Chris Buescher took the lead on the 68th of 90 laps and stretched his fuel to hold off Regan Smith and Brian Scott and win the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on Saturday.
The victory in the Nationwide Children’s Hospital 200 made the 21-year-old Buescher the third rookie to win in the series this year.
Buescher, driving the Roush Fenway Racing Ford sponsored by — fittingly — Nationwide Children’s Hospital in nearby Columbus, took the lead from Brendan Gaughan and weathered a restart to hold on the rest of the way.
There were questions he could finish without running out of fuel, but he had enough to make a celebratory run — in the wrong direction — down the home straight after the field had left the track.
The victory was Buescher’s first in 30 NASCAR Nationwide Series races, also representing his eighth top-10 finish in 2014.
Chase Elliott, who finished fourth, retained his lead in the season standings by 10 points over Smith.
Alex Tagliani was fifth, followed by Justin Marks, Elliott Sadler, Dylan Kwasniewski, Trevor Bayne and Dakoda Armstrong.
Pole-sitter Sam Hornish Jr. led or contended for the first 51 laps before missing a shift and leaving the race with engine trouble.
Scott passed Hornish on the opening lap and held off the field until pitting on the 27th lap. Jeffrey Earnhardt spun into the dirt at the fourth turn on the fourth lap, resulting in the first caution of the day.
During the fourth yellow of the day — Kenny Habul drifted off the course and into the grass — Hornish stunned the crowd strung along the 2.258-mile, 13-turn track by pulling into the pits and then turning into the garage area. His crew worked feverishly to get him back on the track, but his day was done.
With the pole-sitter out of the picture, Scott and Tagliani pitted and dug in for the finish.
Trevor Bayne stepped into the gap and took over the lead, holding off Kwasniewski, Gaughan and Justin Marks. On Lap 58, Tagliani actually nosed Scott off the track briefly. Scott had to pit soon after, with steam rolling off overheated engine. But he still returned to the track — although he never made up the lost time.
When Bayne pitted for the second time on the 61st lap, Gaughan took over the lead briefly. He was on top by more than 2 seconds in his black-and-pink South Point Chevrolet a lap later but then pitted at lap 68, with Buescher stepping into the void for good.
With others pitting or falling back, Buescher took control. With under 20 laps to go, Buescher outdueled Smith and took advantage of the narrow track to maintain his lead. Under threatening a sky he built his lead to 1.5 seconds with 10 laps remaining.
Crew chief Scott Graves had no choice but to keep Buescher on the track, even as his fuel dwindled. Buescher went the final 32 laps without a pit stop.
Hornish had captured the pole in qualifying earlier in the day with a lap speed of 95.873 under perfect conditions — unseasonably cool and sunny with no clouds whatsoever.
That all changed after about 30 laps of the race, with a heavy cloud cover taking over the course and threatening to break loose in a storm. But it never rained.