Ford Performance – Chris Buescher Las Vegas Playoff Advance

Chris Buescher, driver of the No. 17 Fastenal Ford Mustang, is one of two Ford drivers in the NASCAR Cup Series Round of 8. This is his second playoff appearance and marks the first time he has advanced this far. Buescher spoke about the accomplishment and what lies ahead this weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway when he addressed reporters yesterday.

 

CHRIS BUESCHER, No. 17 Fastenal Ford Mustang – IS THERE ANY ADVICE YOU’VE GOTTEN IN REGARDS TO THIS ROUND VERSUS THE PREVIOUS ONE? “No, nothing really different. I’ve gotten a lot of congratulations and a lot of keep it ups. That’s pretty much been it. I think for us we’ve been in a good spot through every single round that if we can keep that up, we’re gonna be right there at the opportunity to make that final cut. Nothing really new. I think at this point we’ve probably worn out our welcome from a lot of people that would have given advice before now probably aren’t going to at this point as we’ve been able to get this far, so in a lot of ways we’re keeping with the status quo. What we know has gotten us to this point. Again, we’ve been in a good spot through every cut off through to the playoffs thus far and I think we’re very capable of making it into this next one. We certainly have that long shot ability to go to Phoenix and be a contender for this thing.”

 

DO YOU THINK PEOPLE ARE TAKING YOUR TEAM SERIOUSLY FOR THE TITLE NOW? “To your point, it’s hard to think about what others have on their mind, but where I’m at, yeah, we probably made it hard for them not to and I’m proud of that. I’m proud of this organization for that and what we’ve been able to accomplish has been huge. I think we’re realistically contenders to make it to the next round. Are we a favorite to win it? That’s probably a little bit hard to say and I feel like we’ve got some more work to do for us to feel that way, but I certainly feel like we’re capable of making this thing. Given the right circumstances and just a few little tweaks along the way, very capable of making a run in Phoenix. To me, I think we’re not a point where we can be ignored anymore. We’ve made it a long way this season. We’ve outrun a lot of what were considered favorites from the get-go on the year and we’ve done that and outrun them very consistently through the second half of the season and even a little more so, so, to me, like I said I don’t know what everyone else is feeling, but I would say you’re gonna have a hard time finding somebody that’s not aware that we’re in this round and that we have an opportunity to make it to the next one.”

 

DO YOU TAKE STOCK OF THE SEVEN OTHER DRIVERS INVOLVED AND WHERE YOU STACK UP AGAINST THEM? “I haven’t really yet. It’s still more focused on what we can do, what we can control. It’s more of our own game. This is our decisions to me. This is our speed to find. Most of the situations that are ahead of us really just need to be what we can control and what we can do as a group to be fast, to be able to make that next round, win races, whatever that may be and I haven’t really taken that time to step back and look at strong or weak spots for the other teams that are in this final round. Honestly, if you asked me right now I don’t think I could honestly give you the other seven that are in it accurately. I could get most of them, but it’s not to that point where we’re sitting here thinking about the others, at least I’m not at this point and on that note, when you asked about what others are thinking about us at this point in the season and where we’re at, if they’re like us, then they may not be thinking about it at all. I think for our fans, for our sport – on that side of things – that’s certainly a place where we can’t be ignored.”

 

IS THERE A TIME YOU MIGHT LOOK MORE CLOSELY? “Yeah, maybe. Right now it’s a short week getting ready for Vegas, too. It’s all systems go to try and get out the door and get out to the west coast, so maybe that’s some of it. We’ll probably get out of Vegas and get a little bit more of a read on how that weekend went. We’ll look at the two tracks we have ahead of us, figure out where we feel we stand on those and then maybe put it in perspective where the cars that we’re racing, see which ones of those had a good weekend, a bad weekend and what tracks will suit them well going forward. Again, it’s really up to us. It’s up to us to have good days, strong points days for stages, for setting up the win. It’s our battle to win and it’s our battle to lose and worrying about others really isn’t going to change that. You just need to be aware of it.”

