Chris Buescher Pocono Advance

Chase Buescher, driver of the No. 17 Fastenal Ford Mustang, captured his first NASCAR Cup Series win at Pocono Raceway in 2016. As the series prepares to return to that facility this weekend, Buescher took some time today to answer questions from the media about his expectations.

 

CHRIS BUESCHER, No. 17 Fastenal Ford Mustang – WHAT DO YOU RECALL ABOUT THAT WIN AT POCONO AND THE LONG WAIT UNTIL THE RACE WAS CALLED? “It means a lot going back to Pocono. We’ve got that trophy at home that is a pretty big centerpiece for us. I definitely look back on the day and a win is always a win. It’s always big and important to you, but it was unfortunate that we didn’t get to celebrate properly. Pocono has such a unique victory lane there and weren’t able to celebrate with the team on the frontstretch. It really was a very strange hour-and-a-half waiting it out, seeing pit road completely empty, tool boxes all folded up and covered up, half of the haulers were already out by the time we left victory lane. It was very strange to me, especially looking at the radar. We knew it was over about an hour before it was actually called, so just a long day and definitely made it to where having to take shelter in the alternate victory lane in the garage is definitely a different experience, but still a big win in our rookie season and it put us in the playoffs, which was big for Front Row Motorsports and everybody that year. I had a lot of fun that season. You go back to Pocono and it’s a track that’s just very unique with three different corners and we focus on different things. For us, that’s a big challenge and one of the reasons I like it is it’s kind of like road racing to me. It’s different and it makes you focus on different things. Hopefully, we can be competitive when we get there. We were pretty good last year. I made a mistake and was one of the several that spun off turn four. I didn’t hit anything, but just spun late in the day and it really got us behind, but didn’t need to, so looking to be a little better this go-round.”

 

DO YOU BREATHE A SIGH OF RELIEF IF A PREVIOUS WINNER WINS AGAIN? WHAT’S IT LIKE WITH THE POINTS POSITION YOU’RE IN RIGHT NOW? “I hate points racing. I hate it so bad. I hate to sit there and think about what do we do about our point scenario during a race when you want to figure out how to win it, and want to take that chance. My mindset has always been if you go and have a successful weekend, that’s gonna come with stage points, that’s gonna come with end of race points. It takes care of itself. That being said, we weren’t quite good to capture stage points, so come down to the end of the race and get flustered with one of the cautions and losing a bunch of spots under caution yet again for the third week in a row and get done at the end of the race and kind of upset for other reasons and then you look up and realize that it is a repeat winner. In a way, it does help you get that little bit of a sigh that you’re not in a different kind of hole as we head into these last handful of races. It’s inevitable. We’re gonna have some new winners before we get to the playoffs, we just have to make sure that one or two of them is us.”

 

IF YOU OR BRAD MAKE THE PLAYOFFS WOULD YOU CONSIDER THAT A SUCCESSFUL SEASON NO MATTER WHAT ELSE HAPPENS? “No, not no matter what. I think that we’re in a good spot in points and as of right now would be in the playoffs. That’s one of the goals on the season, but the goals were to win races, make the playoffs and drive through the playoffs. Realizing that we’ve got some work to do to sit here and say that we’ll be lifting a trophy in Phoenix. We’re not quite there yet, but we’re definitely making good progress, but also understanding that we’re not just trying to get there to fill a spot. We need to be competitive to be able to get through it. I feel like when we look at the schedule, there are a lot of really good racetracks for us as an organization once we do get into the playoffs, and even ones that we look at right now heading into them that we should be able to drive into the playoffs and work our way through it, so it’s a long-winded answer, but no, it’s not a ‘if we make the playoffs, check, we’re good’ and everyone is happy with the season. We’ve got to stay working and be able to show something in the playoffs as well.”

 

IS THERE A FEELING IF YOU MAKE THE PLAYOFFS YOU CAN DO SOMETHING IN IT? “Yeah, and that’s kind of what I was alluding to is we’ve got really good racetracks for us in the playoffs and coming up to them as well. I’m of the mindset that if we can keep what we’ve been doing and be solid. Obviously, we wanted to have a checkered flag by now and it surely would help a lot of our situation. We’re just trying to win and getting the points that come with that, then when we get in the playoffs and everything resets, yes, I look at the races that are there and definitely look at good opportunities for us to go win a race in the playoffs as well.”

