Team: #34 (Front Row Motorsports)
Top 5s: 1
Top 10s: 2
Best finish: 1st (Pocono, August)
Points finish: 16th
After the 2015 Xfinity Series concluded, questions arose as to whether or not the series champ would move up to the Cup Series. In December, it was official: Chris Buescher would be moving up and joining Front Row Motorsports full-time in the #34 car. Buescher was no stranger to the #34 car, having driven it in David Ragan’s place on a part-time basis in 2015, though some saw the move as surprising, especially as he moved from an Xfinity championship-winning team to a Cup team whose cars finished 31st and 32nd in the 2015 owners’ points and had not won a race since 2013.
Buescher’s season started at the Daytona 500 on a sour note as he was involved in a crash with Matt DiBenedetto. As the season continued, he ran at an expected pace for an FRM car and was around the 33rd–36th positions in the points standings. By the time the Cup Series returned to Pocono in August, he had just three top-20 finishes.
At Pocono, Buescher capitalized on fog to claim his first Cup Series victory. However, he was not in Chase position yet as he trailed Ragan by six points, needing to pass the former FRM driver to enter the top 30 and become eligible for the Chase. Two races later at Bristol, he backed up his win with a 5th-place finish at the short track to crack the top 30, holding on to the position to qualify for his first Chase.
Many did not expect Buescher to make an impact on the Chase due to his equipment. Finishes of 28th, 30th and 23rd easily eliminated him from the Round of 16. As a Chaser, he could not drop further than 16th in points, which was where he remained for the rest of the season.
The Pocono victory. Not many predicted Buescher would win a Cup race in his rookie year, much less before the likes of Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson and Ryan Blaney. Buescher, who was a lap down at one point, returned to the lead lap after gaining the free pass on lap 109. He took the lead on lap 127 and continued to do so until the caution was called for fog and the race was subsequently declared official. The win marked the first for FRM since the 2013 Aaron’s 499 at Talladega when David Ragan and David Gilliland finished 1st and 2nd.
“It’s a tough way to end the race for a lot of people,” Buescher stated. “But it’s a great way for us.”
Albeit a weather-shortened victory based on pit strategy, it placed FRM in a spotlight it had not been under since the 1–2 finish at Talladega. The win was certainly huge for FRM, team owner Bob Jenkins and Buescher as the three qualified for their first Chase together.
The restrictor plate tracks. Buescher struggled on plate tracks in 2016, finishing 39th, 37th, 40th and 22nd. After the aforementioned wreck with DiBenedetto in the Daytona 500 (a wreck he considered “the of the hardest hits of [his] career”), his run at the first Talladega race ended with a wide ride as his car barrel rolled down the backstretch. His car flipped three times before landing and he was uninjured in the accident. His plate woes continued at the Coke Zero 400 when he was collected in the Big One on lap 89 and finished last. Buescher was also a non-factor at the Talladega Chase race.
Buescher often struggled at plate tracks throughout his stock car racing career. In the ARCA Racing Series, despite a 2nd-place finish in 2011, he finished 20th and 30th at Daytona in 2012 and 2013. He also missed the season-opening race at Daytona in the 2014 Nationwide (now Xfinity) Series season.
As of this post, Buescher’s future in the Cup Series remains uncertain. While it is likely that he returns to Front Row for 2017, rumors have arisen about him replacing the exiting Greg Biffle in Roush’s #16 car. Roush has no plans of expanding to four cars due to a lack of sponsorship.
Other reports say he will be switching manufacturers to Chevrolet and joining JTG Daugherty Racing in a second car, partnering A. J. Allmendinger. The second car would receive a charter from the #16 car in the deal. Despite the rumors, JTG owner Tad Geschickter stated there have been no plans for expansion yet.
Featured image courtesy of Joseph Ressler, The Morning Call