RFK Racing announced Thursday evening that Chris Buescher will not drive the team's No. 17 Ford this weekend at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway after testing positive for COVID-19. It will mark Buescher's first missed race in his entire Cup career.
The team also announced NASCAR Camping World Truck Series star Zane Smith will serve as the substitute driver for Buescher. Smith, who has won three times in Truck competition this year and has been runner-up for the series title the past two years, will make his Cup debut. Buescher is expected to return to the driver's seat next week at Sonoma.
This is the first time a full-time Cup driver has missed a race due to COVID-19 since last summer, when Corey LaJoie was sidelined at Michigan before returning the next week. Curiously, this marks the second time Smith has served as a COVID substitute, as he served the same role when the virus forced Justin Haley to miss an Xfinity Series race at Dover in May 2021.
For Buescher, missing a race will serve as a major blow to his hopes of making the NASCAR playoffs on points. After last week at Charlotte, Buescher sat a full 75 points back of Tyler Reddick for the final spot in the playoffs on points, and he will now miss an entire race's worth of points. However, Buescher should be able to remain playoff eligible through a medical waiver, which NASCAR has granted to drivers who have missed races due to COVID in the past.
Buescher's absence at Gateway is another negative development for him, as he ended up making the highlight reel for the wrong reason in last week's Coca-Cola 600. In a crash on Lap 347, Buescher's car was launched skyward in the infield turf, sending him flipping half a dozen times down the front straightaway before his car came to rest upside down. Buescher was uninjured and able to climb out after safety workers flipped his car back onto its wheels.