Fresh off his first career pole at Dover (Del.) Motor Speedway, RFK Racing’s Chris Buescher comes into this weekend’s Goodyear 400 NASCAR Cup Series race at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway with momentum.
Buescher, who gave RFK Racing their first non-restrictor plate race pole since Carl Edwards at Texas Motor Speedway in 2013, finished eighth after leading 16 laps at the “Monster Mile.”
“We’ve had splashes of really good runs through the last many years and we’ve been close in a lot of races,” Buescher said. “We’re just trying to find consistency and really find a home base to land and build from.”
Consistency has been troublesome for Buescher and the entire RFK Racing stable the past few seasons, with the organization remaining winless since 2017 (Daytona, Ricky Stenhouse Jr.).
However, with Brad Keselowski joining the organization as an owner/driver, Buescher feels the chemistry is growing.
“There’s a lot of potential here, a ton of potential and I think with Brad (Keselowski) coming in has opened a lot of people’s eyes and made them see some differences,” Buescher said. “It’s gotten a lot of people excited. He’s brought an energy that’s been really good and, like I said earlier, he reminds me a ton of Jack (Roush), but he is in every single piece that goes on his race car he’s involved and he’s in it, and I think that’s going to help lead us towards even more success.”
Buescher feels the leadership and experience that Keselowski has, will not only help the organization, but also his performance on track.
“I’ve been able to lean on Brad, I think back to specific cases where tracks that have not been my best through the years — and I go back to Phoenix and a track that Brad has had a lot of success at,” Buescher explained. “I went down there and tested and was able to lean on Brad for a lot of advice and what he’s looking for and what he’s been successful with there at Phoenix in the past and was able to apply that and come home with a 10th-place run there at the beginning of the year. That was just one of the first cases where it was like, ‘Man, this is gonna be really helpful for me.’”
With the NASCAR Cup Series heading to “The Track Too Tough To Tame” with the Next Gen car for the first time, the driver of the No. 17 Ford has less nerves about Darlington than he would’ve at the beginning of the year. Still the unknowns of pushing the envelope at the 1.366-mile egg-shaped track still loom large within the garage.
“What I’m sitting here wondering right now is we’ve seen the composite bodies and the durability of the Xfinity cars kind of make heroes out of some drivers with a lot of aggression that would have paid a pretty big consequence in years past,” Buescher said. “I feel like we’re to a point now with the durability of our cars and with the bodies where they are, I think that there’s probably less penalty for being aggressive at Darlington. The stripe is something we always talk about when we go there, but it recently has cut tires down consistently.
“The body tolerances had gotten so tight that you hit the fence, knock the fender in on the tire and you cut it down and you’re done, or you’re playing catch-up the rest of the day,” Buescher continued. “That’s the difficult part is judging where we’re going to be there, judging what dirty air is going to be like.”
Despite the questions of whether the Next Gen machine can withstand those wall-grating moments throughout the 400-mile race, Buescher mentioned that the car’s stability in traffic will help relieve some pressure.
“I think that this car has been significantly better running side-by-side,” Buescher said. “We have not had the big aero loose moments. I think Dover showed a lot of that on restarts where the bottom does not get that loss of side force and that major penalty coming through one and two and even three and four on restarts. I think that’s going to come into play at Darlington as well, but the car is still very sensitive front to rear and so that aero push when you’re getting in line, that’s going to be tough to overcome.”
Buescher remained even keeled, as he reiterated the fact that he and the No. 17 team are taking this weekend just like any other.
“At the end of the day, it’s gonna be like every week,” Buescher said. “We’re going into it with a whole lot more questions than we have answers and we’re just going to go figure it out as we get on track and start making laps.”