Ford Performance NASCAR: Chris Buescher Looking to Maintain Momentum at Darlington

CHRIS BUESCHER, No. 17 Socios Ford Mustang – HOW GREAT WAS IT TO GET THE POLE LAST WEEKEND FROM A CONFIDENCE PERSPECTIVE?  “For us, we’ve had some good momentum for this season.  We’ve been building up steadily, but probably a little bit slower than what we would like.  That was definitely a bigger step to have that speed off the truck, which is something we feel like we’ve been chasing a little bit.  It’s become very important with such a limited amount of practice and then qualifying has become very important as well with some of these races that have been a surprisingly amount of track position sensitive.  It was definitely a pretty awesome weekend for us.  We didn’t get that win we need to really swing that momentum over, but very good progress nonetheless.  It was a good race for us.  We were mostly clean throughout the day and kept out of some of the chaos.  I wish we could have gotten a few more spots towards the end and also wanted to be racing for a win, but just a few really small tweaks away from being able to do that.”


WHAT HAS THE CHEMISTRY BEEN LIKE WITH YOU AND BRAD?  “It’s been really good.  It’s been really neat to see Brad come in and obviously have a little bit more skin in the game than most of your typical teammates would.  It’s been fun to learn from.  I think a lot of Brad’s experience from his truck team, from his advance manufacturing company that he’s operating, I think a lot of that is coming into play as he’s come over to RFK and applied some of that.  I think it’s been neat to see him and Jack work so well together.  I think they have a ton of similarities the more I’m around them I start to see a lot of each other in both of them, so that’s been neat to see and it’s been working out really well.  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.  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.’”


DO YOU FEEL THE ALL-STAR RACE SHOULD MOVE AROUND OR IS THERE ANYTHING YOU FEEL LIKE TEXAS CAN DO TO MAKE THINGS A LITTLE MORE EXCITING?  “In my opinion, the All-Star Race should move around.  I know that hasn’t been how it has been through the years, and that’s not the history of it, but if you want to call it an All-Star Race, I think you need to give an opportunity to different drivers who have different skill sets for different racetracks.  At some point, it should probably go to a road course.  I don’t think it should go to dirt (laughing), we should keep it to the asphalt roots, but we do enough road racing now that maybe that’s an opportunity in the future.  I don’t think that’s the first place we should be switching it over to.  I think there’s a lot of different racetracks.  We’ve given it a few different shots here.  I got asked this question not too long ago, or something similar, and the first thing that came to mind is if we took the All-Star and went to Phoenix every year, we would be really worried about Kevin Harvick winning every All-Star Race.  That’s probably not the best indication for an All-Star Race if you’re trying to make it exciting and make it about who can get it done for a heads up and nothing on the line race.  Well, it’s still gonna play into strong suits for different drivers, for different teams at different racetracks, so I’m a proponent for moving it around a little bit.  I don’t know that it needs to be every year.  I don’t know if it needs to be every two or three, I don’t have those answers, but I could see it moving around and that being a benefit of keeping it fresh as we keep going through it.  Asking about Texas specifically and what they can do, I don’t know that there’s anything that needs to be done or can be done.  The race can be good there.  It’s a little bit dependent on track conditions.  I know we’ve messed around with PJ1.  We’ve tried to see if we could make that work.  I don’t know with this car how it’s really been received as a good option or not, but I think that’s something we’ve got to keep in mind, that there are small options.  At the end of the day, I just think if we move it around some it will keep it fresh and keep it exciting.”


YOU SAID YOU DON’T TYPICALLY PUT MUCH EMPHASIS ON QUALIFYING.  NOW THAT YOU WON THE POLE AND SCORED STAGE POINTS YOU MIGHT WANT TO RETHINK THAT AND GET MORE AGGRESSIVE RIGHT OUT OF THE BOX?  “To elaborate a little more on that statement, it’s not that we don’t focus on qualifying because it is very important and this weekend showed that.  There are several that have, but I don’t know it’s specifically about sitting on the pole because there have been a lot of weeks through my career that sat on the pole and been like, ‘Man, this is great for one lap, but we’ve got a lot to work on for our race car.’  And then there’s been the opposite.  There have been weeks where we had a really good race car and not worried about the qualifying side of it.  There’s a balance.  Qualifying is very important and very much so until we learn how to make this car less aero dependent from a team standpoint if that’s something we can accomplish, but it is a big part of what we’re racing.  I guess if you’re going to the track to be the fastest, from my point of practice through qualifying and through the race, that does need to be the goal, but I don’t think the emphasis needs to be sitting on a pole every weekend.  We’re gonna give it all we’ve got, but good race cars and everything we can do to win a race and I think we had a good balance of that this week.  We had a really good race car, a really good qualifying car, but know some things now that maybe we would have given up a little bit of qualifying speed for some race speed that we would go back and put in the car at the expense of maybe a few positions for qualifying.”


