Chris Buescher wants to take the next step as a driver in the NASCAR Cup Series. He wants to battle for wins. He doesn’t just want to be on the periphery of drivers in playoff contention — he wants to make the playoffs.
They’re lofty goals, sure. But now that he’s the driver of Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 17 Ford, the objectives are much more reasonable. Buescher, the 2015 Xfinity Series champion, just has to look at what Ryan Newman did last season in his first year driving the team’s other car.
Newman took over the No. 6 last season and instantly improved its fortunes. Though he didn’t win a race, Newman scored enough points to earn RFR a playoff entry and delivered an average finish of 14.6 — nearly six full positions better than Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Newman’s success made RFR’s surprise move last fall to hire Buescher and fire Stenhouse less of a risk.
Buescher, who won the Xfinity championship for RFR, spent the last three seasons at JTG Daugherty Racing. That mid-pack team has never enjoyed the type of success that Buescher craves, but he still describes the experience as necessary education.
“I’ve learned a ton racing in [Cup] over the past four years now,” Buescher says. “There’s a lot of differences to it that you just don’t get short track racing [while] growing up. You don’t get in any other way; you don’t get it in the Xfinity Series. It’s only something you can learn when you come to this level, when you’re around the best of the best.”
Buescher believes that knowledge can help him snap a 123-race winless streak in the Cup Series. His lone career win came in a fog-shortened race at Pocono Raceway in 2016.
“A big part of this is to have a better understanding of what you’re looking for in a racecar and what you need to pull off good finishes,” Buescher says. “And then you apply that earlier on a weekend versus getting to it halfway through a race.”
Buescher, who has previous experience with crew chief Luke Lambert from when they attended debrief meetings as part of the former technical alliance between JTG Daugherty Racing and Richard Childress Racing, believes Lambert’s toughest job this offseason will be assembling the other crew members of the No. 17 team. Lambert joined RFR in the offseason after nine seasons at RCR. Last season, Lambert was Daniel Hemric’s crew chief.
If Lambert can get those personnel pieces right, Buescher believes the team can rise to the same level that his new teammate Newman and crew chief Scott Graves achieved last season. In fact, Buescher expects that he’s joining a team that can make a run in the playoffs.
“You look at the progression of the No. 6 car and what Ryan and Scott — who I’ve worked with in the past — what they have been able to come in and do,” Buescher says. “They took consistency and solid runs, never quitting and making everything count by the end of a race. They took that and made the playoffs with it.
“I know if we can get everything right and get the right pieces in place, we can go up there and have a really solid year.
Vegas Betting Odds to win 2020 Cup Championship: 250/1 (per Sportsbook.ag)
(Top photo courtesy of ASP, Inc.)