 

CAN YOU SHINE SOME LIGHT ON HOW THE RELATIONSHIP WITH BRAD HAS GROWN? “Right now, it feels really good because you have a little bit of a warm fuzzy feeling on that side of things, but take away the cut line and everything coming up in the next couple of weeks and kind of take the season as a whole, we have been considerably more competitive this season every week. It doesn’t matter what kind of racetrack we’re at and, to me, that’s been a huge success story for us internally. It’s not completely there yet, but we’re not talking about RFK only at superspeedways. We’re able to go to short tracks. We’re able to go to superspeedways, road courses, our mile-and-a-half cars have come a long way. We’re competitive a lot of different styles of racetracks right now, looking for a little step yet to be even more competitive, but I think a lot of that comes down to the fact that a lot of what Brad’s come over here and really instilled within these walls. It’s been neat to see the people that have been at RFK a decade longer than I have at this point, to see them excited and rejuvenated and really enjoying the progression that we’ve had over the last 18 months as well. So, you take all of that into account we’re on a good upswing. We’re in a good place and I think we owe that to a lot of different things, but Brad has surely been a big part of it coming over. I’ve been really able to lean into him on some of these different styles of racetracks where I needed more help. Some of that is superspeedway racing and a little bit of how we go about it. A lot of it has been Richmond, Phoenix-style racetracks that haven’t been my strongest through the years that I’ve been able to get some direction and kind of refocus what my big effort or big complaints would be through a weekend to try and work on being better there. It’s really come a long way and it’s continuing to get better, but it’s been a really good thing and we’re definitely enjoying it. You can’t slow down now. Everybody has to keep going. Nobody else that we’re racing in this garage is sitting still. Even the ones that are winning aren’t content with where they’re at, so we just have to keep working hard.”

 

ELTON SAWYER SAID NASCAR WOULD BE SENDING OUT A STERN MESSAGE ABOUT LAYING BACK ON RESTARTS. HOW WILL THAT MESSAGE BE RECEIVED BY YOU? “I’m glad to hear that. I haven’t gotten that communication yet and I haven’t heard those rumblings, but it would surely be appreciated. I feel like it’s been such a gray area through the years and it seems like this conversation has come up every year at some point, that somebody is starting laying back more and setting up and dive bombing into turn one and it’s just creating messy restarts and it’s just not the sportsmanship that we’re after, so I would surely appreciate that coming about and getting cleaned up. It’s so frustrating to be getting ready for a restart and looking back and seeing three car lengths behind you knowing that you’re gonna have to figure out how to defend that and it’s going to ultimately not set you up for an opportunity to go forward because you’re gonna be on defense. It seems like we have a pretty decent group of repeat offenders and nothing really seems to come of it, other than we do get this little warning and it’ll get cleaned up for a while and by the end of the season we’ll probably need that talking to again. But, yeah, that surely is appreciated from where I’m sitting.”

 

IRONIC THAT THIS WARNING WILL COME UP GOING INTO POCONO WITH THE RESTARTS THEY HAVE THERE. HOW CHAOTIC ARE THE RESTARTS THERE? DOES IT FEEL LIKE AN ACCOMPLISHMENT WHEN YOU MAKE IT THROUGH TURN ONE? “Yeah, in a way. It’s really not much different from Michigan. Pocono is probably the worst offender for it, but it obviously makes moves and by statistics it looks like Pocono has some of the most movement on restarts, but a lot of it is from what happens in the restart zone or doesn’t happen with cars not closing up, so it’s just such a massive straightaway that it really leads to a lot of chaos down in turn one, which we want passing opportunities and if you get a good run legitimately, you hope to be able to use it. Typically, when somebody is pulling out right at the start-finish line it’s because they lag back and got a jump somewhere else. It is good timing because that is typically a track that it can be the worst and we’d go onto turn one five-wide. Your spotters are all the way down, almost off of turn three. You can’t really get a good visual looking at tail lights and it just makes it tough, so, like I said, we want good racing. We want hard restarts and you want opportunities to find different lanes, you just want it to come about the right way and you want it to come about from good moves or a little bit of drafting by the end of the straightaway.”

