Buescher, RFK primed to build on the highs from the 2022 NASCAR Cup season

Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images via NASCAR

Buescher, RFK primed to build on the highs from the 2022 NASCAR Cup season

NASCAR

Buescher, RFK primed to build on the highs from the 2022 NASCAR Cup season

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Chris Buescher’s highlight reel so far this season features both ends of the NASCAR Cup Series racing spectrum.

The RFK Racing driver barrel-rolled and landed on his roof at Charlotte Motor Speedway. His car caught fire at the Indianapolis road course, leaving him to deal with poor vision and no airflow in the cockpit, but he came back and finished 10th. Most recently, he earned a season-best result of third at Richmond Raceway after contending for the race win.

There have been other highs, too. Buescher and the No. 17 team were fast on the road courses of Sonoma and Road America, and at Dover, he won the pole and finished eighth.

Headlines are headlines. Buescher believes this season has been about reminding everyone of what he and his team are capable of.

“We’ve won races at RFK,” he said. “We’ve won championships. We’ve been really competitive on the Xfinity side, and on the Cup side, it’s not been where we’ve wanted it, and we’re working hard to get that figured out. There were some glimpses last year, but it was more of a rollercoaster ride from a speed standpoint. I feel like this year, it’s been more of a steady increase in speed and capability and what we’re able to do, and our results have been more of a rollercoaster ride.

“I don’t think that it’s been due to a lack of effort. We’ve had some mistakes that need to be cleaned up. I need to do some things better inside the car. We surely need a little bit of luck to go our way in some scenarios. Add all that up, and I think this has absolutely been a solid improvement of a year versus any of my Cup seasons, so it’s great to see the organization getting better and myself getting back to running up front, basically weekly. We’ve been really close to it.

“There’s a couple of different styles of racetracks that we’re still hunting a little bit of speed, but it’s been a really solid season. It’s been a long time coming. We’re not real patient people and not in a sport where you can afford to be too patient, but we’re getting there now.”

The pole at Dover was the first of Buescher’s career. That weekend, the team started hitting on things that clicked. There is no way Buescher or his team will give away exactly what began to work, and Buescher admits it’s because he doesn’t even know all the secrets.

“Our team has done a good job of finding some consistency,” Buescher said. “Some things, this race car asks for differently than previous generations. I think of it a little bit like when I first came into the Xfinity Series – splitters were on the cars, it was fairly new on that side, but I had never run anything other than ARCA cars with valences. It was a very different feel change. You worked on different things at that point. That was a step from a one to a three.

“Now we’re taking a step from what has been reset as a one with the old car, and we’re going to about a seven. Everything is different on this race car.”

They’re so different that Buescher said that he usually can’t even run the same steering wheel from week to week. That was something he was forced to change to get the right feel at a lot of different racetracks.

“It took us a while to find out what the feel was that I was hunting (for) inside a race car,” Buescher said. “It took a while to figure out what we needed to be taking the time and effort into chasing.

“At that point (we were able) to just hone in on some of the different ideas and setup options that found speed. A lot of things came together, it also shows that when you can find something, it works at a lot of different racetracks.”

With seven top-10 finishes and a dozen races still on the schedule, Buescher has an opportunity to set a new single-season high finish in the category. Eight top-10 finishes from both 2020 and ’21 are the targets. He can do the same with top-five finishes as he has two this season, and a third would set a new mark.

Watkins Glen could be the place he makes it happen. Buescher participated in a tire test there earlier this year and has had this weekend’s race circled on his calendar since. Whatever he felt was learned at the test seems to have transferred over to other tracks, like Richmond, and he can’t wait to get back to the New York road course.

“It just goes to show when you can find something and get it tuned in, it’s going to stick with you, and I believe because of that, we’re going to be able to carry speed and keep fine-tuning it as we go through the year,” said Buescher. “I think that’s also why some teams fired off the season so strong and have been able to keep it all season long – because they figured this out through the offseason or very early on, and it’s sticking with them like we believe it’s been with us the last few months.

“It’s a learning curve for everybody with 15, 20 minutes of practice. It’s hard to figure out what that looks like and what we need to do, but we’re all starting to dial in and get better and figure out what it is that we’re after.”

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