Race Weekend Central

Friday Faceoff: Is Chris Buescher a Championship Threat?

Denny Hamlin predicted the NASCAR Cup Series will return to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval in 2024. Should it?

Luken Glover: Between rumors circulating around the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL, the Indianapolis road course and the potential of another street course or Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal, a move back to the Indy oval would suit those potential plans. In the two years since Cup moved to the road course, there have been some ugly moments, as well as an entertaining one. Last season, drivers used each other as the braking zone in turn 1, turning it into bumper cars. No matter the quality of racing, there is still a feeling of pride and joy on drivers’ faces when they win the Brickyard 400. The race has provided many sentimental victories and moments that fans will remember for ages. Plus, there is a curiosity to see the Next Gen car on the oval. No matter the result, it is worth a shot.

Steve Leffew: NASCAR should return to the famed oval. Actually, I’ll take it two steps further. NASCAR should alternate between the Indy oval, the Indy road course and Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park — a three-year rotation in one area at three great tracks. This would keep the schedule fresh and build anticipation for each race during their respective two-year breaks.

Mike Neff: Yes, yes, YES! The road course at Indy is great for different forms of racing, but it doesn’t stir the emotions with stock cars. The Brickyard 400 is the original, and it should stay that way. We should also move the NASCAR Xfinity Series back to IRP.

Zach Gillispie: In the name of Indiana’s native son, Mr. Wonderboy himself, the kid Jeff Gordon, and the indestructible everlasting spirit of the man who will always intimidate the lowly around him, Dale Earnhardt, go back to the damn oval.

Andrew Stoddard: It makes sense for NASCAR to go back to the Indianapolis oval, especially in 2024, which will be the 30th anniversary of the first Brickyard 400. Racing on the same oval as the Indianapolis 500 is much more prestigious than the road course layout. The oval also arguably produced higher-quality racing than the road course layout has over the past couple of years. It is not always exciting, but the oval will not devolve to the levels of chaos we have witnessed on the road courses at times in 2021 and 2022. That said, alternating between the oval on even-numbered years and the road course on odd-numbered years would bring the best of both worlds.

See also
Did You Notice?: NASCAR Silly Season Update Post-Truex, Front Row

Is Chris Buescher a Cup championship threat?

Gillispie: Kevin Harvick was a championship threat after winning two straight races about this time last year. I wonder how that turned out. Chris Buescher also has a 22.1 career finishing average at Phoenix Raceway.

Stoddard: I was still a little skeptical about Buescher’s chances after Richmond Raceway, but his win at Michigan International Speedway cemented him as a dark horse for the championship. Through 23 races, Buescher has already set career highs in wins (two) and top fives (10). His average finish of 13th ranks fifth in the Cup Series. While RFK Racing is not at its mid-2000s peak, there is no doubt that it is back to being in the championship picture. Buescher will be a part of the Round of 8.

Glover: This year’s playoff field is shaping up to be one of the most unpredictable ever. There are definitely a couple of favorites, but parity certainly exists in the playoff field. Given the nature of the playoffs and unknowns, there are opportunities for drivers to sneak through. If you look at Buescher’s repertoire, the playoffs could line up nicely for him. He has three top 10s at Darlington Raceway with RFK Racing, and he is the defending winner of the Bristol Motor Speedway night race. In the Round of 12, Buescher is always a threat on superspeedways, and the Charlotte ROVAL is also a high point for him on the schedule. That takes us to the Round of 8, where Martinsville Speedway lies, and RFK has exceled at short tracks. So yes, Buescher has a path to Championship 4. And if he makes it that far, don’t discount him at Phoenix, either. He isn’t a title favorite, but I would mark him as a dark horse.

Leffew: I’m not convinced yet. Can he make it to the Round of 8? Absolutely. Once you get to that round, you can’t afford any 12th-place runs. Buescher is riding high on an amazing two-week win streak, but I still have William Byron, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Larson and Denny Hamlin a half step above Buescher.

Neff: Absolutely; how could he not after the last two weeks? He has shown that RFK has found speed in the Fords that other blue oval teams have not. He is a champion and knows how to get it done. If things fall the right way, he most certainly could pull it off.

Kyle Busch said Cup drivers “all want to race to crash.” Do you agree?

Stoddard: I disagree with Kyle Busch, and I don’t think he fully agrees with himself, either. While the style of racing has grown increasingly aggressive in recent seasons, I would stop short of saying that drivers race to crash. They race to win. Busch said what he said out of frustration in the immediate aftermath of his fifth DNF of the season.

Neff: People don’t race to crash, but there is a greater lack of respect in the sport these days. Drivers used to learn how to race at the front of the field. It was a privilege and the drivers consistently at the front didn’t take it for granted. It seems that drivers now who find themselves near the front expect respect without earning it. People are probably going to have to be roughed up a little in the near future to start learning how to race.

