Chris Buescher hasn’t always liked Richmond Raceway. The RFK Racing driver has said some unflattering things about the Virginia short track in the past, but the optimism Buescher suddenly felt about the place after the spring race not only carried over to a third-place finish Sunday, but the No. 17 team had a shot at winning.
“Heck of a run for our Fastenal Mustang group and really proud of our team, everybody back at RFK,” Buescher said. “This has been a racetrack that I’ve wanted to fill with water or put dirt on or something for a long time, and we came here in the spring, had a tremendous run – I’ll say a top-10 run – and not quite the finish we needed, but I was finally optimistic coming back to Richmond.
“After practice yesterday, I don’t know if I would have stayed with that sentiment, but the group did a really good job overnight. [They] found a lot of speed in this Fastenal Ford and put us in contention to win a race. [I] wasn’t quite able to get it, just ate up the rear tires a little bit, had some lapped traffic that just in the way, and couldn’t pick and get by them. The No. 4 car [Kevin Harvick] was really fast there at the end, so even if everything went right, it would have been a heck of a race.”
Buescher came on strong in the final stage of the Federated Auto Parts 400, right as the last round of green flag pit stops approached. As leader Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick came upon lapped traffic, and with Harvick not getting around Logano the easiest, it allowed Buescher to close to under one second of the duo.
On lap 340, Buescher made his final stop as the first of the frontrunners to hit pit road. Harvick and others followed suit a lap later, and when the leaderboard cycled through, Buescher was second to Harvick, while Logano had faded over three seconds back.
Buescher had hoped the one lap pit difference between him and Harvick might make the difference. While it wasn’t a turning point, it put him in the ballpark to run Harvick down.
“Ultimately, it got us close, and we had really good speed,” he said. “We were able to close in on him — just too small of increments. It took a little to ease up to him. We got to him with some lapped traffic, but the same thing that held him up and got us to him basically hurt our run.
“Fell off a little bit hard with rear tires. I think if we were to do it all again, that’s where we’re going to focus on is just try to keep it underneath us, but I think you’ll have a lot of people saying the same thing.”
Buescher caught Harvick with under 40 laps to go and looked at Harvick’s outside off Turn 2 at one point. The lapped traffic that helped Buescher’s cause also hurt it. He had trouble getting around Daniel Suarez and Bubba Wallace, which allowed Harvick to drive away. It was the end of Buescher’s opportunity, and he lost a spot to Christopher Bell before the checkered flag.
“Ultimately, yeah,” he said when asked if lapped traffic treated him fairly. “Everyone is in the way equally at that point. When you’re fighting for the lead, you feel like the whole field is in your way.”
Buescher’s previous best finish at Richmond was 15th. When did he record that result? In the spring.
Next comes Watkins Glen, which the RFK Racing team immediately shifted to after he crossed the finish line. Over the radio, the team congratulated their driver on the run and said there are two more chances to make the Playoffs, something they radioed he’s capable of doing, and has shown that he can get the job done in the Cup Series.
“Honestly, for about three months now, I haven’t been able to wait to get to each and every racetrack. That’s where I feel like the company’s gotten to,” Buescher said of his outlook. “I think that our results haven’t always shown it because we’ve had some freak deals and making highlight reels for all the wrong reasons — we’ve been [upside down], on fire, but we’ve been fast at those events before our misfortunes, so we’ve had a bunch of speed at a ton of different racetracks.
“That being said, yes, the Glen has been circled as a pretty high spot. Road races have been really good to us. The test went really well — the tire test we were able to do a while back — and I think we learned a lot from that that’s probably applied everywhere, but we’re constantly learning still. So is the rest of the field, so we know we’re not going to be able to stroll in there and it be easy, but I think we’re going to have a heck of an opportunity.”