It seems strange to say a driver had a career year when they failed to win a race or even post a top-five finish all season, but for Chris Buescher, the 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season opened a big opportunity for the future.
Buescher won a NASCAR Xfinity Series title in 2015 and a Cup race in his rookie season in 2016, but since then he had been relegated to a middle-of-the-pack racer with JTG Daugherty Racing for the 2017 and 2018 seasons.
But in 2019, with the change in rule packages intended to show off driver talent, Buescher had more races where he was in contention for a solid finish.
Buescher has always been more of a threat on the larger tracks, and this trend continued in 2019. All four of his top-10 finishes came at mile-and-a-half racetracks, with his season-best finish of sixth place coming at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The most significant improvement shown by Buescher was his consistency at finishing races on the lead lap. In 20 out of the 36 races, he finished on the lead lap, compared to a previous career high of 14 in 2017.
The season did not start well for Buescher and the No. 37 team, though, getting caught up in the Big One on lap 192 in the season opener at Daytona International Speedway. He bounced back at Atlanta Motor Speedway in week two, however, grabbing his first top 10 of the season despite a poor qualifying effort.
Teams like JTG measure success differently than Joe Gibbs Racing or Team Penske; case in point, Buescher started a string of top-20 finishes in week 12 at Kansas Speedway that lasted 16 weeks. This was the best streak of top 20s in the history of JTG, which has been in the Cup Series for a decade. 2019 marked the first year being associated with Hendrick Motorsports, which helped aid this rise in consistency.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of Buescher’s year came toward its end, when he was announced as the driver of Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 17 for 2020, departing JTG. The move came suddenly and not without some disappointment from JTG ownership.
“We were in the final strokes of the contract when learning that Chris has gone in a different direction,” team co-owner Tad Geschickter said then. “We appreciate all of the efforts from Chris through the past three seasons at JTG Daugherty Racing.”
“This catches you really by surprise this late in the year, especially,” team co-owner Brad Daugherty added on SiriusXM radio. “You’re trying to be as professional as you possibly can about how you handle these situations. I don’t ever blame any athlete if he thinks he’s putting himself in a situation that is going to be better for him and his family, got no problem with that. it’s just for us, it’s always the timing.”
Chris Buescher explained the move by saying, “Recently I was notified by Roush Fenway Racing that they were picking up an option the team had retained for me to drive for RFR again. Jack Roush and John Henry have emphasized that they believe in my ability to compete at a high level in their racecars and that is the expectation”
Remember, Buescher was signed to a development deal by Roush when he was 15 years old, and it retained his rights over the years that he has raced in the Cup Series for Front Row Motorsports and JTG, making the move a possibility at all.
Next year will be an exciting new journey in the NASCAR career for Buescher, and success on the track will silence any critics of him or his team. But one has to expect improvement; otherwise, Roush might be rethinking its decision come season’s end.
36 starts, zero wins, zero top fives, four top 10s
Best finish: sixth (Charlotte)
Point standings: 20th