James Buescher appeared to be lost in the woods midway through the race as he lost two laps because of a carburetor change.
In the closing laps, however, there was Buescher battling for the lead. And he took it on the last lap, passing Timothy Peters on the outside and then holding off Brendan Gaughan to win the American Ethanol 225 Camping World Truck Series race at Chicagoland Speedway.
Buescher fought his truck early in the race and eventually rolled onto pit road for a new carburetor, losing two laps to the leaders. His best shot appeared to be climbing into the top 10 for a point-saving finish.
At night’s end, though, he was in victory lane celebrating becoming the season’s first three-time winner.
“I was frustrated early on, but the sort of motto this team has had all year is, ‘Never give up,’ ” Buescher said. “We had a carburetor issue, but we got it fixed. I couldn’t keep up at the beginning of the race.
“We’ve got a lot of racing left. This is a good way to start this stretch.”
Gaughan was second, Peters third, Matt Crafton fourth and Parker Kligerman fifth. Peters boosted his series point lead to 23. Ty Dillon moved into second, replacing Justin Lofton.
The race represented a significant rebound for Gaughan, the veteran driver who has won eight Truck races in his career but hasn’t been to victory lane since October 2003.
Gaughan stayed up front most of the way and was the race’s dominant driver in the first half and middle portions of the event. He led from lap 13 to 46 and totaled a race-high 83 for the night.
Gaughan led Joey Coulter on lap 100 when Chris Fontaine slid across the track and slammed into the inside wall, producing the night’s third caution.
The leaders pitted, and Gaughan gave up first place to get four new tires, dropping to sixth. Justin Lofton made a two-tire stop and moved into third.
When the green flew to end the caution period, Joey Coulter and Dillon were on the first row.
The traffic jam created by the restart led to a crash as Coulter drifted up the track and was hit by Miguel Paludo, who turned to the inside to make the pass. Coulter then lost control of his truck and slid down to the apron and onto pit road.
Paludo produced the race’s sixth caution with 15 laps to go. He tapped the wall after blowing a tire.
Gaughan led at that point, with Peters second.
Gaughan took the ensuing green with Peters, Ty Dillon, Buescher and Crafton trailing.
Peters jumped to the lead on the restart and then battled for the lead with Buescher before Lofton whacked the wall to cause the seventh caution.
That produced a two-lap dash to the finish, with Peters and Buescher running side by side on the first lap, Peters edging Buescher for the lead at the start-finish line.
But Buescher built great momentum off turn two on the last lap and took the lead. Gaughan passed Peters for second place.
“I’m still bitter,” Gaughan said. “This should have been mine. The last eight years, if I had finished second I would have had tears in my eyes I would have been so happy. But tonight we were the class of the field. It’s a bummer.”
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 30 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.