NASCAR drivers often equate racing to a game of high-speed chess. Racing in general, Chris Buescher says, is like a puzzle, and week-by-week teams must figure out not only what pieces are missing, but also which ones do and don’t fit.
Buescher’s puzzle is far from complete, but the Roush Fenway Racing driver can now see the outline a little better than two months ago. It’s enough, even after only eight pieces have been added, to say that Chris Buescher is my Nationwide Series Comeback Driver of the Year. And yes, I’m well aware it’s only May.
It sounds crazy, but justification is forthcoming. To start, you have to ask yourself this question: Has there been any other Nationwide driver who has been scratching and clawing for all his worth after a slow start? The best way to paint the picture for those who are unable to see Buescher’s team up close and personal is to go back to Darlington, the site of another tough night that was undeserved, yet changed everything.
“When things happen that aren’t your fault, it’s hard on everybody and you sit and think about what could have been,” said Buescher after Talladega. “With the beginning of the season and the way it played out, we’re not really in a points chase, so we sat down after Darlington and said, ‘You know what, it’s time to go try and win some races.’ And I think that mindset is gonna help us going forward.”
What Buescher didn’t talk about — and what no one knew because there were no cameras around, no media clamoring to talk to him, just teams surrounding their machines like angry bees ready to attack — was how he’s trying to do everything right.
Buescher had a tough evening, already involved in a three-car incident with Dylan Kwasniewski and David Starr that beat his No. 60 Ford to a pulp. ESPN announcers, on the air were critical of the crash, clearly stating the incident could be avoided. But the anger extended beyond just a few couch potato critics… it seeped into Buescher himself. He knew that wasn’t the only time he could have made better decisions at the Lady In Black.
So, after the race Buescher was met at his car by a united team who has its driver’s back, a freshman who knew he’d even frustrated one of his most important allies. Walking up to the No. 6 Ford, he went right up to the PR rep of his teammate, Trevor Bayne, asking for a moment to apologize. Apparently, slight contact during the event warranted Buescher to feel it necessary to explain his hard racing. The rookie knew he had done wrong; five minutes of in-person time was what was necessary in order to make it right.
Honest, thoughtful, yet still aggressive this kid is exactly the type the Nationwide Series needs. Right now, he seems to be the complete package — a hard-fighting driver, realistic expectations streaming from the team he drives for, yet still wanting to make sure he’s doing and saying the right thing all the time. It’s been fun to watch the ARCA champion start over in a way, proving himself all over again to people who don’t know him.
In the subsequent two weeks following Darlington, the No. 60 team underwent a metamorphosis. It’s a phenomenon we’ve all witnessed repeatedly in this sport; something eventually clicks and suddenly, it’s a whole new ballgame. Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus were made famous because of their “come to Jesus” meeting. Who hasn’t heard about the milk and cookies with the Mickey Mouse plates?
Now, Buescher and his team are continuing the trend. After weeks of foiled attempts, they’ve reeled off two straight top-10 finishes, results finally worthy of where they were running as car and driver. It might only be two weeks, but it’s enough to build a season’s worth of confidence, as well as a shape-that-puzzle outline showing they have all the necessary pieces to reveal the complete picture in the end.
It’s all happening even as Buescher sits a race behind his competition, having missed the race in Daytona. When rain washed out the conclusion of qualifying, Buescher wasn’t fast enough and didn’t have the points to be included in the field. Of course, it wasn’t easy even after they got on track in Phoenix. Rookies hardly have it easy though, right?
But the driver is learning quickly. Through nine races, having only run eight, Buescher sits ninth in points. Let’s read that again: a driver who has missed a race sits in the top 10 in points, ahead of teammate Ryan Reed, leapfrogging over drivers like Dylan Kwasniewski and Dakoda Armstrong. Buescher is battling for Rookie of the Year honors with all of these wheelmen, and he has more top 5s and more top 10s than all of them save for point leader Chase Elliott.
In fact, looking at who lies directly ahead, Buescher stands above his competitors in both top 5s and top 10s, with the exception of Brian Scott. Meanwhile, drivers like his cousin James Buescher at RAB and Brendan Gaughan at Richard Childress Racing still have goose eggs in those categories. So while the end results don’t, by any means make Buescher’s season to date exceptional – yet – there is reason to be paying close attention.
He’s the story within the Nationwide Series story. Aside from the same headlines every week of the phenomenal Chase Elliott and Cup drivers, why aren’t we looking at Chris Buescher and the run his team is putting together?
If Rookie of the Year was awarded based on hard work, determination, as well as how hard they had to earn it, Buescher would be a clear-cut favorite. Even better, things can only go up from here. In fact, could we be talking about Buescher when it comes to the championship later this year?
This weekend, the Nationwide Series heads to Iowa Speedway, a track that might have been built by Rusty Wallace, but has been owned over the years by Roush Fenway. In eight editions of the Nationwide Series racing there, a Roush Fenway Racing driver has won half of those events, including Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.’s three straight during his time in the series. No other company has won more than once, and even though Brad Keselowski is the only other driver to have won multiple Iowa races, he did so with two different teams. Buescher now carries his newfound momentum into the House of Roush.
Who knows? As well as things have suddenly found themselves going, the Chris Buescher puzzle might end up complete sooner rather than later.