DO YOU FEEL YOU AND SCOTT GRAVES ARE RECAPTURING THE CHEMISTRY YOU HAD FROM 2015 OR WAS THAT TOO LONG AGO TO COUNT ANYMORE?  “No, it’s worth something.  We’ve been able to get back in the swing of things and both of us have a whole lot more experience now than we did at that point, but a lot of the same characteristics and same nuances with each other are still there – a lot of the same positives are there that we’re able to work around and understand each other quickly.  Neither one of us are, I guess if you’d want to say excitable or high-emotion people, but I think we can communicate very quickly and clearly because of that.  So, I think there’s a certain amount of it that has definitely come into play and it’s starting to click here as we get into the first third of the season.  I think it’s going to continue to get stronger as we all work as an entire team together and as the entire group is getting more comfortable with each other and figuring out what everyone needs and what we can all accomplish together, so there’s something to it and we’re gonna keep building on it to make sure there’s more of it as we keep going.”


WERE YOU A LITTLE EMOTIONAL AFTER GETTING THE POLE LAST WEEKEND?  IF SO, WHY AND WHAT WAS IT LIKE WAITING FOR ALL THE CARS TO MAKE THEIR RUNS?  “There was some pretty awesome emotion from it.  It was definitely a cool feeling.  It’s kind of wild to think, but I haven’t actually had a NASCAR pole across any of the series, unless you go back to the ARCA Series, so it was very neat.  It was cool to go out there and put a lap down.  We were the fourth car in our group to go out and qualify and the fourth car to qualify at all, so we waited around for a really long time and realized right then that our lap was gonna hold up pretty good.  I stayed in the car because I was too nervous to do anything different.  I was like, ‘OK, I put up a good lap.  I’ll stay in the car and we’ll see how the rest of the field goes and, if need be, we can go back to the hauler.’  But I ended up staying in it through both groups and right up to our next lap.  We were the second car to go out for the final round and felt pretty good about the lap.  I had a little bit of a lift over in three and four that I thought might cost us, and I knew we had some fast cars that went and made only one lap and put down really good speed, so there was the thought in our team’s mind that they had fresher tires and they saved something for this round, too.  I don’t know that we were real nervous.  We were watching, paying attention, but didn’t turn the SMT on.  We were sitting there talking about it.  If we had SMT and we were sitting there watching, I don’t know if that would have made the nerves better or worse.  If you’re sitting there and knew that you had him off of two, but they gained into three and see if you can get ‘em off of four.  It was a little easier for us to just watch the monitor up top and see them come across the line and watch the times.  It kind of took that split-second to react once it was all over.  It’s like, ‘We are good, right?  That was it?’  So it was definitely a cool one.  Hopefully, it’s the first of many through the season.  I think we have a lot of good things to build off from the Dover weekend – qualifying related, race related, race car related.  There are a lot of positives from it, so it was definitely special.  It’s cool to get that pole.  It was cool to run well all day.  I wanted to run a little better and I think we had some good ideas on how to balance it out for that single-lap speed versus long-run speed now.”


WHAT’S BEEN THE HARDEST PART FOR YOU OVER THE LAST EIGHT YEARS NOT BEING ABLE TO CONSISTENTLY REMIND PEOPLE WITH YOUR ON-TRACK PERFORMANCE THAT YOU ARE AS GOOD AS YOU ARE?  “I think through my career, my Cup career more specifically, we had a lot of success in ARCA pretty quick and Xfinity pretty quick, and then when the Cup season came around after the championship, it was kind of a wild silly season for us, thinking that I was going to a Cup car at Roush.  Through some downsizing ended up going over to Front Row and getting to drive for them and kind of doing the team alliance program that you see through many teams nowadays.  I was fortunate enough to go over there and have some really good runs with Bob Osborne on top of the box, and got a win at Pocono and actually made the playoffs, which was pretty neat.  I know we did it in an unorthodox way, but it was cool to do that in our first season and kind of do it as an underdog through all that.  We’ve had splashes of really good runs through the last many years and we’ve been close in a lot of races, just trying to find consistency and really find a home base to land and build from.  I think something that sticks out to me is it’s always difficult to go two or three years and make a complete change and try to build that chemistry back up and build that comfort or that confidence in everybody to be able to go have that success.  It’s so hard to do that instantly, so it’s always taken a little bit of time to get that back going and always with a little bit of uncertainty with what next year may bring.  I feel good about where we’re at at RFK right now.  It’s the team that I started my professional career with.  It’s the place where I’ve worked in the shop.  I know most of the people throughout – volunteer over at pit practice over here, so it’s a place that I’ve put in a lot of effort.  I’ve seen a lot of work go into it from everybody.  I’ve seen growth through most of the employees there and I fee like it’s a place I can finish my career at as I always envisioned when I signed up 12 years ago.  It is cool now to have that ability and thought process that this is something we’ve got to build towards a really long term and keep our heads down and get after.  There’s a lot of potential here, a ton of potential, and I think with Brad coming in it’s opened a lot of people’s eyes and made them see some differences.  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, 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 gonna help lead us towards even more success.  I think there’s a ton of possibilities over here right now.  I think that this last weekend was a good splash and a good start, but we’re gonna keep building on it and keep making it better.”


