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Chris Buescher on Improvements at RFK Racing

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By Dustin Albino

Eight years after claiming the NASCAR Xfinity Series championship, Chris Buescher appears poised to enjoy his best season as a NASCAR Cup Series competitor.

Brad Keselowski’s first year as part of the ownership at RFK Racing was a challenge for the two-car operation. While the 2012 Cup Series champion and his No. 6 team never found their stride, Buescher and his group were only a tick better.

Showing steady improvement as the season progressed, Buescher snapped a 222-race winless streak when he drove the No.17 Ford Mustang to victory at Bristol Motor Speedway. In the end, he tallied a career-high 10 top-10 finishes, with half of those coming on road courses.

This year, both RFK Racing cars have been more competitive on a variety of race tracks, and Buescher is on pace to set new personal bests in several statistical categories.

The 30-year-old racer from Prosper, Texas, recently sat down with Pole Position and addressed a variety of topics, including his new role as a father:

Tell us about your season so far.

It has been a strong year for RFK. I’m proud of our group and the progress we’ve made with both of our race cars. That goes back to everyone at the shop who has worked hard and adapted to all these changes and given us fast race cars at all kinds of different styles of race tracks. We’re not talking about us being good at road courses and superspeedways; we’ve also been able to compete at short tracks and mile-and-a-halves.

There’s a definite readable progress that we’ve all seen. The points show the overall picture, but we look at our finishes week-in and week-out and we’ve been close to contending for a lot of wins. We need a little more, but definite progress.

Are you a numbers guy?

To a certain extent, yes. However, I have a really hard time getting caught up in points. I can always tell you what could have been better for us in a points situation and how it could make our position feel different, but so can everyone else. When you look at our finishes and read over our top-five results and top 10s, that’s more representative of our season because you’re always going to have bad weeks, too. You will have a week or two where you get wiped out and that kills your points position. It’s more about the finishes and what we’re able to accomplish versus that side of things.

I’ll sit here and tell you that we were stronger this year at Sonoma compared to last year. Were we closer to the win last year? We appeared to be, but competitively, I think we were better this year. Cautions didn’t fall perfectly for us, but there is some form of measurement to me that I can pull up and say we were a bigger contender this time around.

What does it feel like to be more consistent this season?

It’s good progress and nice to be in the hunt at many different styles of race tracks. For a lot of years, being in an underdog situation, it’s not a mystery on the RFK side and going through some of our woes and difficult years. It’s hard to overperform on days like that when, as a whole, we’re all trying to find something better. I would have liked to go into race weekends and consistently raise the bar and do it with everyone on the team within the shops. We are with our (No.) 17 team, and it’s awesome for me to be able to say that. I’ve been able to do it everywhere that I’ve been to over the last seven years of my entire Cup career.

Do you like to be labeled as an underdog?

I don’t think we are anymore, and that’s mostly because RFK is strong. Now that we have good equipment, it’s time to keep up with it. I got used to the term growing up ARCA racing, Legends Car racing, whatever. We never showed up with the stacker rigs and we never had the people behind it. We worked hard, scraped by and did everything we could to make sure we showed up with fast race cars and outperformed what was expected of us.

We drove around in ARCA for four years with white race cars and black door numbers with David Ragan Fan Club on the side of it. We worked hard to outperform what was expected. The term doesn’t bother me because I’m used to it, but I don’t think it’s suitable now.

When did you begin seeing an uptick in performance?

I think it was Dover last year when we got the pole and ran well during that race. Sonoma, we ran really well and were in the hunt for the win. Richmond, we were in the hunt. We went to a lot of different styles of race tracks and were competitive. That was the turning point last year.

We got into the playoff stretch and I don’t think we were as competitive after Bristol through the end of the year. But we’ve been able to turn that around at the beginning of this year.

What’s Brad Keselowski like as a team owner?

It’s been neat to see his way, his knowledge and the sense he has around the work he puts into it. To see it all show up in results, that’s always been hard. I’ve been around Roush for a long time, and have seen people work harder, turn more hours and see minute progress through all of that; and it gets frustrating. You always hope that the work and the effort does not come without results.

We’ve been able to see that and it’s a huge part of Brad, his style and some of the people that he’s brought in and changes within the organization.

I’ve seen Jack happier than I’ve seen him in a long time. To see him cutting up and joking with people and laughing, it’s been a lot of fun being around him. A lot of that comes from strong races.

Why has there been instant chemistry with Scott Graves as your crew chief? 

Scott has been on the pit box for a lot of my career and we’ve been able to have a good understanding of each other from the get-go in the Xfinity Series days. We had strong races, won races, won a championship. We went our separate ways for a while, but the crew change we did at the end of 2021, we clicked back in quickly. We thought it was going to click and we could fire off where we left off, or close to it. That’s what led us to being able to run competitively quicker.

During the first half of last year, the No. 17 team was able to find our way a little bit quicker and I think that’s because there was some known chemistry between Scott and I. We both have relationships with people within the RFK organization and I think that goes a long way. It’s hard from Brad’s side of things, because not only was he taking on an ownership role, but having a new crew chief he had never worked with. The only continuity that he had was he was still driving a Ford. That’s difficult and I think that’s a big reason why we were able to get going quicker last year.

Tell us about your new role as a parent?

It’s been a blast. I can’t tell you how fortunate we were to have her (Charley) in the offseason because I had a lot of time and it was the holidays, the family was all around. I got a lot of advice on what in the world I need to try and do here. It’s been a challenge and learning experience every day. It’s been awesome watching her grow up and start developing a little personality.

Sparco sent her a fire suit (in June). It’s Fastenal blue, just in case she decides to go that route. We’ll see how that plays out, but she’s a daredevil already. She loves to fly around the farm on side-by-sides and loves to ride anytime she’s in a vehicle with her hands on the steering wheel. Doesn’t care about toys, just wants her hands on the steering wheel, so I’m in trouble.

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Josh Mull

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