Race Weekend Central

Up to Speed: Chris Buescher Is on a Familiar Path

Chris Buescher may have been more stunned than anyone Sunday night (May 5) at Kansas Speedway.

He had just climbed out of his No. 17 after a close finish with Kyle Larson.

In fact, close is selling the finish short – Larson edged out Buescher by 0.001 seconds, the closest finish in NASCAR Cup Series history. The official timing and scoring initially indicated that Buescher won, and it was only the photo finish camera at the start/finish line that decided the race in Larson’s favor.

See also
Chris Buescher P1 on the Pylon, P2 on the Photo at Kansas

Even then, Buescher was understandably speechless.

“I haven’t seen a replay other than just a picture,” Buescher said. “I sure can’t see it in that picture. That sucks to be that close. I still can’t see (it).”

“Speed’s good, wins are better,” Buescher added. “Need to be in that situation again. Need some trophies, need some checkered flags and (to) put ourselves in a much better spot.”

No doubt that Buescher is feeling the pressure to win.

With the regular season nearly half over, he is in a tight battle to qualify for the playoffs. Thanks to his second-place run, Buescher now finds himself 11th in overall points and 13th on the playoff grid with two top fives and six top 10s. He is 33 points above the cut line, aided by a win in stage two on Sunday that allowed him to bank his first playoff point of the season. Of course, a victory would have all but guaranteed him a spot in the postseason. Locking up a playoff berth will have to wait for another time.

Yet even without the win, the No. 17 team has a silver lining.

Buescher is following the same path he did to reach the playoffs last year. He officially punched his ticket with a win at Richmond Raceway in August, but even before that, Buscher was right in the thick of the playoff battle. After the 12th race of 2023, also at Kansas, Buescher was 14th on the playoff grid, 47 points above the cut line. He had two top fives and four top 10s. The only thing missing, besides a win, was enough speed to lead laps outside of drafting tracks. Other than 32 laps led in the Daytona 500 and five at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Buescher had only led one lap at the time, which came at Circuit of the Americas.

For most of the summer, the No. 17 continued to chase the speed it needed to win races. Buescher was fast again in the return trip to Atlanta, but Richmond was the clear turning point. He started the afternoon in 26th and drove to the front of the field at a track where passing has become notoriously difficult in the Next Gen car. It took Buescher three quarters of the race to get there, but he took control of the event from that point forward. He even out-dueled Denny Hamlin on a late race restart to secure the win. Buscher was heading back to the playoffs for the first time in 2016.

But there was more to come in the closing weeks of the regular season. A week after his Richmond triumph, Buescher scored another win at Michigan International Speedway, holding off a hard charge from Martin Truex Jr. in the closing laps. Truex was leading the overall points at the time and looked like the championship favorite.

Considering that Buescher had only won two Cup Series races going into 2023, it felt like he took a huge step forward. When the No. 17 team won for a third time at Daytona International Speedway, many wondered if Buescher would be a sleeper in the championship battle. In the end, the team’s momentum cooled off and Buescher was eliminated in the Round of 8, but it was still a fantastic run considering how much RFK Racing struggled in 2022 and the uncertain start to Buscher’s season.

Perhaps the No. 17 team is building toward another summer surge that launches them into the postseason.

See also
Stock Car Scoop: A 0.001-Second Margin of Victory

Just like at the beginning of 2023, Buescher and teammate Brad Keselowski have not busted down the door and established themselves as title contenders, but they have had a few near wins between them during a season where Ford has struggled. Keselowski, the current playoff bubble driver, was very fast in the closing laps at Texas Motor Speedway a few weeks ago, then nearly ended a three-year winless drought at Talladega Superspeedway.

At Kansas, Keselowski did not have quite the same pace as Buescher, but he was once again gaining spots in the final laps and likely would have finished in the top five if the last caution had not shaken up the field. RFK has not been flashy so far in 2024, but the team is getting better.

In Buescher’s case, the biggest hit from narrowly losing at Kansas is the loss of the playoff points. But even in that instance, the situation is not as bad as it seems. The current leaders in playoff points are Hamlin, Larson and William Byron, who have banked 18, 16 and 15 points respectively.

Larson also remains the overall points leader by 29 over Truex. Yet the championship round takes four drivers, and so far, there is not a fourth driver who has piled up playoff points in the way that Hamlin, Larson and Byron have. If Buescher can go on another summer hot streak, he can establish himself as that fourth driver.

As speechless as Buescher may have been on Sunday night, he still made a cogent statement that explains his path forward – “Speed’s good, wins are better.”

He and his team have the experience from last season where a steady uptick in speed yielded a trio of wins. The No. 17 may not have won at Kansas, but Buescher and his team have not strayed off the path that brought them success in 2023. Do not be surprised if the trend continues and Buescher goes back to victory lane.

About the author

Bryan began writing for Frontstretch in 2016. He has penned Up to Speed for the past seven years. A lifelong fan of racing, Bryan is a published author and automotive historian. He is a native of Columbus, Ohio and currently resides in Southern Kentucky.

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