For the first time in 43 years, NASCAR made their historic return to the dirt surface at Eldora Speedway for the Mudsummer Classic. With a unique event on tap, which included heat races, a last chance qualifying race and a three-segment feature, James Buescher and the Rheem team came into Eldora not knowing what to expect with next-to-no experience racing on dirt. After nearly five and half hours of practice, Buescher started to get accustomed to the style of racing and was ready for the 150-lap main event. Buescher was locked into the main event and started ninth after finishing second in his heat race. When the green flag flew for the feature event, Buescher paced himself in the early going while he looked to get into a groove. During the last segment, the 30-truck field started to get antsy. Buescher sustained some damage to his Rheem Silverado, but was able to bring home the No. 31 in the 19th spot, despite his handling beginning to fade slightly.
After having a difficult time in the first two practice sessions, Buescher showed he was starting to get the hang of racing on dirt when he placed fifth in final practice. With a different race format for this inaugural event, NASCAR implemented heat races with the lineups being set by qualifying results. Buescher took his two laps around the slick 0.5-mile dirt oval and placed the Rheem team in the 19th spot, setting them up for a fourth-starting spot in the fourth eight-lap heat. Buescher was able to quickly jump into the second spot, and came up just short after making a last-lap bid for the win. With this second-place result, Buescher started the Mudsummer Classic in the ninth-starting spot.
The Mudsummer Classic consisted of three segments, broken into 60 laps, 50 laps and 40 laps, with a quick break in between each to allow the crews to make adjustments to their trucks. When the green flag waved over the 30-truck field, Buescher quickly worked his way to the preferred top groove and tried to find a rhythm. With just one yellow being displayed just shy of the 60-lap break, Buescher was able to challenge for a top-10 running position during the first segment while getting a good read on his Rheem Chevy. Crew chief Michael Shelton called for four fresh tires, fuel, and chassis adjustments to help with Buescher's loose condition exiting the corner.
During the second segment, Buescher once again worked to get to the top groove and tried to find his way inside the top 10. Buescher reported back on lap 87 that his Rheem Silverado was still too loose exiting the corner and was lacking forward drive. Shelton again took this into account for their final pit stop on lap 110. Pitting with the leaders, Buescher took four tires, fuel and his No. 31 Rheem team reversed some of the changes from the first stop.
For the final 40-lap segment, Buescher restarted in the 15th spot and quickly made a bid to the bottom of the track into Turn 1. Buescher forced a four-wide pass, gaining four spots. Just a couple laps later, the field started to get antsy and Buescher had a near miss on the back straightaway, forcing him to scramble to avoid the spinning trucks. Buescher did sustain some damage to his No. 31 Rheem truck, but it was not enough to force him to pit. Buescher did all he could in the remaining laps to try to hold on to a solid finish, but lost a couple spots on the green/white/checkered attempt, relinquishing him to a 19th-place finish in NASCAR's return to the dirt at Eldora Speedway.
"I'm glad to say I was a part of such a historic event for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series," said Buescher. "My Rheem team came in with little dirt experience and it kind of showed early in the practice sessions, but by the time final practice rolled around, we were able to make gains and get comfortable with this style of racing. I feel like we had a better truck than what shows in our result, we just didn't have enough grip on the last restart to advance any further. We're looking forward to getting out to Pocono and getting our championship run back on track."
Next up for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series is the Pocono Mountains 125 at Pocono Raceway. The race can be seen live on SPEED at 1:00 p.m. EDT on August 3. It can also be heard on SiriusXM Satellite Radio, channel 90 or MRN Radio.