It’s perhaps no surprise that the most unexpected entrant to last year’s NASCAR postseason has the most modest expectations going into this year. In fact, trying to figure out what Chris Buescher can pull off this season may be a near-impossible feat.
Just explaining Buescher’s situation is no walk in the park. Buescher, 24, is starting his second full-time Cup season, driving for a brand new Chevrolet team (JTG Daugherty Racing tapped Buescher to drive a new second car). It’s a one-year deal, since he’s under contractual control of a Ford team (Roush Fenway Racing) that’s different than the Ford team (Front Row Motorsports) he drove for last season.
Buescher heads into the 2017 season with the guarantee of a full-time deal and not much else — a product of his own success and the painful downward trend of RFR. Buescher is tied at the hip with RFR (he won the 2015 XFINITY Series title for the team), but there’s been no clear path for him to take over one of the RFR Cup rides. The situation grew trickier when RFR and long-time veteran Greg Biffle mutually agreed to part ways after the 2016 season. Rather than put Buescher in an unfunded or underfunded No. 16, RFR opted to take the charter and driver to the market.
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The result was a most unique pairing: Buescher will now drive the second JTG car on virtual loan, and he’ll be guaranteed to make the field each week utilizing the leased RFR No. 16 charter.
Buescher’s teammate at JTG will be AJ Allmendinger, and the team will continue to receive technical assistance from fellow Chevrolet team Richard Childress Racing.
Buescher, to his credit, is taking his unique situation in stride and says the pairing isn’t all that different than what his setup at Front Row Racing offered last season.
“(Last) year with Front Row was a loan as well,” Buescher told NASCAR.com. “It was a little bit easier with the (technical) alliance that Front Row and Roush have with the manufacturer (Ford) being the same.”
Buescher’s NASCAR stature earned a significant boost last year with his surprising win at Pocono Raceway, a victory made possible by the unique combination of fog unexpectedly stopping the rain-postponed race before a heavy rainstorm ended the proceedings. The win — plus the fact that his No. 34 was inside the top 30 in points — granted Buescher a postseason berth.
The run didn’t last long — Buescher had the series’ 29th-best average on-track position all season — and he was knocked out after the first round. But Buescher is letting last season’s unexpected run to the postseason fuel his work heading to this year.
“Maybe they weren’t realistic (goals), but when (Buescher’s Front Row Racing crew chief) Bob Osborne and I sat down we said we were going to win a race and make the Chase,” Buescher says. “We accomplished our goals. It turns out they were realistic.”
Now Buescher is preparing for 2017 as if he’ll have just as many hurdles as last season.
“I guess I better realize that this is probably going to be the same situation,” Buescher says. “I’m probably going to get that hit to the stomach early on that it was going to be a lot harder than you thought it was going to be. And it has been. It’s been very difficult. But I’ve been able to learn along the way and run with the best in our sport.”