By Jerry Bonkowski
Special for NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
SPARTA, Ky. -- James Buescher made it 2-for-2 for 2012 at Kentucky Speedway, stretching his fuel window for 53 laps to capture Friday night's Kentucky 201 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race.
The 22-year-old Buescher, who also won at the 1.5-mile track back on June 28, captured his fourth overall win of both the season and his NCWTS career (all on 1.5-mile tracks).
"I wouldn't say it was a dominating performance like the last time we were here (led 119 of 150 laps), but I think we led the most laps and dominated anyway," said Buescher, who indeed led the most laps Friday (64 of the race's 134 circuits around the track). "We've won four races with the same truck and now we're going to dust it off and take it to another mile-and-a-half (next week at Las Vegas)."
The Plano, Texas, native won Friday's race the hard way -- taking a bigger gamble than most gamblers might do at some of the nearby casinos along the Ohio River -- by not pitting for fuel in the final 53 laps.
Buescher's Turner Motorsports crew chief, Michael Shelton, made sure his driver saved enough fuel in their Chevrolet Silverado at the right time -- particularly on the last caution period from Lap 108 to 111 -- to motor all the way to the checkered flag.
"We should have been at least two (laps) to the good," Shelton said. "James saved fuel for us every way he could, but we were definitely close. It would have been real interesting if it had been a green-white-checker there and where everybody would have been, but fortunately it played out for us."
Buescher, who admitted he wasn't feeling 100 percent in the race, having battled the flu bug for the last three days, came in on Lap 81 for just two right-side tires and fuel to gain an advantage coming out of the pits. The strategy added to the drama when the seventh and final caution of the race occurred on Lap 107 after Jason White wrecked.
With 27 laps to go, Shelton elected to keep Buescher on the track to maintain position, as did his four closest challengers -- pole-sitter Joey Coulter, rookie Ty Dillon, Parker Kligerman and Matt Crafton -- setting up the fuel mileage outcome. Ironically, none of the leaders ran out of fuel in the final laps.
"I think we were two laps to the good, so maybe two more laps (left)," Dillon said. "We were chancing it there. ... I'm a little bummed about finishing third just because James won, but we've got some speed and some great momentum."
Dillon made a surge toward the front in the final 15 laps, but Buescher's truck was nothing short of flawless, building a nearly two-second lead before finishing with a 1.292-second winning margin over runner-up Parker Kligerman, who rallied back from an earlier spin.
Dillon finished third, followed by Coulter and Brian Scott in fifth. Dillon now has three top-3 finishes in his last three starts: his first career NCWTS win at Atlanta, a second-place showing last week at Iowa and Friday's third-place outing.
Dillon came into the race atop the points standings, leading Timothy Peters by eight points and Buescher by 11. But Buescher's win significantly tightened things up, as Dillon's lead is now only four points over Buescher. Peters, meanwhile, wrecked just before halfway and finished 21st, dropping to third place in the season standings, now 22 points behind Dillon.
"We battled back and our team showed a lot of resiliency," Dillon said. "I'll take this kind of day any day. Our team really has a lot of momentum going. ... It's not easy to finish three times in a row in the top three -- first, second and third the last three weeks. If we keep doing that, the wins are going to come. We're still a young and learning team and we're going to keep fighting for these wins.
"It was a great race, I thought. We just needed a little bit more speed for the 31 (Buescher)."
The threat of heavy rain prior to the start of the race dissipated as the storm front stayed north by about 50 miles, and by the time the green flag fell for the 36 trucks that qualified to race, the skies were relatively clear, promising an exciting night of racing.
"We knew from the start of the race that there was weather near the track," Kligerman said. "I actually on the pace laps said to my crew to make sure they were up on the weather, especially as we approached halfway (through the 134-lap race), just to make sure that we're not giving anything up. We're not here to just win a race, we're here to win a championship."
Last week's first-time winner at Iowa Speedway, 18-year-old Ryan Blaney, had his own share of excitement even before the race began. During the first of two practice sessions earlier in the day, Blaney lost the handle on his Dodge truck, crashing into the Turn 1 wall. The damage was irreparable, prompting the team to go to a backup truck for the second practice and qualifying, in which Blaney placed 16th.
Even though his backup truck was a handful to drive at times, Blaney still managed to come home with an 11th-place finish.
On Lap 81, Kligerman lost control and went on a single-truck spin down the front stretch, but with little damage and he was able to continue on. Not only that, Kligerman was able to recover, earning his second runner-up and fourth top-5 finish in five starts since joining Red Horse Racing.
"We had one of those nights where just everything that could go against us, even with a fast truck, went against us," Kligerman said. "I tried to force the issue and spun out. From there, we were in recovery mode and passed a bunch of trucks on the restart. From there, we just tried to chase down the 31 (of Buescher), and just came up a little short."
Buescher regained the lead on Lap 83 and never relinquished it from that point on.
As it turned out, however, the rain that everyone appeared to be watching faded away and the race was able to go the entire scheduled length without even a hint of precipitation.
Making his first start for Turner Motorsports, rookie Dakoda Armstrong had problems that began on the pace laps, when smoke began emitting from his Chevrolet Silverado. While he took the green flag, it was pretty clear he was suffering from an engine problem that quickly dropped him from his 20th qualifying spot to 28th in just the first 10 laps.
He eventually came onto pit road and called it a night as the engine suffered irreparable damage.
Notes: The series moves to Las Vegas for a night race next Saturday, followed by the always unpredictable Talladega on Oct. 6. ... Jason White made the biggest move in the standings -- unfortunately for him, downward -- dropping three spots from ninth to 12th.