Ford Performance NASCAR: Chris Buescher Atlanta Media Availability

Chris Buescher, driver of the No. 17 Fastenal Ford Mustang for Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing, is coming off a sixth-place finish last week at Road America, his second top-6 finish in the last three races (2nd at Sonoma).  He stopped by the Atlanta Motor Speedway infield media center before qualifying to talk about his recent hot streak and expectations for tomorrow’s scheduled race.


CHRIS BUESCHER, No. 17 Fastenal Ford Mustang – HOW DO YOU FEEL GOING INTO THIS WEEKEND AND HOW WILL DRIVERS APPROACH IT?  “Coming here the first time, I think we all learned a ton, whether that was how wide the racetrack or the groove would go, not necessarily three-wide racing, but we had three pretty distinct grooves that we could move around to and it wasn’t so much an issue of dirty racetrack as much as it was to where we could get the cars to handle.  The bumps were pretty prominent at that time and it was still early on with this race car too.  I think there were a lot of unknowns.  There were a lot of things we’ve learned since on how aggressive we can be with basically ride quality in our race cars and what makes speed, so we’ve tweaked on a lot of that through the year as well, and I think everybody has a better understanding to where it might be a little bit under control as we get out there on the racetrack.  I don’t think that – it seems like this is probably the outlier for right-rear tire issues for a lot of the races this year, so we weren’t in that category, but I think we have some understanding on some of the things that are in the race cars that are being really hard on tires, so I think that should calm down.  I think most of the accidents came from an issue last year, so, anyway, I say all that – all that we’ve talked about to try and figure out how to be better this time around.  Last time, came down here we started the race off and had to make some really big swings at getting the balance right and in the process probably weren’t able to keep maximizing speed with those adjustments just to make it drive well, so we have a much better handle on that now.  I feel good about it.  We’re not gonna go across the finish line backwards this time.  We’re gonna keep going forward.  We’ve already gotten the whole upside-down thing out of the way for the year, so we’ll keep it on the ground – shiny side up – and hopefully just be the first one under the flag.  Lots to figure out.  We learned a lot last time.  We’ll see how with some of the updates and some of the patches how that will affect it here this weekend.  We’ll be watching the Xfinity race and see how that plays out and I guess we’re gonna get a taste of it first in qualifying as the sun comes out here.  We’ll see how that one lap goes and be ready for 400 miles.”


WHAT KIND OF DIVIDENDS DOES IT PROVIDE YOU TO HAVE YOUR CAR OWNER ALSO DRIVING ONE OF THE TEAM CARS?  “That’s a special situation.  Obviously, Brad has more skin in the game than any teammate I’ve ever had as a boss and an owner at the same time, so that’s been really good through the year to see his drive and his passion to continue to help RFK be better.  I think it’s easier from my seat to come in for Monday meetings and be able to sit down and talk about what we struggled with, what we want to be better and to know that an owner is sitting there and was just in that same driver’s seat.  They’re saying the same things and understands it and makes it, I don’t want to say more of a priority because I never felt like there wasn’t a priority to fix things anywhere I’ve been in the past, but I think it just gives them that same feeling and that same push to try and make it better, so it’s been really good.  I learned a lot from Brad this year on many fronts.  To be quite honest, I don’t know how, and I’ve told him this, I don’t understand your time management.  I don’t know how you do all this.  I am spun out trying to do two things at once and he’s got so much going on and making it look easy.  I haven’t quite grasped that concept yet, but it’s been real neat to have him and see all the detail that he dives into and, like I said, the passion to get us better and make this a place where we can win races.  We’re getting close.  We’re making some good progress through the year, probably not near as much as we expected through the off-season.  We thought that would go a little bit better.  I was definitely hopeful it would be better, so we started off maybe a little bit behind where we figured and it’s just taken a little bit of time to get that progression where we need it to be.  We’re not there yet, but we’ve been definitely making some steps in the right direction in the last several months.”


