NASCAR Cup Series
Chris Buescher Triumphs at Bristol, Playoff Field Trimmed to 12
Sep 18, 2022
Not counting a pair of superspeedway victories with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in 2017, it had been 3,009 days since the Roush Racing brand went to victory lane at a more traditional venue in the NASCAR Cup Series. It had been 1,901 days since its last victory overall.
That most recent non superspeedway victory came at Bristol Motor Speedway in 2014 with Carl Edwards, an accomplishment now matched by Chris Buescher in winning the 2022 Bristol Night Race with what is now christened Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing.
The Keselowski part, of course, carries a tremendous amount of weight in what everyone hopes will come next for the Ford Performance flagship.
Back when Edwards won at Thunder Valley, Roush Fenway Racing was a three-car organization and not that far removed from having four competitive cars or even placing all five in the 2005 Chase for the Championship.
In joining the company as a driver and co-owner over the winter, Brad Keselowski combined forces with Jack Roush and the Fenway Sports Group under lofty ambitions.
"We want to get back to being at least a four-car team," Keselowski said. "That's been our goal all along. Before you can get to a four-car team, you've got to get to a three-car team. Before you can get to a three-car team, you have to be relevant as a two-car team.
To get there, the first order of business for Keselowski upon walking in the door at the Concord, North Carolina campus was making sure Buescher would continue driving the No. 17 now and well into the future.
"I wanted Chris to drive the (Wood Brother No. 21) Cup car about five years ago," Keselowski said. "I thought that highly of him. There were several reasons why that didn't happen, timing and so forth, but I thought it was a natural fit. I thought he was a tremendous talent then …
"I just felt like he didn't have the support structure around him with the teams he was with. So, I felt like he was a hidden gem and felt that way for a handful of years. So, it was literally the first thing I did after signing the papers at RFK, was putting an offer in front of him for an extension, because I thought we could build around him and get results."
In this moment, Keselowski doesn’t totally relish the accomplishment of ending the lengthy Roush Racing drought mostly because he was poised to be the driver to do it until a tire failure while leading on Lap 413 relegated him to a 13th place finish.
"I wanted to be wearing both hats tonight," Keselowski said on multiple occasions.
So, the driver’s emotion is immediately overriding the team owner’s, but Keselowski is aware that a significant benchmark was cleared on Saturday night.
"It's a big moment for Chris and a big moment for our company that we can win races," Keselowski said. "It's so important at this level because you're not relevant unless you're winning races. If you're not relevant, you don't have sponsors, and if you don't have sponsors, you can't go to the race track every week...
"A lot to be proud of even if I didn't get out of this what I wanted as a driver, it was certainly a big night for our company."
Buescher has raced for Roush since 2011 and has seen a lot of turnover and strife within the company during that time. His initial foray into Cup came on loan to Front Row Motorsports, where he won a rain shortened race at Pocono in 2016.
That was a long time ago too -- 223 races over 2,238 days.
"I didn't count them," Buescher said. "I don't like that stat one bit. But at least it reset here today."
Buescher said he was more motivated to break through this year than any before just because they have been in the mix more, and that too is owed to Keselowski. That Keselowski arrived during the transition to the Next Gen car was the perfect entry point for an attempted resuscitation of Roush Racing.
Buescher says Keselowski cleaned up their internal processes.
"I think Brad has come in and been a detail guy," Buescher said. "Really dove into some of the smaller pieces that will add up to bigger pieces.
"We've come in and -- you know, a lot of it's -- the most obvious is esthetics that have been cleaned up and straightened out, and that goes towards pushing a higher work ethic and a better sense of pride in what we're putting on the racetrack.
"We've had really nice race cars at the track each and every week, and that's started from just cleaning up a little bit. As you go along the list and you get some of his knowledge that he's built through the years, I think he's been thinking about this team owner thing for a really long time."
Buescher says Keselowski has rejuvenated Jack Roush too.
"I've seen Jack smiling a whole lot more in the last couple months than I had in a long time, and that's been awesome to see at the same time," Buescher said. "I think it's brought some more excitement back to the shop. I think it's brought some more success back to the shop, as well."
The only drawback, especially in a season that has seen him lead 93 laps across six races, that it didn’t happen a month ago.
"With the speed we've had, I feel like we could have drove through a couple of rounds," Buescher said. "Who knows. We won't know at this point. But it's the only thing that hurts about tonight. Everything else was awesome, and everything else is definitely on the up and up."
Including the stock of Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing.
"It was a really special one," Buescher said. "This is my favorite racetrack. This is the one I wanted to win. I'd take this over a Daytona 500 any day of the week."