 

CAN YOU QUANTIFY FROM WITHIN THE ORGANIZATION OF HOW IT’S A DIFFERENT FEEL OVER THE LAST COUPLE YEARS? “We measure things a lot of the same ways. It’s, have we been a top-10 car by green flag average? Have we executed on pit road? Have we done a good job at picking the right lanes on restarts? We have more data than I can consume week in and week out, but what it does help us do is confirm the progression. There’s obviously the end results, which are a good comparison and is what means the most, but we’ve also had a lot of races too where we’ve been more competitive than we were in year’s past – maybe not always getting the finish, but for the most part finishing much better than where we have as well. So, there’s a very obvious progress report for us that everybody can look at. We have two large boards – one for each team – at our shop that everybody can see at any point. It hangs right over our setup plates, so we’re not trying to hide anything. We’re not trying to sugarcoat anything that we are measuring ourselves and that’s the only way to get better is to understand where we’re at and where we need to go. I would say that within the shop, I’ve been here – not quite consecutively – but 15 years essentially at RFK and have seen this place at some of it’s ultimate highs and I would say it’s ultimate low as well. The upswing and seeing the people that have been here much longer than me, seeing everybody’s attitude and kind of a little extra bounce in their step, seeing the progress, seeing where we’re heading, feeling like things are clicking, it means something to everybody, to the hundreds of people here. It means a lot to me to be here and be working alongside Brad to kind of get that gradual swing and get it back heading in the right direction as well, knowing that it’s been awhile since we’ve had a win anywhere other than superspeedways and being able to get that Bristol win last year was certainly special. For our goals, this season we have high goals and it was to win races, make it into the playoffs, but also drive through the playoffs. We haven’t met those yet and we don’t have a way to say yay or nay on in the playoffs or through them, but we don’t have that checkered flag yet, either. We’ve been close at times, but we have a couple things that just need to be cleaned up. Some of it is execution. Some of it I needed to make better decisions inside the race car. Sometimes we needed faster race cars . We’re all working really hard in this massive team sport to figure it out, but there is an obvious energy in the shop and very much inside into the fact that there has been massive progression in the last 18 months at this point.”

 

WHAT’S THE FEELING LIKE AS A COMPETITOR AND AN ORGANIZATION TO HAVE THAT CHANGE OR THE SENSE THAT YOU GO EVERY WEEK WITH AN EXPECTATION THAT YOU HAVE A CHANCE TO WIN AND SHOULD BE COMPETITIVE? “It’s a huge confidence booster. I used to laugh at some of the momentum talks in our sport early on and now I mock myself for laughing because it’s a real thing and I’ve seen it more than not now. When we’re able to go to a Gateway and be competitive and then we’re able to go to Atlanta and be competitive and go to Sonoma and be competitive, it just helps build. It brings that momentum with us week in and week out knowing that we have a baseline that’s been solid for us, that we can be competitive at all these places, knowing that we won’t be in the hunt to win every week and understanding our sport really likes to kick you a little bit in that sense that our dominant seasons are 75-80 percent losing streak. Knowing that we are capable of taking that momentum week in and week out and knowing that we’re in the hunt, so it’s a momentum builder as much as anything, knowing that we don’t have to get through a race and look six weeks ahead and say, ‘this is the next one we have circled.’ We don’t have anything circled as a specific race anymore. We’re looking at every week as an opportunity for us to, one, win races, or, two, improve on the big progress that we’ve already made on that style of racetrack.”

 

WE NEED TO SEE BETTER OPPORTUNITIES TO PASS ON SHORT TRACKS OTHER THAN RESTARTS. WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR IN THE SHORT TRACK PACKAGE THAT COULD HELP?  WHAT IS MISSING? “I wish I had all of those answers. The obvious one, and I’ll say it just for the fact of saying it, is horsepower would be great. I don’t know if taking shifting out of it helps it or not. I feel like it probably would. Martinsville comes back to mind when you talk about shifting. It recovers any mistake made. You just downshift and drive back away and, in my mind, I feel like that’s where we’ve lost Martinsville in a pretty big way. Loudon this past weekend, I thought the racing was OK. I was able to pass a lot of cars early, but whenever that fourth lane came in, especially when we were in three and four, I’m assuming it was residual PJ1 because it had a tremendous amount of grip. To me, the racing just got ruined at that point. Everybody is fighting for that one lane up at the top and it just made the bottom to where it didn’t even have a chance in a lot of ways, so I know we didn’t apply anything as an industry this go-around at Loudon, so it had to be leftover and we don’t typically run that high, so it’s probably just got up to where there was something left and it just made a ton of grip. That’s not the ultimate answer to our short track package, but I felt like that was what hurt the second half of Loudon. The test that was supposed to be there this week, I think there’s a lot of opportunity for that to show up as progress for our package and unfortunately have to wait two more weeks to see it put in a real world test. I guess after that, I feel like I would have a better answer for you and maybe say that, ‘look, we’re on the right track or this isn’t gonna do it, we’re gonna need something different.’ I would say in two weeks I’ll tell you that hopefully yes this was great, now if you’ll just add 200 horsepower we’ll be even better, but I think that there’s a lot of potential in what’s coming and a lot of optimism that it can help us get a better product for everybody.”