Glover: Yes and no. When he made that statement, Busch said drivers used to let others go by if they were at a disadvantage. Now there is an approach of either lifting or crashing. Obviously, drivers don’t want to crash, but many do not think about the consequences of aggressive racing until it is too late. It is the era of racing they have to compete in now, and it is understandably frustrating for guys who did not grow up racing like that. Busch expressed this after his incident with Ryan Blaney, who also has expressed frustration with the racing etiquette these days. Did Blaney do anything wrong? No, he held his line and actually gave the No. 8 room. Busch slipped up the track and went around, plain and simple. In that particular case, Blaney was not at fault.

Gillispie: What does this even mean? I don’t know about you, but I race to win. But if you are Ross Chastain circa 2022, you crash to win, so I guess he’s right.

Leffew: This was a vintage ridiculous comment from a pissed-off Busch, who had just crashed out of the race due to his own error. Drivers don’t race to crash. They have evolved in their understanding of the air games. They race one another in such a way that if you aren’t in the preferred line, you might need to lift … or crash.

See also
Stat Sheet: Who Statistically Has the Best Chance To Make the Playoffs?

Do you think it was the right decision for Nick Sanchez and Chase Purdy to return to their respective NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series teams in 2024?

Leffew: Absolutely. Nick Sanchez has had a good year and has shown flashes of greatness. He still needs more experience to improve his race craft, and he is in a great place to do exactly that. Chase Purdy is fortunate to be where he is given his performance with that team. He should count his blessings that it’ll have him back next year, even with his sponsorship assets considered. Getting outrun by Busch as a teammate is acceptable. Getting outrun by Matt Mills as a teammate is another story.

Neff: Depending on what seats are going to be open, there aren’t many options for them. They are with organizations that can win championships, and continuing to gain experience will help them potentially win a title.

Gillispie: Kyle Busch Motorsports needs money and Sanchez is a rookie needing seat time. Checks out.

Stoddard: Sanchez and Purdy are both in the right places for 2024. They have shown flashes of brilliance but still need to show they can win races and contend more consistently before taking a step up. Purdy in particular has been a disappointment, though you could say the same for KBM as a whole, with the exception of the owner’s two race wins. KBM has definitely experienced some growing pains with the transition from Toyota to Chevrolet. Both Purdy and KBM could make a leap forward with some continuity from 2023 to 2024.

Glover: Absolutely. Sanchez has shown flashes of brilliance in his rookie season, capping it off by qualifying for the playoffs. Another with this team should produce wins and could turn him into a title contender. For Purdy, this was a necessary season for him. He’s with one of the most successful teams in the series’ history, and he showed growth at times this season. There is certainly work to be done, especially since the No. 4 team missed the playoffs, but it gives him another year under his belt and this may have been the best ride available for him.

About the author

What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Luken Glover joined the Frontstretch team in 2020 as a contributor, furthering a love for racing that traces back to his earliest memories. Glover inherited his passion for racing from his grandfather, who used to help former NASCAR team owner Junie Donlavey in his Richmond, Va. garage. A 2023 graduate from the University of the Cumberlands, Glover is the author of "The Underdog House," contributes to commentary pieces, and does occasional at-track reporting. Additionally, Glover enjoys working in ministry, coaching basketball, playing sports, and karting.

Steve Leffew joined Frontstretch in 2023, and covers the Xfinity Series. He resides in Wisconsin and has been a NASCAR fan as long as he can remember. He has served honorably in the United States Air Force and works during the week as a Real Estate Lender.

Never at a loss for words, Zach Gillispie is a young, talented marketing professional from North Carolina who talks and writes on the side about his first love: racing! Since joining Frontstretch in 2018, Zach has served in numerous roles where he currently pens the NASCAR 101 column, a weekly piece delving into the basic nuts and bolts of the sport. Additionally, his unabashedly bold takes meshed with that trademarked dry wit of his have made Zach a fan favorite on the weekly Friday Faceoff panel. In his free time, he can be found in the great outdoors, actively involved in his church, cheering on his beloved Atlanta Braves or ruthlessly pestering his colleagues with completely useless statistics about Delma Cowart.

Andrew Stoddard joined Frontstretch in May of 2022 as an iRacing contributor. He is a graduate of Hampden-Sydney College, the University of Richmond, and VCU. He has a new day job as an athletic communications specialist at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va.

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Daytona-520

Getting outrun by Busch as a teammate is acceptable. Getting outrun by Matt Mills as a teammate is another story.

Best quote I’ve heard all year

Echo

It’s possible. But look at Truex and Hamlin’s cars week after week. Gibbs cars have something figured out. Heck, even bubba is driving way over his head.

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