DID THIS TRACK FEEL LIKE A MINI DAYTONA OR A MINI TALLADEGA TO YOU THE FIRST TIME YOU RACED HERE IN THE SPRING?  “It definitely has superspeedway style to some of it.  It’s not Daytona.  It’s definitely not Talladega.  It’s not quite the same, but mentally it’s exhausting because you’re going through the same things, but at the same time this is a little bit more of a physical race.  I think last time we were all gripping the steering wheel so hard because everything was on such an edge like new asphalt typically is.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a mile-and-a-half, where we’re getting big lifts or if it’s a place like this where we’re wide-open or trying to be wide-open, but just being right on the edge of that tire and the grip level makes it to where it can be very tricky to try to make a lap without having a mistake turn into a big accident.  I think that really wore us out more than anyone expected last time.  I think we have a better understanding of that now.  I’m not saying the fact that the asphalt has been here a couple more months is gonna change much of that feeling, but we’re ready for it.  There’s a lot more lifting, a lot more handling that’s going with this – maybe more like some of the Daytona feel that we had when we had very little downforce in the cars – so it’s bringing back some of that to where you’ve really got to focus on doing what you can to get the car to pass.  The one thing I’ve been thinking about is the bottom is a little bit hard to make work as we get into a run.  It seems like other tracks you can get the numbers in the bottom and you can make that work and going back and watching it doesn’t seem like that’s as strong of an opportunity for us at this racetrack at this current time.  I don’t know when that changes, if it does, but right now I’d say the one thing you’ve got to be careful is that you get a big run and you think you can go clear three cars, you’re probably gonna lost four spots, so you’ve got to be careful of that.”


DO YOU EXPECT NEW HAMPSHIRE TO BE SIMILAR TO GATEWAY?  WHAT KIND OF RACE DO YOU SEE THERE?  “I took a week off for Gateway, so I wasn’t there.  That being said, it’s definitely been interesting to see some of the racetracks that have been hard to pass and some of the ones that have been less so, and trying to figure out why exactly that is.  New Hampshire, we’ll definitely be shifting there, but it’s a lot rougher than some of these other racetracks and it’s just got a lot more character.  We’ve got different lanes that have been paved at different times.  There are different grip levels.  There are different banking levels.  The bumps into three are really rough and will continue to be so with this race car.  We have really good brakes in these cars, so I think that opens up the opportunity to get into the corner better.  With the downshifting it was something that we almost felt like we could get away with it the last car, so we’ll definitely be there with this one.  I feel like there’s a lot of things that make me believe that will be a racier track than some of the others.  I’m surely optimistic that it will be.  I think that Loudon is a really neat racetrack.  It’s not been one of my best by the numbers, but I always enjoy going there because it does have a lot of character.  It just lets you do different things from behind the wheel, try different lines, be able to make passes in different areas, whether it’s the apron or three lanes up from there, so I think it’ll be a fun racetrack.  Obviously, a little bit of a home track for our organization with the Fenway Group being close by in Boston, so we’ve got to go up there and put on a good show and be good for them, so I think it’s got a lot of opportunity to be a really good race.  We’ll see if I’m right or wrong.  Don’t call me out if I’m wrong at the end of this, but I’m definitely optimistic heading into it.”


HOW DOES THIS CAR CHANGE THE MENTALITY OF WHEN YOU’RE NOT RUNNING AS WELL AS YOU’D LIKE TO BE?  “We’re all learning together, so it’s not just the teams.  There’s zero practice this weekend.  We’ve been here one time with this car and we have zero practice and we’re supposed to have it all figured out.  And, really, when we’re talking about that time it’s very short, single practice session.  You can’t change much in that timeframe and what you have for the race is what you have.  We start talking about what we’ve been able to work on to get better.  The amount of time we’ve had to do it is absolutely minimal, especially for a place like this and now we go straight into it.  So we’re having to learn during races, which means that you’re having 400 miles of something that you’re almost stuck with.  You’ve got little tweaks during the race, but you’re almost stuck with something for 400 or 500 miles every week and you have to reapply that for the next race – the next race that will be similar to that one.  It’s not our three 45-minute practice sessions that we’ve had in years past, where you’re constantly improving, so it is time-consuming.  It takes a lot more patience from that side of things, but it’s not just our team side of things it’s a lot from the driver’s side as well.  I don’t think any driver out here will tell you that they’ve been in something that has driven very similar to this car at all.  It’s been a complete reset in what we learn and what we’re trying to do.  We’ve seen trends through a lot of SMT data on the driver’s side of what you can do differently maybe in qualifying, what you can get away with there.  Some of the times you think about places where we’re downshifting in the corners a lot, the penalty for overdriving and missing a corner is absolutely minimal.  You downshift, you recover, you go again.  It’s showing up in the race and I think that’s some of the reason it’s been hard to pass at maybe a Martinsville, but it’s showing some speed or potential to gain at different racetracks and at different times ,whether that’s restarts, qualifying, but maybe not necessarily late in a run.  On the driver’s side, it’s taken on a big reboot as well and it’s what can you get away with without really hurting yourself and I think what we’re finding is the penalty for overdriving at certain times just isn’t really there.  It’s just a matter of not going so far to where you’re tearing up equipment.  We’re all figuring it out.  It’s tough because it is hard to go a full race knowing that you’re not where you need to be off the truck for that weekend and knowing that you’re locked in, that you don’t really have the ability to change what you may need to, so you take it and you do the best you can with it, you learn from it and try to be ready to apply it for the next one.  That’s really all we can do right now.”


