RACING

INSIGHT: Why Keselowski’s building around Buescher

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Brad Keselowski recalls the day Chris Buescher proved his worth as a racing driver. Keselowski, already a NASCAR Cup Series champion, was at a Ford driving school around 2015, where Buescher also attended.

At the time, Buescher was in his second full season in the Xfinity Series for Jack Roush and would win the championship that season. But on that day, Buescher did not know that he was impressing the one who would one day become his future co-owner.

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“I was blown away by his talent and his sense of the car,” Keselowski recalled of that event. “I just felt like he didn’t have the support system around him to be successful with the teams he was with, and so I felt like he was a gem of an agent. hidden free that wasn’t properly spotted and felt that way for a few years.”

Keselowski had such a high opinion of Buescher that he thought it would be a natural fit for him to drive the #21 Wood Brothers Racing car a few years ago. As time shows, this never materialized. Buescher moved to the Cup Series with Front Row Motorsports in 2016, also spent a few years with JTG Daugherty Racing, then returned to the Roush fold taking over the #17 car in 2020.

Then came Keselowski, who signed with Roush to become the organization’s co-owner and driver this season. And in doing so, he finally got the chance to do something with Buescher.

“The first thing – it was literally the first thing I did when I signed the papers at RFK – was the next step after I signed my papers was to offer him a contract extension,” Keselowski said. “I felt like he was someone we could build around and get results from. Today [Saturday] clearly shows that this was the case.

Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway was Buescher’s second Cup Series win and first for new RKF Racing. He led a race-high 169 laps, including the last 61 in which he was chased by series champions Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson, and the equally strong Christopher Bell.

Buescher has been with Roush for a long time. Even when he wasn’t driving a Roush car, he was still under a Roush contract. He calls the organization special and home, and acknowledges that there were many people connected to it who helped give him a shot at professional motor racing.

Buescher (right) is a longtime member of the Roush band. John Harrelson/Motorsport Pictures

One of them would be Robbie Reiser, a former Roush crew chief who helped deliver the organization’s first Cup Series championship in 2003 with Matt Kenseth. Or former Roush driver David Ragan and his father, Ken.

“It’s been really special [place] where I was able to develop and develop my skills and be able to win a lot of races across different series,” Buescher said. “Not as much in the Cup side as we’d like, not even close, and for Brad to come into the role of owner and have that confidence in me at the start meant a lot to me.

“A guy who has won so many races, a championship at the highest level of motorsport in the country, that’s a pretty big pat on the back when we haven’t always had the results to show.

Buescher thinks it shows that people paid attention to how he made the most of a situation and that he always gave 110%.

He finished 21st in his first season driving the No.17 and 19th in the standings last year. His career high was 16th overall in 2016, the year he was the unlikely winner of Pocono Raceway with Front Row when fog and other weather conditions rolled in and ended the race more early.

“I’ve had some very good team-mates over the years in different organizations, at Cup level, but no one has tried as hard as Brad Keselowski, and that probably comes down to the ownership side as well,” he said. Buescher said.

“I don’t know if it would be the same without the side, but I feel like the answer is probably yes. He’s very passionate about it. He puts in the work, time and effort to be successful, and we saw it this year.

“Everyone at the shop has done a fantastic job and adapted really well to the huge changes in the off-season. adopted and followed him in. And we’ve been close sometimes, and they still kinda hurt to miss them.

“I don’t remember who told me, but I was told after (finishing second to) Sonoma, you had to lose a few before you could win them, and so I felt like that we had lost a few this year, which got us to where we were ready to win this one.

Saturday’s win was Keselowski’s first as a Cup Series owner. Lesley Ann Miller/Motorsport Pictures

It seemed almost fitting for Buescher to win at Bristol. He’s a driver who’s been on either end of the highlight reel this season from the good races, the terrible weekends, being upside down after driving at Charlotte Motor Speedway and on fire at Indianapolis, to staying in the car and finish inside the top 10.

Of course he was going to win a race, that was the only thing left to do. And maybe the humor extends to the fact that the rider who’s been through so much did it on a circuit that awards gladiator swords as the prize for victory.

“At this point, nothing was going to surprise me this year,” Buescher said. “I don’t know how I was able to be the test dummy for so much of this. I came back from Indy and my dad was like, hey, you get hazard pay for doing all this? It was awful; you’ve been all dim lights along the way.

“It was a ride. I had a lot more difficulty this year, tore up a lot more equipment than I usually do in my career. It doesn’t suit me because it’s something I’ve been proud of for a long time.

“I’ve worked on a lot of my own race cars and I’ve seen the bills on the cars grow and I’ve seen what my family has sacrificed to do this, and I’ve worked really hard to make sure that I had taken care of Jack’s business over the years.

“This one was difficult. We had a few moments, but we also had the best moments, and that really helped us keep going. There has been progress along the way, even with the toughest ones. Whether it’s driving down a track where you’d never think of a car overturning, not the first one on fire, but the one that put on the biggest show until Harvick overtook me.

“Yeah, it’s been a ride, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. We learned every moment along the way. No, that’s a lie. I’d trade a few. I would probably. But we learned from all of that so we can keep moving forward.

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