 

WHAT WAS YOUR EXPERIENCE IN PAST YEARS OF HOW YOU RACED PLAYOFF DRIVERS WHEN YOU WEREN’T STILL IN IT AND HOW DOES THAT CARRY OVER NOW THAT YOU’RE ONE OF EIGHT LEFT. WHAT ARE YOU EXPECTATIONS OF THOSE NON-PLAYOFF DRIVERS NOW? “My answer has always been, unfortunately, we haven’t been in the playoffs very often and not at this point, which means I’ve had this question on the other side of it. To me, the answer was we don’t pull the other 30 race cars off track when we get down to the Round of 8. We’re all still on track, so I don’t think there’s any scenario where you should expect cars that aren’t in the playoffs to lay over for you. I just don’t think that’s realistic. We weren’t about to do that the last several years and I don’t feel like anybody did that at the Roval for us because we had a yellow spoiler on the car, and you don’t expect it. We’re all still racing the same group of cars every week. We’ll all race the same group of cars in Phoenix. Now, there’s a level of respect that can go with that. Not saying that you have a nose inside by six inches and claiming you have a spot and dive-bombing somebody, really it’s not any different than it should be any week, but it should be taken with a little bit more awareness of who you’re racing around and be realistic to it. We’ve tried to do that and tried to be smart. It’s worked out well for us. I feel like my reputation in our group is pretty well understood that we’re not gonna be that car that’s going to be interfering an excessive amount when the playoffs are on the line and certainly hope that can come around and help us in this scenario. The cliff notes of it is don’t expect anybody to lay over, but you expect to have a level of respect that we’ve earned to get to this point and I just want to have good hard, clean racing through the end of this season.”

 

HOW EASY IS IT AT THIS POINT NOT TO LOOK AHEAD? A MONTH FROM NOW YOU COULD BE THE CHAMPION? AFTER ALL, THESE RACES AREN’T LIKE ANY OTHER RACE.  “They are in the simplest terms, but, you’re right, there’s a lot riding on them. I’ve not been a part of a championship run with a playoff scenario. Both the ARCA and Xfinity championships were a traditional run through the end of the year, which meant that we were able to have strong years, win races, build up a big points gap and get to that final race and really had it pretty easy, knowing that it was mid-teens was all we had to finish. There were no stages at that time. It was a much simpler form – just as hard, but a much simpler form of understanding when you got down to the last couple of races, so, yeah, in that regard I am very new to this. I’ve watched it unfold year over year and we’re glad to be a part of it this go-round. I don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad thing to say it right now, but we’re driving off the hood pin. I’ve talked about that being very bad for a lot of different scenarios through the years and I’ve criticized drivers that I’ve watched run straight into accidents because they were doing it during a race, but what I mean by that is we’re very focused on what’s immediately ahead of us. I have not thought about Phoenix whatsoever at this point. I’ve thought about Vegas and I’ve given a little bit of thought to Homestead, but it’s very much what’s immediately out front of us, how do we make this weekend the best to set us up for the next one because whatever happens this weekend can dictate what needs to happen next. It’s a little different in that sense that you wouldn’t look at that. In 2015 when we raced for the Xfinity championship it was ‘all right, where are we at now and where do we need to be when we get to Homestead.’ So it’s a lot different, but, for us, it’s not changing our approach to the weeks. I understand there’s a lot more on the line, but it’s not changing what we need to accomplish during a race weekend.”

 

WE HAVE A CHANGING OF THE GUARD IN THESE PLAYOFFS. HOW HAVE YOU SEEN THAT CHANGE THE DYNAMIC OF RACING IN GENERAL? “I feel like one of the old guys. I guess Byron will do that to all of us, but I don’t know that it’s changed much from where we’re at. You definitely have drivers that have been here a lot, some of them a little bit older and some of them that are still around in the low 30’s that have been a part of this and have been champions. It’s a little bit different, but in a lot of ways it doesn’t feel very much so. It’s just the same drivers you’re racing with every week. It’s the same people you’re trying to outrun. We talk about seasons and about Byron having six wins this year. He’s one of the youngest in the field. We’re aware of that. We’ve been racing against him all season long. It doesn’t really hit us any differently now that we’re in the end of the season, so there is an experience gap here in who has been here, and I should be on the higher end of that with my age just off of that number, but haven’t been here at this level before, so you kind of watch it unfold and learn along the way as well.”