IS IT FRUSTRATING TO SEE TIMES LIKE TRACKHOUSE AND RCR, TEAMS YOU WERE RACING AROUND LAST YEAR, TO SEE THEM HAVE THE IMPROVEMENT WITH THIS CAR WHERE YOU GUYS MAYBE HAVEN’T HAD AS MUCH?  “No, it’s not frustrating because you’re not wishing ill on anybody else.  You’re just trying to figure out how to be better from our side and, ultimately, what other people have been able to do and how they’ve been able to progress in other teams that has nothing to do with us.  We didn’t do a good enough job to be that team to be talked about, so, like I said, that’s kind of what I was alluding to at the beginning is we did not get to where we thought we would through the off-season, where we believed we would.  It wasn’t due to a lack of work or effort.  We just didn’t get to the right things, so it’s taken us races through the season to get closer and to keep figuring some things out and we’re getting there.  We’ve definitely found some speed in the race cars.  Our road course stuff has made big gains, but that even took COTA for us to figure out.  We went to COTA and were nowhere near where we needed to be and had to come out of there with a lot of notes to figure out how to be better and we took that jump and were immediately night and day better than where we were at that racetrack, so I think that’s what it has taken at a lot of these, most all of these ovals for us is we’ve had to go to the racetrack to learn and to continue to dial all that in.  At the end, no, you’re not frustrated about other peoples’ successes, it’s more how do you make ourselves more successful.  How do we get ourselves into that conversation quicker and I’d say that’s more of it is we’ve just got to keep doing a better job in getting there.”


YOU ARE WITHOUT YOUR CREW CHIEF FOR THE NEXT FOUR RACES.  AS YOU TRY TO MAKE A PLAYOFF PUSH AND GET BETTER, WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES WHEN YOU’RE NOT ALL TOGETHER TO TRY AND DO THAT?  “We’ve got a lot ahead of us.  We’ve got to be careful because people are gonna start calling all of us part-time if we can’t all show up on the same days, but it’s definitely a challenge right now.  We’ve been kicked when we were down a few times here and a lot of it on our own doing, so that’s something we’re still trying to iron out and it’s just hard because we’ve had almost three months of good race cars.  We’ve had good speed.  We’ve had good races.  We’ve had some bad results and without those I don’t know that we’d be in the same position we are right now.  If we could have cleaned some things up.  If we could have had a little better luck.  If we could have gotten away without a penalty.  If we wouldn’t have been upside down at the end of Charlotte, not even the end, you add a lot of things up and it’s dismal in those areas for the finishes, but the speed has been there and the progress has been there and it’s just hard for anybody but us to realize it because we’ve been able to see where we’ve been through races.  We can pull the data.  We can go through everything that we have to figure out and see that the results aren’t there, but we know where we’re at and that’s the part that’s gonna hurt is we know we’ve been competitive enough to make our way there, we’ve just had a lot of different things that have gotten a hold of us.  Yeah, it’s gonna be a challenge as we go through Atlanta.  I have a lot of confidence that our team is gonna get through this really well also.  Travis Peterson is gonna be on the box and has been working with Scott Graves for four years, I believe, since they’ve been at Roush together, so that makes it to where it’s a pretty seamless transaction.  As we’ve gotten to personnel limits at the racetrack, all the teams have basically built up war rooms back home and following other sports in the way that they do that, so Scott’s not on the beach on vacation this weekend, but he’s back at the shop and in a room to help make the weekend go as seamless as possible.  It would have been nice to have practice and try and get used to how that’s gonna go, so we’re gonna go straight to a qualifying session here hopefully, and then right into the race.  On the flip side of that is, being this style of race might make it a touch easier to get that first one out of the way so that we’re ready and can iron out any of the wrinkles in the system to be ready for the next three to where it can go as smooth as humanly possible, having somebody several hundred miles away for the next handful.”


Ronald Fleshman

Ron Fleshman is NASCAR Editor at

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Volume 2022, Issue 7, Posted 7:04 PM, 07.09.2022