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford at Fontana this past weekend.
It was his Sprint Cup Series debut and the 22-year-old driver described the experience as both “nerve-racking” and “fun.” Buescher finished in 20th place.
“It was a lot of fun,” he said. “I can’t thank Front Row Motorsports enough to give me this opportunity and for Roush Fenway Racing to allow me to go do it. To be able to help another Ford Performance team out, this was a blast. It’s the kind of race track I wanted to make my Cup debut at.”
“It was nerve-racking at the beginning,” Buescher admitted. “The first 50-100 laps even just trying to race around some guys, just getting that little initiation, I guess, people pushing you around trying to show you who is boss. But after we got 100 laps in I just started to feel a lot better and started settling into a run where we were comfortable and a lot like our XFINITY race we were able to find a place and keep moving forward with that.”
Buescher also talked about the transition between the cars in the XFINITY Series and the Sprint Cup Series.
“A lot of it has been trying to get used to the amount of downforce and grip in the Cup car versus the XFINITY car,” he explained. “That’s something that took me a lot of the race to figure out. Restarts were tough because I didn’t realize how far you could push it, how hard you could really drive the car. After we figured that out, our restarts got better the last half. It’s always those little things and I don’t know if this is my last Cup start for the year or if we’ve got a couple on the way, but, regardless, this is a lot of information to jot down in a notebook and remember for my next Cup start.”
Overall Buescher was satisfied with his performance saying, “We completed the race, finished on the lead lap and got a top 20 out of it. I’m ecstatic about that. These guys did an awesome job today.”
Brett Moffitt filled in for Brian Vickers in the No. 55 Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing, finishing 22nd. Vickers has been sidelined after a recurrence of blood clots. This was the second time Moffitt subbed for Vickers, capturing an eighth place at Atlanta Motor Speedway earlier this season in only his eighth Sprint Cup start.
Moffitt’s finish at Auto Club Speedway was disappointing but he was encouraged by how the team fought back.
“We struggled all race long,” he said.“Made good calls, Billy (Scott, crew chief) did a good job on top of the box. At the end, the restarts were fun. We got back on the lead lap and Billy did a great job getting us back on the lead lap, pit crew did a good job getting us out. The second-to-the-last restart went really well and passed a bunch of cars and then on the last one they kind of took advantage of us and I fell back to 22nd. After the day we had, 22nd feels pretty good.”
Moffitt also subbed for David Ragan at Las Vegas Motor Speedway with a 37th place finish and at Phoenix International Raceway, finishing 32nd.
While David Ragan is no stranger to the Sprint Cup Series, the opportunity to drive the high profile No. 18 M&Ms Toyota puts him in the spotlight and competitive results could prove invaluable to his career going forward.
In his fourth race subbing for the injured Kyle Busch, Ragan qualified fourth at Fontana and finished the race in 18th place. This follows an 18th at Atlanta, 22nd at Las Vegas and 21st at Phoenix.
Ragan says the team is working toward getting the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota back where it belongs.
“We fired off really good and just a little too free early,” he said. “Racing with the 24 (Jeff Gordon), I think he just crowded me a little and I got loose and spun. That was certainly unfortunate. A pit road penalty hurt us under green and that’s a testament to just keep working hard and never giving up.”
“We want top-10s and top-fives,” Ragan continued, “that’s our goal and that’s where the 18 car should be. I’m a little frustrated with our finishes, but we’ve had good speed, we work hard and all we can do is be positive and look forward to Martinsville. Thanks to Interstate Batteries and Toyota and M&M’s for all their support and can’t wait to get to the next one.”
NASCAR’s preliminary entry list for Martinsville Speedway lists Buescher as the driver for the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford and Moffitt in the No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota. Ragan will once again pilot the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing entry.