 

HAS THE NEW CAR HELP BUILD DIVERSITY AMONG THE DRIVERS BECAUSE IT’S NOT JUST THE SAME NAMES WE’VE GOTTEN USED TO THROUGH THE YEARS? “Yeah, it certainly feels like it. The old car, that general chassis race car had been around so long that drivers that had 20 years in our sport had 20 years of experience in that exact platform or were very similar in that platform, so it mattered a lot. They were around in the unlimited testing days. They were around in full practice weekends. They saw a lot more track time than a lot of us younger drivers did. Since I’ve been here it’s been a much more expedited schedule week in and week out, so the new car did hit a big reset on that. It was a completely different platform for all of us to where the amount of experience you had at this level mattered to a certain degree, but as long as you had a couple years to understand the dynamics of it and the racetracks that we’re going to, it was so new that the amount of laps you had at a Las Vegas Motor Speedway didn’t matter as much because the cars were so much different. I think that’s why you’ve seen it even out so much. You’ve seen it even out because organizations were able to catch up. RFK being one of them that was able to make a huge leap to catch up to the rest of the field that we had gotten behind through the years. That created a lot of movement throughout the ranks, so the car itself probably changed a lot of that, aside from the fact that you’ve had a lot of really talented drivers coming up and really talented drivers that have been around a long time retiring at the same time. It was easier for a lot of drivers with less experience to fill those gaps rather quickly.”

 

WAS THERE A MOMENT DURING THE SEASON THAT YOU THOUGHT A DEEP PLAYOFF RUN WAS POSSIBLE? “Last year really. It started last year for us. I was pretty confident where we got to at the end of the season that if we could improve upon where we ended we would have a very good shot at this. It was set as a goal for our entire company at the beginning of the year was to take both of our cars deep into the playoffs. Again, there was certainly an expectation for us. I think that we figured we were capable of this very early on. Our west coast swing was a little rocky to start the season, but it didn’t take but about four, five or maybe six weeks to start finding some momentum and get in a decent place. We got to a point where we were two-and-a-half months into the season and really started feeling like we were in the hunt, so it came up pretty quickly for us this season. It wasn’t always probably apparent to a casual fan, but we measure our weekends so many different ways internally that we could certainly see the progression and the opportunity ahead of us and finally being able to really grab those wins later in the season cemented it for everybody in the industry to see, but I would say very early on we figured we would have this opportunity and it would just be a matter of having a solid season and being smart along the way. This is not coming as a surprise to us whatsoever. We’re thrilled to be here and happy to be halfway there on our goals for the season and our expectations, but we’ve got work to do yet. We’re not done.”

 

WHAT HAS CONTRIBUTED MOST TO THE SUCCESS YOU’VE BEEN ABLE TO PUT TOGETHER? “We don’t have time for that and I probably don’t even have all of the answers. There has been so much that’s changed. We talked a little bit about it with the new car, with Brad coming over and into the ownership side of RFK with all of our ownership group investing and injecting a lot into this thing, realizing that the opportunity was here and to really make a big recovery and make a big splash. There’s countless tools that we have that we haven’t had before, countless people that we’ve been able to get, people that we’ve been able to put in stronger roles for their strengths and really be able to utilize them in better ways. There are dozens of things and I’m not even behind the scenes in enough of it to tell you. If you asked Brad, he could get down into the weeds of it, but I will say that it’s no one thing and all these little things have certainly built up and added to the success, so that we can be having this conversation right here and right now. It’s a lot of different things and a lot of small things and a lot of big things.”

 

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