HOW DO YOU FEEL THE NEXT GEN CAR WILL BE AT DARLINGTON, WHERE IT’S ALWAYS DIFFICULT?  “It’s difficult every week.  Darlington has never been accused of being an easy track, so there is that.  I think at the beginning of the year we may have been thinking of Darlington with a little bit more nerves knowing that simple wall impacts were really tweaking toe links and wrecking race cars, and I think we’ve moved past some of those issues.  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.  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.  That’s the difficult part is judging where we’re gonna be there, judging what dirty air is gonna be like.  I think that this car has been significantly better running side-by-side.  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 gonna 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 gonna be tough to overcome.  There are a handful of things that aren’t quite known and that we have some questions on.  I think it’s gonna be a fun race car to drive there.  I think now that the turn two bumps have been smoothed out and repaved and are much better there, I think that’s a good thing for this car as we’ve seen the bumps be a real big trouble area for it, so I think that part of it has been addressed to a point where we won’t be thinking about that as our major concern.  At the end of the day, it’s gonna be like every week.  We’re going into it with a whole lot more questions than we have answers and we’re just gonna go figure it out as we get on track and start making laps.”


ANY PARTICULAR EXPERIENCES OR MEMORIES YOU HAVE WITH MATT KENSETH SINCE YOU’RE RUNNING HIS OLD PAINT SCHEME THIS WEEKEND?  “There’s a handful that weren’t really directly from the Cup racetrack.  When I was running Legends cars at the Summer Shootout we got the opportunity to get Ross (Kenseth) into our other Legends car for the Shootout.  I do remember Matt coming and hanging out with us then before I was really involved with Roush.  Any of that was just through friendship with David Ragan as he was over at Roush at the time, so it was a cool moment for us as a kid just trying to get into the racing world – for him to come out and hang out as a normal person and get to hang out with Ross a little bit.  It poured that weekend, so it was not the most ideal weekends, but fast forward up to 2011 and it was when I was running ARCA.  We were getting ready for Salem race weekend and that’s when I got a call to come run my first Xfinity race at Richmond.  It was very last-second.  Trevor Bayne was the driver and he got sick that weekend, so I got called to sub in.  I got to Richmond, got all of our stuff filled out and went and ran that race and then it was like, ‘Man, this is gonna be tough.  I’ve got to get all the way over to Salem now for our race tomorrow.’  I don’t know if it was Matt offering or if Robbie Reiser was begging, but I did get to take Matt’s plane.  I was the only person on his plane.  It was the first time I had been in any kind of nice, private aircraft like that, and he was really nice enough to get me over to Salem so that I could get some rest and get ready for the race weekend and get after it as we were racing for a championship that year.  Matt was really good to me early on when he probably hardly knew who I was, and then enjoyed being able to have some of those conversations with him during those times.  It’s pretty cool to have his paint scheme on the car.  It’s one of the more iconic paint schemes on board of our 17 Mustang.  It did not go over so well with some of the crew as we’ve had one of our guys say, ‘You know it’s not good when our throwback is a car I used to work on.  That just makes you feel old.’  So, I don’t know if it’s his favorite that we’ve run so far, but it is a really sharp looking race car.  I’m really looking forward to getting it on track with Socios on board and the opportunity that they’ve presented not only us, but us and the 6 car with an opportunity for the fans to vote on their favorite schemes out of a certain handful and this is the one they chose that we get to go out and try to win with.”


CAN YOU SEE ANYTHING THE CHEVROLETS ARE DOING THAT HAS ALLOWED THEM TO WIN MORE TO START THIS SEASON?  “At the end of the day seven out of 11, you can’t chalk it up to just circumstances.  There’s speed there.  It’s definitely something we’re all chasing.  I don’t know that I have the answers for you on what it is.  If I could tell you, we’d probably be working on it right now more aggressively, but I know that we’re working really hard from the Ford camp to put fast race cars on the track.  I think you go back all the way to Daytona and had some awesome speed working together there, and I think we had that potential at Talladega and we got most of our fleet of Fords wiped out by the end the first stage, so we didn’t really have the opportunity to show that.  There’s been a lot of speed there.  We’re all working on it and trying to find it.  If you get an answer from somebody, let us know so we can get after it, but we’ve had some really good Ford Mustangs on track and we’ve had speed.  We’ve got to put it all together.  I know Doug and the entire Roush Yates Engine shop are working really hard to provide us with excellent horsepower that’s been completely reliable, which has been a big part and a big unknown with this car as well as we’ve seen some really big temperature spikes at a lot of these racetracks where we wouldn’t typically.  A lot of work is going into it.  We’re getting after it.  I don’t have a good answer for you yet, but we’re not quitting or we’re not sitting stagnant right now.”

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