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The Changes Just Keep Coming For Cup’s Buescher

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, February 17 2017

New team, new rules, new format; Count Chris Buescher among those in Cup who are not sure what to expect in 2017. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Rusty Jarrett)

Second-year Cup driver Chris Buescher’s personal offseason of change admittedly has been compounded by NASCAR’s sweeping package of rules “enhancements” for the 2017 season.

A radical format featuring three-stage races in all Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series events; a complicated system of awarding points and a revamped route into the playoffs will be rolled out over the next 10 days of SpeedWeeks at Daytona International Speedway.

Still settling into his new home at JTG Daugherty Racing, Buescher hasn’t spent much time pondering the difference between an “enhancement” and a “gimmick” and the sanctioning body’s latest attempt to remain relevant.

“It doesn’t bother me,” Buescher said during a teleconference with Dallas/Fort Worth media on behalf of Texas Motor Speedway. “I’m a little bit old school in a lot of my ideas. But I understand that we’ve got to keep up. You know, there’s shorter attention spans nowadays because people have too many options. They have different ways to tune-in and we have to make sure we come up with ways to keep it exciting.”

To recap, NASCAR Chairman/CEO Brian Z. France and a group of core industry members/stakeholders unveiled the following rules changes last month:

_ Races now will consist of three stages, with championship implications in each stage.

_ The top-10 finishers of the first two stages will be awarded additional championship points; the winner of the first two stages of each race will receive one playoff point, and the race-winner will receive five playoff points. Each playoff point will be added to his or her reset total following race No. 26, if that competitor makes the playoffs.

_ All playoff points will carry through to the end of the third round of the playoffs (Round of 8), with the Championship 4 racing straight-up at Homestead-Miami Speedway for the title.

_ Championship points following the first two stages will be awarded on a descending scale, with the stage winner receiving 10 points, second receiving nine points, and so on.

_ The race-winner following the final stage now will receive 40 points, second-place will receive 35, third-place 34, fourth-place 33, and so on.

Confused, NASCAR Nation? You have joined Buescher on that list. “I am a visual person and I am going to have to see it unfold before I fully grasp what is going on,” said Buescher, the 2015 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion who spent his rookie Cup season with Front Row Motorsports. “The idea of it sounds good. I don’t see where it’s going to change a whole lot for us from the driving side of things. I mean, we always put in 100 percent effort the whole time.

“Is it going to make you think about, you know, letting somebody go early on in a race when you’re coming to a closing stage, whereas before you’d let him go and not think twice about it and plan to get him at the end? I don’t know. What I see is that it should change speedway racing probably the most, and I like the fact that it’s going to reward teams and drivers that have a really good day and get caught up in a mess or have a failure with a green-white-checker at the end and get 38th-place points. I think that’s a protection policy for the people that have really good days and don’t end well.”

Buescher qualified for last year’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup after registering his first career series victory in the rain-shortened race at Pocono Raceway in August. Buescher went on to finish 16th in the point standings after compiling two top-five results with Front Row Motorsports, a satellite Ford Fusion team with Roush Fenway Racing.

Buescher’s offseason has featured a move to JTG Daugherty Racing, where he will drive the No. 37 Chevrolet SS as teammate to A.J. Allmendinger in the No. 47 Chevy. Buescher will compete in all 36 races with sponsorship from Kroger ClickList and Cottonelle Mega Roll via a charter leased from RFR’s No. 16 team, the former home of Greg Biffle.

“When we started in NASCAR, we were on dirt floors and had five employees,” said Tad Geschickter, who co-owns the team with wife Jodi. “We’ve come a long way and we’ve been very blessed. We’ve reached another milestone expanding to a two-car team in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and are grateful to have the opportunity. We’re also fortunate to have so many great brands.”

Buescher and his new team led by crew chief Trent Owens will debut at DIS in the Advance Auto Parts Clash Saturday (8 p.m., EST on FOX Sports 1) and during Daytona 500 Qualifying Sunday (3 p.m., FOX).