 

DO YOU PAY MORE ATTENTION THE RINGERS WHO HAVE COME IN THIS YEAR AS OPPOSED TO THE PAST? WHAT KIND OF IMPACT ARE THEY MAKING? “I would say before Chicago it wouldn’t have changed much, if anything, knowing that we’ve had very good road course aces come into our sport and be competitive, but not be dominant. Shane coming into Chicago was probably an eye opener for a lot of people. Saying that, we had cars in the field that were very competitive with him still, so it’s not that it’s a complete reset. You took us to our first street race and everybody is trying to get their legs up under them, starting in the rain in this event with no run offs, and then obviously having the weepers over there in 10 and 11 the whole time, a lot of us are sitting here trying to figure out what in the world is going on for the first time still. That being said, they are obviously very talented. This car is more similar than it’s ever been to some other series and it seems like the V8 Supercars are probably one that is closer to anything else, maybe. Maybe somewhat close like a Trans-Am car, if I’m not mistaken there. The independent suspension. The braking. The weight of our cars is obviously way up there as well and I think that we’ve got to pay attention because it is a big (inaudible), but it’s also an opportunity for us to learn as well and we’re gonna keep working hard at it. We’ve been very fast at different style of road races and we’ve been able to outrun some of the ringers coming in at a lot of different styles of racetracks and I would argue that some of that is just our home field advantage at tracks that we’ve been to and know more, and we’re gonna keep after that. RFK as an organization was extremely fast at Indy last year. Neither of us got a checkered flag. We got a couple of fire extinguishers to the face, but it’s a track we’re very strong at and two of our cars had top-three lap times on the day, so we’re looking at those places as good opportunities still, regardless of who is coming in in whose cars.”

 

CAN YOU ADJUST YOUR BRAKING STYLE LIKE SHANE WAS GOING IT? “I’m not gonna try that, no. I’d say that we’ve actually done some Ford-sponsored events that all of the Ford drivers for several years drove Mustang GTs out in Utah and you had to do that. You had to heel-toe-clutch and we all looked like fish out of water. It was ugly. We had brake smoke and guys missing the brake pedal, taking off and blowing through corners. It was a whole other world. Now, granted, none of the pedal assembly is set up quite as nice as real race cars, but it was sloppy when we tried to do that. It’s definitely not something that I’ll be working on from my standpoint. I don’t know their situation, if in the V8 Supercars if they’re required to do that. I know it seems like a lot of guys that come from other series that’s just what they have to do, so they continue to and we don’t have to in our cars. I don’t know, just because it’s different doesn’t mean that was the key. Maybe it was just hard to really lean into a whole lot of data from that race just with some of the issues we had as an industry there to be able to dissect a lot of it, but I’m not about to change what I’m doing in a drastic way like that, but I will surely study and see what we can’t try and tune in while we’re at the racetrack for the weekend.”

 

WHAT DID YOU TAKE AWAY OUT OF WHAT SHANE DID? “I would say I’m not gonna take anything away from what he did. I’m not gonna sit here and say we have to blow it up and change everything we do. He showed up to the racetrack and was extremely competitive and just short of dominating the weekend. It was a very impressive feat, so it’s something that we have to sit here and take note of and study and try and understand maybe, like I said, tweak on a few things. I don’t think it requires just an up-and-over the top change of course. I think a decent amount of it comes from the fact that his experience level was higher in the environment. He was very good. He was very good. Like I said, I don’t want to take anything away from him because we were very impressed with what he was able to do that day, so it’s just about learning from it and seeing if there’s more carry over from that street course to other road courses or if we don’t feel like there will be as much as possible.”

 

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