How Brad Keselowski's faith in Chris Buescher helped NASCAR driver end 223-race Cup drought
As Chris Buescher exited his No. 17 Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing Ford in victory lane at Bristol Motor Speedway on Saturday, his wide smile teased a story he had waited for so long to tell.
He was a winner, and he had waited for quite some time to prove it.
The Texas native had driven in 223 Cup Series races since the last time he had the honor of accepting a Cup Series winner’s trophy. It came on Aug. 1, 2016, at Pocono Raceway after a Sunday rainout while driving for team owner Bob Jenkins. That day, fog ended a second day of racing 62 laps short of the scheduled 200-lap distance and Buescher was out front when the red flag fell and the race was finally made official.
When told of that unfortunate statistic during post-race interviews, Buescher said he hadn’t counted the races he had lost between wins.
“I don't like that stat one bit. But at least it reset here today,” Buescher said. “We've had some really close ones this year. The progress — and the speed has been there at a lot of places ... there's been a lot of moments through the summer, really through the season, that we could add up and say we've been sneaking up on this (win). So it was nice to put it together.”
That day at Pocono six years ago has been in his mind’s eye from time to time, especially when Buescher raced there. The win at Bristol helped to push it back a bit and take him out of the one-hit wonder category.
“You know, I think about the Pocono win, and that one was special,” Buescher said. “But this has been the one I would take over any other race, whether it's the (Daytona) 500, or the Coke 600 (at Charlotte Motor Speedway). This is the one I've wanted forever. That makes this one that much better.
“Aside from all the numbers and the days passed since the last one, it just means that much more that this was the one that we did pull off.”
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Since July 2021, Buescher has had a third boss to answer to. He’s a fellow driver that Buescher has raced against for many years and now is a teammate. Brad Keselowski, NASCAR’s 2012 Cup Series champion, became a co-owner of Roush Fenway Racing while finishing out his contract with Team Penske Racing. There have been many changes as a result, such as a tightening of procedures in hopes of returning the organization to championship status as it was in the early 2000s with drivers Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch.
Buescher has welcomed Keselowski and feels his presence is a great addition for getting the organization that he’s been with since 2020 back on track.
“I’ve talked about it a lot through different events, different appearances, different sponsor get-togethers,” Buescher said. “I've had a lot of teammates throughout my Cup career that have been passionate and put in a lot of effort, but none like Brad. I think it comes from a level of success that he's had in the series and winning a championship and winning races and coming in having a lot more skin in the game as an owner, as well. It's been really fun. I’ve been able to lean on him at a lot of tracks that have been my weaker places and get a lot better at those places and make some big progress.
“To see his passion and the amount of effort that he puts in each and every weekend, it just drives everybody to put in all the effort we possibly can to get to right here, right, to be sitting here after a race and celebrating.”
When Keselowski bought into the team, one of his first questions was concerning Buesher’s contract status with the organization. He knew the young driver was a diamond in the rough that he wanted to keep. A multi-year deal was immediately put in place.
“I went to a Ford driving school with him somewhere around 2015, and I was blown away by his talent and his feel for the car,” Keselowski said of Buescher. “I just felt like he didn't have the support system around him to be successful with the teams he was with. I kind of felt like he was a hidden free-agent gem that wasn't being scouted properly and felt that way for a handful of years. So yeah, the first thing — it was literally the first thing I did when I signed the papers at RFK.
“The next step after signing my papers was putting an offer in front of him to give him a contract extension. I thought he was somebody we could build around and get results, and today clearly shows that that was the case.”
Scott Graves, crew chief for the RFK Racing No. 17 team, worked with Buescher in the Xfinity Series and is glad to be back with his close friend.
“I think from when I first started working with him, the confidence he has now has grown a lot,” Graves said. “This year, obviously, the car, the confidence and the aggression that he's been able to show has just really been a step up from what I've seen."
The combination of driver, crew chief and driver-owner are promising and may produce huge results in the months and years to come.