Buescher insisted this is not a lateral career move.  “I think this is a great opportunity to be competitive,” Buescher said. “I think that where they left off (with Allmendinger) at the end of last season _ the last half of the year and their affiliation with RCR (Richard Childress Racing) _ there’s a lot to be said about where their performance was and where it can go from there. So I definitely feel this is the way to go out there and have a shot to win races and make it into the playoffs and be a part of the story at the end of the season.”

Buescher said he is especially excited to be working with Allmendinger as fulltime teammate. “Talking to A.J., I hope he feels the same way and I think he does,” Buescher said. “It’s different having teammates through affiliations and having teammates under the same roof. With them going to two teams this season I think it’s going to be really good for us both to have somebody to lean on. There’s an open book between both teams, no egos to get in the way. I mean, it’s everybody working for the greater good of the team so we can go out there and get the job done.

“A.J. is a lot different personality than me _ very outgoing _ whereas I’m definitely a little bit more closer-to-the-hip. But I think that’ll be good for me to lighten-up sometimes. And we all know that A.J. is probably the best road-racer in the series and when we get to those places I look forward to learning a bunch from him then, as well as short tracks and intermediate tracks.”

Addressing the latter layouts, 2017 will see a complete repaving of TMS’ 1.5-mile oval for the first time since 2001. The renovation has added a new layer of asphalt over the existing pavement, an expansive French drainage system along the frontstretch and backstretch, and reduced banking in Turns 1 and 2 by four degrees from 24 to 20 degrees. However, the banking in Turns 3 and 4 will remain at 24 degrees _ a unique “challenge” to crew chiefs and drivers courtesy of TMS President Eddie Gossage.

A 24-year-old native of Prosper, Texas, Buescher began his racing career in Texas Motor Speedway’s Lone Star Legends program. He is among a select group of drivers who has competed on every track on Speedway property, including Lil’ Texas Motor Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway Dirt Track and the infield road-course.

The offseason work at TMS was launched in January following persistent rain that plagued the track’s two major NASCAR and single Verizon IndyCar Series events in 2016.

“I’m really excited about it (the repave/re-banking) because I’ve never run too well at the big track at Texas, so I’m welcoming a change,” Buescher said. “Most of the time I would say that I like the old asphalt and like the places with character and that stands true for Atlanta, Fontana, Texas was still fun. Certain places I love that, but I do realize that for our fans it was the right thing to do to give them the opportunity to see a race that’s not six-hours delayed because of a 10-minute rain shower. We have to stay up with the times and until we learn how to put a roof over our stadiums, we need to keep up.

“I think that’ll be good going to Texas, and with everything different than what it was I hope it’ll be good for us and we’ll be able to fire off with a good platform and put on good racing. I like that they widened-out the corner and took a little banking away. I think top speed is not what makes the racing great. It’s making sure we have room to race. And so taking a little banking away and slowing the corner speeds down is not going to hurt the racing product by any means.”

TMS’ offseason project in Fort Worth was followed by a $178-million modernization announced for 2018 at Phoenix Raceway, which will include moving the start/finish line from the frontstretch to Turn 2.

Enhancement? Gimmick? NASCAR Nation, you make the call.

“I will never think that a track updating and trying to make an experience better for the teams that come in, for the fans that are in the stands _ I will never think that is a negative or a gimmick in any way,” Buescher said.  “When we start talking about points differences and changing things up, yeah, there’s a little confusion there and like I said, it’s something I’m a little old school on. But I do like the fact that we are going to have rewards for having a good season, which is reminiscent of pre-Chase times to me, being able to carry bonus points throughout. So I think a lot of it is coming full-circle and just trying to get it in a more exciting way.

“No, it’s not going to be the easiest thing to follow for anybody at first, but it’s like anything, we’ll get the hang of it. The fans will get the hang of it and it’ll be a good thing.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, February 17 2017
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