Chris Buescher has found the process of reintegrating into the Roush Fenway Racing family particularly smooth over the offseason.
Alongside crew chief Luke Lambert, who is new to the organization, they’ve been comparing notes and assessing the No. 17 Ford team going into a new season, trying to set realistic goals and looking at their strengths and weaknesses.
Buescher won the 2015 Xfinity Series championship with Roush Fenway, but a lack of space on the NASCAR Cup Series side saw him loaned out to Front Row Motorsports for the 2016 season. For the last three years, Buescher has been competing with JTG Daugherty Racing but, last fall, surprised many with the announcement he was headed back to RFR.
Fortunately, Buescher still knows a lot of the folks in the company. Although he’s been spending a lot of time around the shop this winter trying to build relationships and confidence in everyone. While he and Lambert will be new to the No. 17 team, the core of that group, according to Buescher, is the same as it has been in previous seasons.
In a recent conversation, Lambert told Buescher when he “sat down and went through the people, [he] felt like there were extremely talented individuals and a very solid team that’s here and works well together. And so, we feel that’s going to be really good for us to plug in and build off of them and let them guide us through some of the ways of the company now.”
That’s not to say things within the team are the same as when Buescher left. And that’s a good thing, he says.
“There’s been a lot of change since I left here four years ago,” he notes. “The attitude of people is a big thing. A lot of the culture has just been swayed a good amount trying to create a lot more positivity. Trying to keep two teams working together toward a single common goal. … That’s something that I really noticed has been built in really well through the time that I’ve been gone, and it’s been neat to see.”
Roush Fenway’s director of competition Kevin Kidd has expressed how both Buescher and Ryan Newman fit the company’s mantra of striving for consistency. Newman and the No. 6 team seemed to grow stronger as last season went on and made the playoffs.
Revealing the realistic aims he and Lambert have been discussing, Buescher said doing the same with his 17 team — which was last in the playoffs in 2017 — is the expectation. It will just be a matter of how they get there.
“I do believe we will be able to be very consistent and have good runs along the way and be able to make the playoffs on points,” said Buescher. “I don’t think that will be any issue for us at all. With just a little bit of good fortune along the way, that’s very, very reasonable.”
Of course, the easiest way of making the playoffs is to win. Buescher made the postseason with Front Row in 2016 through a rain-shortened win at Pocono Raceway, but a Roush Fenway driver has been in the playoffs just twice (’17 with Stenhouse; ’19 with Newman) in the last five years. While winning in 2020 might be a reach for Buescher and his team, he feels it’s not an unreasonable prospect.
“Is that realistic? It’s probably not going to be that easy,” admitted Buescher. “It’s something that is going to be tough for us. It is a possibility, and I think that from my viewpoint, standing back over the last year, year and a half, I’ve seen gains [here] that make me believe that is a possibility. Not that it’s going to all of a sudden be contending for that win week in and week out, but progress is a big thing.
“So, once we go out there and start competing for those top 5’s consistently, then get that win, and get one or two more along the way, it makes the playoffs a lot easier.”