ELKHART LAKE, WISCONSIN – JULY 03: Chris Buescher, driver of the #17 Fastenal Ford, walks the grid prior to the NASCAR Cup Series Kwik Trip 250 at Road America on July 03, 2022 in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) | Getty Images
When Chris Buescher raced inside the top five and finished runner-up at Sonoma, it surprised many. But taking a deeper dive at Buescher’s stats, he’s always been respectable on road courses, picking up his first Xfinity Series win at Mid-Ohio.
With the strong performance at Sonoma just three weeks ago, Buescher was confident heading into Sunday’s Kwik Trip 250 at Road America. His confidence grew after turning the sixth quickest time in practice. Then, it grew even further after qualifying seventh.
Entering the race 127 points below the cutline, Buescher knows he needs to win one of the final nine races in the regular, including Road America. Because of that, his crew chief Scott Graves elected to not grab stage points in either stage and get track position at the beginning of Stages 2 and 3.
During a caution-free final stage, Buescher raced to fifth, but lost out on a top five when losing a position to Daniel Suarez in the waning laps.
Still, the sixth-place effort is Buescher’s fifth top-10 finish of the season, with his two best efforts coming on road courses.
“[We] had speed off the truck again, but we were looking for a little bit more than what we ended up with. But in the hunt,” Buescher said following the race. “We knew these last couple of positions were going to be the hardest. I’m just proud to say were talking about this and fighting for those last few because we had a little bit of a slow start.
“It’s been nice to see the progression made and have speed in both of our racecars this weekend and running with each other.”
Buescher’s RFK Racing teammate Brad Keselowski finished 33rd and battled mechanical woes after getting into the outside wall in the kink. Prior to that miscue, the No. 6 team was also having a strong run, following up its 10th-place finish at Sonoma.
Clearly, RFK Racing has hit on the setup on road courses, with consecutive strong runs. That gives Buescher hope that he can win one of the remaining two road courses in the regular season — Indianapolis and Watkins Glen — to clinch a playoff berth.
“Those are definitely big,” he said. “We’ll have them circled.”
In May, Buescher completed a Goodyear tire test at Watkins Glen, along with Martin Truex Jr. and William Byron. That was the beginning of finding contending speed on road courses.
“I got to do The Glen test and was really confident,” Buescher added. “We had great speed. The Indy road course, let’s see how that one works out. I don’t know if that one was my favorite last time around, but I still feel like with what we’ve learned we’ll be competitive when we get there.”
At Indy, there’s a chance Buescher will be without Graves as crew chief, as the No. 17 car lost a wheel last weekend at Nashville. However, RFK will file an appeal in hopes of overturning Graves’ four-race suspension.
With Tyler Reddick picking up his first win at Road America, it furthers Buescher’s case of having to win one of the final eight races in the regular season. Though finishing sixth, he lost points to the cutoff, now 143 markers back.
Finding a recent surge, Buescher does believe the team can win a race, while thinking it’s the most competitive field he’s raced against at the Cup level.
“There’s a ton of fast racecars every week everywhere we go,” he stated. “It’s tighter than ever. Cars that are competitive and competing for wins, there’s a lot more of them than we’ve ever had. It makes it that much tougher to get that last little bit.”
The series heads south to Atlanta next weekend, to tackle the reconfigured mile-and-a-half for the second time. In March, the No. 17 car finished seventh.