Once upon a time Roush Fenway Racing had such a glut of talent that they had to create a competition to see who would be selected for their developmental program.
They were the top-performing Ford team – a reputation that was built on the backs of giants like Mark Martin, Matt Kenseth, and Jeff Burton. A few years ago, they began to be decimated by defections and the loss of veteran drivers and this once formidable team has not yet recovered.
In 2013, Kenseth was wooed by Joe Gibbs Racing. Carl Edwards followed him in 2015. Greg Biffle was released from RFR at the end of 2016. Roush believed they had the right up-and-coming drivers in place to carry them forward. But as talented as they were, Trevor Bayne and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. were unable to carry the program on their shoulders.
Roush looked around and realized that they needed some veteran leadership and brought Kenseth back for a partial schedule two years ago to help evaluated Bayne’s car. It didn’t help much, but cemented the executives in the notion that a veteran was needed – and so they hired Ryan Newman to race in the No. 6.
The other thing that was needed was the right Young Gun. So the brass dug through the dusty files and found a clause in an old contract that would allow them to bring former developmental Chris Buescher back into the fold.
Now Buescher stands at a precipice.
At 26-years-of-age, he has a balance of experience and enthusiasm that makes him a perfect No. 2 driver behind Newman. His first full season with Front Row Motorsports earned him a weather-aided win at Pocono in his rookie season, but that was not his only strong run. A couple of weeks later, he finished fifth in the Bristol Night race.
When JTG-Daugherty Racing needed a hard charger for the No. 37, Buescher was a natural choice and he steadily helped that organization become a top performer. In their first season together, Buescher earned four top-10s for JTG-D. The next year, he had two top-fives – both of which came on the wild card Daytona International Speedway. Last year, he earned four more top-10s with a best of sixth in the Coke 600.
That was enough for Roush to wonder “what might have been” if they had not allowed Buescher to jump camp and become a Chevrolet driver. Unfortunately the answer is not yet clear. Yes, Buescher is a solid performer who rarely makes mistakes. While he earned only four top-10s last year and no top-fives, he was outside of the top 20 only eight times and four of those were 21st to 23rd.
It is unlikely that he will immediately begin to challenge for top-10s in half his starts, but so long as his salary cap is manageable in the Draft Kings game and he shows consistent improvement, he will be a good value.
The key to Buescher’s success is consistency. He has earned top-10s on eight different tracks during his career, but they are not necessarily his best courses. With an average finish of 14.8, Darlington ranks No. 1, but he has a best finish of 12th there. His third-best track is the Charlotte Roval with a 17.5 and a best of 17th in two starts. His fifth-best track is Las Vegas where his best result is a 15th.
He could break through early in the season and the similarly-configured, 1.5-mile tracks will be a likely place for that to occur. Last year all four of his top-10s came on this track type with a sixth in the Coke 600, a ninth at Atlanta, and 10th-place finishes at Kentucky and Kansas. Roush has the power to perform on the unrestricted, intermediate speedways and Buescher has proven capable of providing the right feedback to the crew chief.
Three Best Tracks
Darlington (14.8 in 4 attempts)
Indy (15.8 in 4)
Charlotte Roval (17.5 in 2)
Three Worst Tracks
Richmond (27.0 in 8)
Phoenix (25.6 in 8)
Auto Club (24.8 in 5)
Victories: None (Best finish = sixth, Coke 600)
Top-fives: 0 (.000)
Top-10s: 4 (.111)
Top-15s: 12 (.333)
2019 Finishes at or above rank = 29 (80.6%)