One of the first things Brad Keselowski did before buying Jack Roush’s race team was check the years remaining on the contract for Chris Buescher, the driver he inherited with his purchase.
He was glad to know that Buescher was locked up. But it didn’t last long, in Keselowski’s mind.
“I felt like he was a hidden free agent gem that wasn’t scouted properly and felt that way for a couple of years,” Keselowski said. “The first thing, literally the first thing I did when I signed the papers … was put an offer in front of him to give him a contract extension.
“I thought he was someone we could build around and get results.”
Buescher took the first win for the rebranded RFK Racing last week at Bristol Motor Speedway, and the first win for a Roush car in a points-paying race since Daytona in 2017. Buescher and Keselowski are both won a pair of qualifying races at Daytona in February.
It also marked the first time in this format of the NASCAR playoffs that drivers who were not eligible for the championship swept three first-round races. Now Buescher, a native of Prosper, Texas, is back in his home state hoping to play spoiler again.
The second round of the playoffs opens Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway, where Buescher and Keselowski finished eighth and ninth in May’s exhibition All-Star race. Buescher is thrilled to be a part of such a vibrant racing team.
“I’ve had some very good teammates over the years in various organizations at the Cup level, but no one has put in as much effort as Brad Keselowski,” Buescher said. “He is very passionate about it. He puts in the work and time and effort to make this thing successful, and we’ve seen it this year.
“For Brad to step into that ownership role and have faith in me early on meant a lot to me. That’s a huge pat on the back when we don’t always show the results for it.
TEXAS IS TOO HARD
Texas Motor Speedway has been in the playoff rotation since 2005, and typically makes two annual stops for the Cup Series.
Texas has traded its spring race for the All-Star race the last two seasons, but the All-Star race will be at North Wilkesboro in North Carolina next season and Texas will have just one Cup race for the first time since 2005.
The demise of the speedway can be attributed to a 2017 repaving and reconfiguration in Turns 1 and 2 that reduced the banking from 24 to 20 degrees. Passing has become extremely difficult and NASCAR is looking for solutions to improve the on-track product.
“I don’t like the racetrack and I think they ruined it. Texas, I just don’t enjoy it that much,” said 2020 NASCAR champion Chase Elliott.
The race is concerned for the remaining 12 drivers in the playoff field as the second round has too many variables. Texas has been a tough track for the teams, next up is Talladega Superspeedway and then the field will be cut to four at The Roval at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“To those who don’t know Talladega and Roval, we look at Texas as a place where we can go to the front, try to maximize our points and be in contention for the win,” said Denny Hamlin. “It’s very difficult to pass the All-Star race, so I expect it to be the same in previous years in Texas.
“Qualifying at the front and having a good day on track and on pit road will be key for us to have a shot.”
ODDS AND ENDS
Chase Elliott moved back into the points lead as the playoff field reset for the second round. Austin Cindric ranked last in the 12-driver field. … Christopher Bell is seventh in the standings but the Joe Gibbs Racing driver was the only contender in the first round to score three top-five finishes. He was leading the points before the reset and was the only driver to secure a spot in the second round before Bristol. … Kyle Larson is the FanDuel favorite to win Sunday at Texas.