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Among the many storylines that came from Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at the Charlotte Roval is the evolution of a driver who has transformed from afterthought to true contender, especially on road courses.

Chris Buescher finished sixth Sunday at the Roval to complete his fifth straight top-10 finish on a road course. He has six top-10s in his last seven road-course races dating back to the Roval event a year ago when he finished third.

Chris Buescher has not always been a road-course ace in the Cup Series

The shocking part is how bad Buescher was previously on those types of tracks.

Buescher made his first 11 starts at road courses for underdog teams Front Row Motorsports and JTG Daugherty Racing. He finished 11th for JTG Daugherty in the 2017 race at Watkins Glen International in upstate New York but did not reach the top 10 until he took over the No. 17 ride in 2020 for what is now Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing.

He ran fifth at the Daytona International Speedway road course in his first road-course start for RFK Racing. However, the change in teams did not help his long-term performance on tracks that feature left and right turns.

Buescher failed to record a top-10 finish on a road course again until his third-place result in the 2021 event at the Roval, which was only his second top-10 in 20 career road course starts.

Then something changed.

A 21st-place finish at the Circuit of the Americas in the first road-course race of the year is the only time Buescher has finished worse than 10th in that type of race this season. He suddenly ranks second to only Chase Elliott among active drivers with a 12.0 average finishing position on road courses since 2019.

A road-course race also nearly got Buescher into the NASCAR Playoffs when he finished second to Daniel Suarez in June at Sonoma Raceway in northern California.

Buescher eventually won the second race of his career and first since a weather-shortened win in 2016 at Pocono Raceway when he crossed the finish line first in the 2022 night race at Bristol Motor Speedway. However, he had already been eliminated from playoff contention three weeks prior.

He’s had a career-best season in 2022

Chris Buescher during qualifying for the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series YellaWood 500
Chris Buescher | Sean Gardner/Getty Images

He and his No. 17 RFK Racing team may be building toward a strong 2023 campaign, though. Buescher has set career highs with three top-fives and 10 top-10s this year to go with his first career Cup Series pole award in May at Dover Motor Speedway.

He has also been strong at short tracks this season, with a third-place result at Richmond Raceway in the last short-track event before his win at Bristol.

In addition, the overall strength of RFK Racing, at least for the past several years, has been at superspeedways. The last two points-paying wins for the organization before Buescher’s Bristol triumph were in 2017 with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway. Buescher and teammate/owner Brad Keselowski then swept the qualifying duel races during Speedweeks this season at Daytona.

Buescher and RFK Racing struggled mightily until this season


1 Non-Answer to an Important Question Sums up How Easygoing Chris Buescher Is

Success has been a long time coming for Buescher and RFK Racing. Buescher had not finished better than 19th in the points standings in any of the five years after his 2016 Pocono win qualified him for the playoffs that season. He was eliminated in the first round and finished 16th that year but would have been outside the top 20 in points if not for the playoffs.

RFK Racing has also had a difficult last five years. Ryan Newman made the playoffs based on his points total in 2019 and finished 15th, but otherwise, no RFK driver has finished better than 18th in the final points standings.

Keselowski’s decision to take an ownership stake in the organization after the 2021 season has likely helped turn the operation around, as has the Next Gen car model NASCAR debuted this season with the intention of leveling the playing field among all organizations.

It has accomplished that goal, with 19 different winners so far this season. And RFK Racing has been one of the beneficiaries combined with Buescher’s development as a driver, especially on road courses.

Buescher could be a real playoff threat in 2023, with five road-course races on the regular-season schedule again next season. The playoff schedule is much the same for next year, as well, so good runs and potential wins at Bristol in round one and the Roval in round two could place Buescher in the realm of a championship contender, much less just a playoff driver.

The increase of road courses on the Cup Series schedule, the new car, and Buescher’s ability to adapt to both might create a recipe for 2023 when he could easily be the surprise driver of the year.

If nothing else, he should at least be among the favorites anytime the series heads to a road course next season.

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