Chris Buescher's task, should he accomplish it tonight at Richmond International Raceway, is no small feat.
Buescher will try to parlay his improbable victory at a rain-shortened Sprint Cup race this summer into a coveted berth in NASCAR's Chase for the Championship. The Chase field will be set after tonight's Federated Auto Parts 400.
Making NASCAR's playoffs would be a coup for Buescher and Front Row Motorsports.
Buescher is eligible for the Chase by virtue of his August victory at Pocono. But the rules require the 16 drivers that make the Chase to be ranked 30th or higher in the standings, and Buescher goes into tonight with an 11-point lead over David Ragan for 30th
So Buescher, last season's Xfinity series champion, needs a plan on how to race the regular-season finale.
"We are not in a full defensive mode," he said Friday at the Virginia race track. "We can't go out and just try to run every lap and stay out of everyone's way. We don't have that luxury. We are coming out here to race aggressively for every position, every point we can possibly get, without taking unnecessary risk."
There are three scenarios in which Buescher can make the Chase without relying on the results of any other driver, and all require him to finish at least ninth. That's probably a stretch considering Buescher has two top-five finishes through 25 races this season.
In fact Buescher, 23, has only been in the top 30 in points the past three weeks after being in the mid 30s for most of the spring.
Some of the biggest names in NASCAR, driving for top organizations, are also trying to earn spots in the 16-car Chase. There are three spots available at Richmond — four if Buescher falls below 30th — and a first-time race winner this season could snag a spot.
The winless drivers on the cusp are: Chase Elliott of Hendrick Motorsports, Austin Dillon of Richard Childress Racing, Jamie McMurray of Chip Ganassi Racing and Dillon's teammate, Ryan Newman, whose bid was damaged by a 15-point penalty this week.
But under the format adopted in 2014, NASCAR wanted to reward winning and made the Chase the prize for taking risks to win races. That's how Buescher got to Victory Lane on Aug. 1 at Pocono, where he didn't pit as rain closed in, inherited the lead and held it when the race was called. Those 12 laps led in Pennsylvania are the only laps Buescher has led this season — and led to him being the focus of more attention that expected.
"It has been a lot busier than normal and talking a lot about the same thing every week," he said. "Trying to figure out the ideal scenarios so that we can race into the Chase and then move through the Chase."