Meeting new faces is what has consumed Chris Buescher since making the jump to JTG-Daugherty Racing over the offseason.
He better get used to them. Effective this week at Bristol, the former Roush Fenway Racing driver is now part of the JTG family for years to come. Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway, it was announced he would be returning to the organization for a “handful” of years. A one-year rental from RFR had turned into a permanent, long-term opportunity to become a contender on the Cup level.
“I’m happy to continue driving for JTG-Daugherty Racing,” Buescher said in a team release. “I can’t thank Tad, Jodi, Gordon and Brad [team owners] enough for the opportunity to join this team. We built our team from the ground up this season, and I’m really thankful to be able to continue that in 2018 and beyond. We have so many great partners on board, and I’m really looking forward to building upon that.”
Buescher, 24, was in the same rookie class as young sensations Ryan Blaney and Chase Elliott. The Texas native trailed them much of 2016 but snagged his first career victory prior to the other two. He did so at Front Row Motorsports, an underfunded team by most standards in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. A rain-soaked Pocono in August came at the perfect time for him to score an unlikely upset. In fact, the victory qualified him for NASCAR’s 16-driver playoff.
But FRM bowed out in the first round and after the season Buescher found himself courting a better opportunity. Enter JTG-Daugherty Racing, whose operation was expanding after several years of going it alone.
Coming from a multi-car environment himself, Buescher knew it was going to be a learning process for everyone. For the first time ever Tad Geschickter, team owner, was fielding two racecars. AJ Allmendinger, who has been part of the organization since midway through the 2013 season, drives the No. 47 Chevrolet.
Obviously, fielding two racecars is more of a struggle than having just one and has led to many ups and downs inside the Harrisburg, North Carolina shop.
“We were ready, but you can’t be ahead of it,” Buescher told Frontstretch. “It’s something you just have to build into. As we get through this year and into next year, I think it will start getting a little smoother and start showing better results.
“We knew there was going to be some [growing pains]. At the beginning of the season, for as late of a start as we got, we figured it would take eight to 10 races to get into the swing of things, and it did. After that, we’ve had a string of good finishes. Martinsville [Speedway] was really the first good run and we were able to build from there and feel like we’ve made progress as we’ve gone.”
That 11th-place performance at Martinsville raised expectations within the No. 37 Chevrolet early on. Little did they know it take another four months (July at Daytona) to crack the top 10.
It’s arguable to say that the organization has lost a step from what they had built up to in 2016. Allmendinger finished 19th in the championship standings with nine top-10 finishes, a career high for the No. 47 team and the organization. At Martinsville, which is suitable for road racers, he finished a season-best second.
Those results have yet to be replicated. For Buescher, this season started off rough, as he posted finishes of 23rd or worse in the opening five events of the season. Following his 25th-place finish at Auto Club Speedway, the No. 37 team sat 32nd in the championship standings.
Since then, Buescher has been on the upswing, reaching as high as 25th in points. He has top-10 finishes at Daytona International Speedway (10th), Indianapolis Motor Speedway (ninth), and is coming off a season high of sixth at Michigan International Speedway.
He believes that the team, led by veteran crew chief Trent Owens, is going in the right direction.
“Trying to get everything ready at the beginning of the season, it took a lot to get everything in place. Get a new team rolling, get chemistry built up, get cars built up and pieces to keep cars together and not swap from one to another,” Buescher said. “It was a transitional period to where we got to the point where we can work on making our cars faster and not just putting them together now. The last several months have showed more of that, more promise, getting closer to where we want to be. We’re still working on it.”
Buescher began to turn his season around at Richmond International Raceway at the end of April. Since his 17th-place finish, the No. 37 team has gone on a tear of 11 top-20 results in a 15-race stretch.
Getting familiar with new faces has led to some of the turnaround with the race team. It’s all about the environment of the race team for Buescher.
“From my standpoint, coming from a different team and coming to this one for the first time, it’s been a great atmosphere,” he said. “Tad and Jody [Geschickter] and Brad [Daugherty, co-owner], everyone does a great job with creating an atmosphere that everyone wants to work in and can enjoy being here and working hard to try and get better results.”
Over the past few seasons, a number of organizations at the Cup level have either decreased their operations or are no longer part of the sport. Since 2009, Roush Fenway Racing has shrunk to having two full-time machines after having as many as five. Richard Petty Motorsports has slowly shrunk from four cars over the past decade, currently fielding just one with Aric Almirola. Front Row Motorsports tried three cars for a season before going down to two. Before this season, Tommy Baldwin had a full-time outfit since 2011; HScott Motorsports shut down completely.
By going to two full-time teams, JTG Daugherty is pursuing a path outside the norm. With a surplus of sponsorship agreements, it actually forced the management team to hire a new driver.
But money doesn’t always buy success. Since its inception in 2009, JTG Daugherty Racing has just a solo victory coming at Watkins Glen International with Allmendinger at the helm. However, Buescher believes the potential is limitless now that they’re no longer just a one-car operation.
“I think we’re in a good place,” he said. “We have good people in the right places trying to get this operation to be as competitive as possible and to have as much staying power as possible. They’ve been in this a long time and they know what needs to happen. For everybody to be able to expand into this season and look at going forward, trying to make it bigger and better, I think it says a lot about where they have positioned themselves as an organization.”
With Buescher’s extension, its likely that the current driver lineup will be a part of the Chevrolet camp until at least 2020. Sponsorship is also secure over the long-term, making this team one of the most stable on the Cup Series circuit.
Their goal now transitions into trying to be one of the most successful.