XFINITY Series points leader Chris Buescher has been a bright light in Ford Performance's season.
Roush Fenway Racing protege Chris Buescher has not been outside of the top three in the NASCAR XFINITY point standings since the season started.
And for the last five races, the 22-year-old from Prosper, Texas has topped the NXS tour.
But Buescher is well aware that could change at a place like Daytona International Speedway where drivers are not always capable on controlling their own destiny.
Buescher learned that the hard way when he missed the season opener on the 2.5-mile track during his rookie season last year. In 2015, a more measured approach at restrictor plate venues has resulted in an average finish of fourth including a second-place here in February.
He hopes to improve upon his result in Saturday night's Subway Firecracker 250.
“I feel like we have held our own really well and we brought the same car to every plate race that I have run,” said the driver of the No. 60 Bit-O-Honey Ford. “It is a car that we know very well and has been fortunate enough to stay out of most of the trouble. There is so much chance involved and a little bit of luck and a little bit of just knowing where to be and where to place yourself to stay out of trouble. That is more or less the big part of it.
“I don’t worry about us coming here and having fast race cars. I know our Mustangs are quick every time we show up to these speedways. It wears you out mentally trying to make sure you stay out of trouble, especially last year we were in a little different situation after missing the first one to take as many chances as we could to get back up there. We are on the other end of the spectrum right now.”
Live and learn
Despite missing the first race of 2014, Buescher finished seventh in his first season on the tour. Now, he enjoys a 29-point lead over second-place Ty Dillon. And Buescher plans on doing whatever it takes to maintain his position — even on a track such as Daytona.
“We have to protect what we have,” Buescher said. “We have to be a little careful, not conservative because it is too early in the season to go into a conservative mode but we have to be careful when we come here and manage what we have.”
After enjoying three weeks off over the last two months, the NXS tour races 15 consecutive weeks without a break. With a full-season under his belt, Buescher will return to tracks he’s more familiar with and three were he’s posted wins including Iowa, Dover and Mid-Ohio — where he broke through last season for his first career NXS win.
For Buescher, the best strategy is continuing to take the season one race at a time.
We are not here to lay down or be overly conservative.
“We are not here to lay down or be overly conservative,” Buescher said. “We have to be careful. It is kind of the same mentality we have for Daytona that we have to take through the whole stretch. Looking at it, there are a lot of tracks in that stretch I am excited to go to because we can and have run well at them. As we go to these places for the second time we have a lot of notes to build off of and newer aspects of our cars that we have notes off and we aren’t just shooting in the dark.
“I like where we are at. I like going forward. I am looking forward to the road courses. Mid-Ohio was obviously really good last year. I am not a road course guru but I enjoy them and I think that makes a big difference. The month of August will be very busy but it should be a lot of fun and I am really looking forward to that month and this whole stretch. It is going to be tough but I think last year we had like 17 or 18 weeks in a row. It is almost taking it easy on us this year.”
Not standing still
Buescher understands he can’t become complacent during the down times particularly when drivers such as Dillon, defending XFINITY champion Chase Elliott, Regan Smith and his own Roush Fenway Racing teammate Darrell “Bubba” Wallace are gunning for him.
Clearly, the competition isn’t slowing down and in Dillon’s case, Richard Childress Racing swapped it’s NXS crew chiefs in an effort to revitalize the No. 3 team prior to Daytona.
Buescher admits there’s a certain “comfort level” knowing that he and crew chief Scott Graves continue to build on a relationship that has jelled over the last two years.
It is still early in the season so we have a long way to go but I am very confident in our team and their ability to put a winning race car on the track each and every week.
“It has been neat to have a group of guys and build that chemistry and they have done a great job,” Buescher said. “We get along really well. Everybody knows what their job is and they work towards it. I have established a good relationship with Scott and feel like we are getting a lot closer this year. We are starting races a lot closer balance wise with our Mustangs than we did last year.
“There was a lot of learning last year, especially early on. We were able to take that and really dial it I to where we are not starting a race in fifth and running back to 10th because we didn’t start where we need to be. We can start fifth and maintain or do better than that early on. It is comforting. It is still early in the season so we have a long way to go but I am very confident in our team and their ability to put a winning race car on the track each and every week.”
His improvements over last season are stark. In 14 races, Buescher has two wins, eight top fives and 10 top-10 finishes. As a rookie, he posted one win, five top fives and 14 top 10s in 32 starts. While Buescher’s average qualifying effort is nearly the same, he’s improved his average finish from 12.6 to 7.1 and led 90 more laps (145).
It’s not surprising that when a seat opened in the Ford camp with Front Row Motorsports, Buescher received the call. In his first five Sprint Cup starts in the No. 34 Ford (that’s currently 33rd in owner points), he posted an average finish of 24.6 with a top result of 20th at Fontana. Only Buescher’s mentor, David Ragan, finished better in that car this season.
Currently, there are no additional Cup races scheduled for Buescher this year. As for his future, Roush Fenway Racing has room to expand to a fourth car but sponsorship is a challenge right now. Certainly, Buescher would like drive in NASCAR’s top tour full-time at some point but for now his focus in on winning the NXS title.
“I think my progression through stock car racing has been a little bit slower than a lot of guys that are racing or have been racing and I am okay with that,” Buescher said. “I think it is good. I like being able to get a lot of experience in each series before I transition into the next level. It helps me to get a better comfort level and is more seat time and I feel better prepared moving up.
“The handful of Cup race we ran with Front Row early this year was a lot of fun and I learned a lot. We are not scheduled to do any more of that this year and I honestly do not know if we have anything ready for next year on the Roush Fenway side. It will probably be several months yet down the road. We have to try to stay focused on this XFINITY championship right now.”