Season in Review: Buescher and No. 17 Team
A Look Back at the 2020 NASCAR Cup Season
CONCORD, N.C., (Nov. 25, 2020) – Rookie campaigns in sports aren’t supposed to be easy. While Chris Buescher — now a 28-year-old, five-year Cup veteran — is no rookie to NASCAR’s top level, the unfamiliarity and uncertainty of 2020 created unforeseen challenges in his first season back with Roush Fenway. Despite it all, he far outshined any of his previous NASCAR seasons statistically.
Buescher returned to the team where, just five years ago, he led the company to its most recent NASCAR Championship by claiming the Xfinity Series title. Many of the personalities from that 2015 season are still in the building at Roush, but there were also new challenges stacked up against the Texas native and his mostly new team in 2020.
Synchronizing with a new crew chief, re-acclimating to a manufacturer after a multi-year hiatus and working with a new teammate are all things drivers in the sport often have to adapt to. But when COVID-19 shut down routines activities that are usually common throughout the year, it changed the entire learning process for Buescher.
“This would’ve been a tough season for anybody, but for us starting very fresh, me coming back over to Roush and getting to know the 17 crew and Luke coming from another organization, there were just a lot of moving pieces that we really depend on our normal weekend schedules to help put all that stuff into place,” Buescher said. “We obviously did not have any of that past the first Phoenix race, so it definitely created a lot of unique challenges that put us behind the 8-ball through a majority of the season, and could really be argued all the way through the end.”
Take the season-opener in Daytona, for example, where Buescher was able to spend as much time in the garage as he wished and finished third in the season’s biggest race. Fast forward to May when NASCAR returned – and every race after – and he was limited to no garage access with all the drivers held in one secluded parking lot right up until time for the green flag.
This was a challenge every driver in the garage was forced to figure out, but the difficulty for the 17 team was exacerbated by the circumstances. On the track, Buescher was coming off a four-year stint with a different team and manufacturer. The last time he ran a Ford, it was a Mustang in his Xfinity Series Championship season finale.
“The way it ended up, every race was basically a practice session for the next one and with that comes the fact that if you don’t hit it right off the truck that first stage comes up quick,” Buescher said. “It was something that there were so many variables going into this season that we had to try and hone in on and get to be more constant, and without practice it was very difficult to do that.”
After a well-documented Daytona 500 that ended in a scary scene for Roush Fenway, Buescher came away with a third-place run – his best finish of 2020. Fast forward back to May, when – at the time – Buescher had finished in top-20 in all four races run. He and the team then put together a strong 10th-place run in NASCAR’s longest race of the year, the Coca-Cola 600.
Following a 13th-place finish in the first Martinsville event – a solid outing for both RFR teams – Buescher headed into Talladega in June poised for another Superspeedway surprise. He left with a sixth-place run, but didn’t stop there. The next weekend at Pocono, in a historic moment for NASCAR with the first-ever Cup Series doubleheader, Buescher ran 10th in the opening race at the same track his lone cup win came at in 2016.
Fast forward again, this time to mid-August, which again brought a historic moment with the NCS visiting the Daytona Road Course for the first time. Buescher, an established road racer, took advantage of the opportunity by powering his Fastenal Ford to a fifth-place run. Over the next seven races the No. 17 team finished in the top-15 or better four times, including three top-10s with finishes of ninth in the Daytona Superspeedway race, eighth in Bristol, and ninth in Las Vegas.
“On paper it was my most competitive season to date in the Cup Series,” Buescher said. “There were some positives in there, but there were two sides to it. The first side is, I expected that; I expected to get better as I gained more experience, I expected our organization to run well. We expect more than what we got. It was a decent season, but we also want a whole lot more and we’re going to work to get a whole lot more.”
The next race – a return trip to Talladega in the NASCAR Playoffs – was again an opportunity hanging in the balance. Buescher led 15 laps that race – more than he led in any prior season in the Cup Series – and won the opening stage. He would initially cross the line for an eighth-place finish, and was bumped up to sixth following a post-race review by NASCAR. But, a second review deemed Buescher as the culprit of a highly-debated yellow line violation, relegating him back to 22nd.
The phrase ‘wrong place, wrong time’ is especially true in NASCAR, and it unfortunately took Buescher out of contention multiple times. Go back to Indianapolis in July, where a rare pit road traffic jam caused severe damage at pit road speed, knocking Buescher’s front-end out of line. Another unlucky incident just three races later put his Fifth Third Bank Ford behind the wall, and it again happened in the penultimate race at Martinsville, when a host of cars nearly came to a halt before the first stage ended, again spoiling Buescher’s day.
“There were several things that bit us that shouldn’t have, so there was some matter of good fortune that did not play our way a lot of times,” Buescher added. “You would hope that just asking for the lack of bad luck every week is all we really wanted there at the end.”
All in all, Buescher doubled his previous career-high in top-10s in a season with eight, and matched his previous career high with two top-fives. With that, despite all the challenges, the outlook is clear for Buescher entering his sophomore season in 2021.
“It was a good season, but we want more, and we’re not satisfied with that until we’re winning races and championships,” he added.