LEXINGTON, Ohio -- As the laps dwindled, Chris Buescher's anxiety rose.

The 21-year-old rookie was leading the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course -- gunning for his first victory -- but was running out of fuel.

"I was really focusing on taking deep breaths at that point," Buescher said about the final laps before he hung on to capture the Nationwide Children's Hospital 200 on Saturday for his first victory. "I found myself on every straightaway just telling myself to relax a little bit."

Buescher took the lead on the 68th of 90 laps and sipped fuel the rest of the way to hold off Regan Smith and Brian Scott.

Smith, in particular, was waiting for Buescher to run out of gas.

"I was surprised that he made it," he said. "I didn't have much more for him there at the end. I was sitting there watching him, thinking at any point he was going to run out."

Buescher, driving the Roush Fenway Racing Ford sponsored by -- fittingly -- Nationwide Children's Hospital in nearby Columbus, took the lead from Brendan Gaughan and weathered a restart to hold on the rest of the way.

In the end he had enough left over to make a celebratory run -- in the wrong direction -- down the home straight after the rest of the field had left the track.

Crew chief Scott Graves had no choice but to keep Buescher on the track, even as his fuel evaporated. Buescher went the final 38 laps without topping off his tank.

The victory was Buescher's first in 30 NASCAR Nationwide Series races, also representing his eighth top-10 finish in 2014.

Chase Elliott, who finished fourth, retained his lead in the season standings by 10 points over Smith.

Alex Tagliani was fifth, followed by Justin Marks, Elliott Sadler, Dylan Kwasniewski, Trevor Bayne and Dakoda Armstrong.

During the fourth caution of the day on lap 51 -- Kenny Habul drifted off the course and into the grass -- pole-sitter Sam Hornish Jr. stunned the crowd strung along the 2.258-mile track by pulling into the pits and then turning into the garage area. His crew worked feverishly to get him back on the track, but his day was done -- after leading or being close to the lead all the way to that point -- due to missing a shift that led to engine trouble.

Scott and Tagliani -- his closest pursuers -- pitted and dug in for the finish.

Bayne and then Gaughan traded quick leads before Buescher took over.

On Lap 58, Tagliani nosed Scott off the track briefly. Scott had to pit soon after, with steam rolling off his overheated engine. He was able to finish -- although he never made up the lost time.

With others pitting or falling back, Buescher took control. With under 20 laps to go, Buescher outdueled Smith and took advantage of the narrow track to maintain his lead. Under a threatening sky, he built his lead to 1.5 seconds with 10 laps remaining.

Then the suspense built as the laps piled up and Buescher's tank grew emptier.

"I saw him shake the car once on the last lap and thought he was running out there," Smith said, mystified by how Buescher was able to keep going. "But the record book doesn't say how you won. It just says that you won."


Chris Buescher, #60 Nationwide Children's Hospital Ford Mustang, Nationwide Children's 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course
Nick Laham/Getty Images

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

More From KSOO-AM / ESPN Sioux Falls