Chris Buescher began his NASCAR career as a development driver for Roush Fenway Racing, and when he captured the 2015 XFINITY Series title for the team, he seemed destined to be a building block for the organization for years to come.
However, RFR didn’t have the resources to keep Buescher around, and he ended up in the Cup Series for Front Row Motorsports, a bottom-feeder organization among the full-time teams. He then moved to JTG Daugherty Racing where he has been for the past three seasons, and while he was expected to re-sign with JTG following a career year in 2019, Jack Roush had other plans.
A clause in his original contract with Roush gave the organization a residual option to bring Buescher back, and seemingly out of nowhere, the option was exercised. Now, Buescher is back where he started, and he will pilot the No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing forward beginning in 2020, replacing Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Granted, the RFR organization he returns to has experienced a drop in performance in recent years, but the move will still give Buescher access to the best equipment he has driven at the Cup level. Will that translate to the best season of Buescher’s career at the Cup level? We are about to find out.
Throughout his tenure with JTG Daugherty Racing, Buescher showed the ability to avoid major mistakes, taking what the car would give him and delivering respectable results in mid-level equipment. He was also to make steady progress with the team, and in his three seasons with JTG, he posted average finishes of 21.4, 21.0 and 17.8, respectively.
Although it is a one-year sample size, his driving style appears to be a good fit with the reduced-horsepower package introduced last season. With the new rules making it harder to pass, Buescher’s conservative, mistake-free approach allowed him to hold on to track position and even pick off a few spots when other drivers messed.
He also emerged as an excellent DFS option at the mile-and-a-half ovals in 2019. Buescher posted a 14.3 average finish in the 11 races, cracking the Top 10 four times and gaining an average of 9.5 spots per race. In fact, he gained at least eight spots in eight of the 11 races at 1.5-mile tracks.
While he enjoyed the most consistent year of his Cup career, Buescher didn’t really show a higher ceiling. His four Top 10s tied a career high from 2017, and he failed to log a single Top 5 finish after managing a pair in 2018. His conservative style has its benefits, but even with a slight upgrade in equipment at RFR, there’s no guarantee that Buescher will be able to take a substantial step forward in 2020.
Even in his best Cup season to date, he did show a consistent lack of production at some of the shorter tracks. Buescher finished outside the Top 15 in five of the six races at Bristol, Richmond and Martinsville, and he finished outside the Top 20 in four of those starts. He also failed to crack the Top 20 in either of the races at Dover.
Buescher was one of the biggest surprises last season, emerging as a quality lower-priced DFS option on a regular basis. Heck, he was a borderline must-own driver at a lot of the mile-and-a-half tracks because of all the points he piled up in the place differential category.
The move from JTG Daugherty Racing to Roush Fenway Racing is closer to a lateral move than a significant upgrade, but Ryan Newman made the playoffs for RFR last year, and he and Buescher have a similar approach behind the wheel.
At worst, he should be able to replicate his numbers from last season, staying out of trouble and cracking the Top 20 on a weekly basis while sneaking in some occasional Top 15s. Best-case scenario, Buescher is able to become a regular in the Top 15 while providing a career-high in Top 10s.
I’m expecting Buescher’s 2020 season to be a lot closer to last year than a breakout campaign. Yes, I do think his numbers will improve, but I’d look for a modest jump in his production, and fantasy owners should be careful about overpaying or reaching for Buescher in season-long formats.
For DFS contests, there’s a good chance he will continue to have value as a lower-priced option at the mile-and-a-half tracks, especially for cash games. Of course, pricing will play a role in his value, and Buescher’s value will also fluctuate depending on his starting spot.
Don’t get me wrong. Buescher can be a useful fantasy option, but I don’t expect the move to Roush Fenway Racing to vault him closer towards the upper echelon of fantasy options. His value is going to remain dependent on the track and on the scoring format.