Chris Buescher, driver of the No. 17 Fastenal Ford Mustang, is coming off a 10th-place finish last weekend at Phoenix Raceway. As the series heads to Atlanta this weekend for the first race on a freshly repaved Atlanta Motor Speedway, Buescher took questions from the media and discussed expectations.
CHRIS BUESCHER, No. 17 Fastenal Ford Ford Mustang – ATLANTA MADE SOME CHANGES TO THE WALL AFTER THE TIRE TEST. WHAT DID YOU SEE AND HOW DOES MOVING THAT WALL CHANGE THINGS? “I will say that it won’t affect our racing or on-track line or activity there. It’s really not even taking away usable racing space for us. It’s just rounding out the dogleg or the tri-oval or whatever you want to call it. Sitting there looking at it after the repave and adding in all the extra asphalt, I think all the drivers were seeing it as a high potential angle for impact, so just trying to smooth that out. SMI and NASCAR were all very open and listening to everybody talk about it and went to work to try and smooth that out for everybody. I think at the end of the day it should be safer. That’s not really for me to determine, but that being said I think it’s not going to affect our on-track line or the space we really have. It’s pretty much either filling in the gap for all the marbles and dust would collect and you would never really get to anyway.”
YOU’VE TESTED THERE. DO YOU KNOW WHAT TO EXPECT OR ARE YOU AS CLUELESS AS EVERYBODY ELSE? “Yep, I’m right in line with everybody else. It was superspeedway-like with three cars. We were able to be wide-open and stay pretty tight. Handling was in play very quickly. Like any new paved racetrack, tires are very much on edge, so I think you’ll be really trying to be aware of that and be ready for that. And then I think we’ve also seen the pack speed at Daytona with these cars and how fast it got over single-car runs. We had three cars, but I think once you get a bigger group out there the speeds will go up even more, so I think it will start forcing you to lift a lot more. I don’t expect it to be a Daytona or a Talladega, but it may be closer to that than some of our older mile-and-a-halves.”
CAN YOU GAUGE IF TIRE FALL OFF WILL BE A FACTOR IN THIS RACE OR IS IT TOO HARD TO TELL?
“I think the goal has been to try and find some fall off everywhere we’ve gone, and I think Goodyear has done a really good job of that at a lot of places. With new asphalt at Atlanta and speeds as high as they are and loads as high as they are, I don’t know what kind of box that puts them in. I would say that we ran through a bunch of different compounds, but I don’t know that we a good read on what we’d expect for fall off or where the grip would go. I would say that bigger thing that came up across the three drivers that were there was not so much sliding tires as much as chattering. New asphalt, when it gives up, it goes to a chatter more than a slide and just trying to hang on. I’m not sure what to expect there exactly. I don’t know how this one will react and I don’t think that I have all the information from the test or if we actually did long enough runs on certain compounds or the compound that we’re gonna actually run to be able to get a good answer for you on that one.”
HOW HAS THE SEASON GONE IN TERMS OF EXPECTATIONS FOR RFK? “I would say that expectations were probably a little higher for everybody. That being said, we’ve had some really good high spots along the way and we’ve had some misses as well. The Clash was a miss for us and, unfortunately, with that weekend schedule being so far from home there wasn’t really anything we could do about what we had at that time. We have a really good idea of what we did wrong and did differently going back to Phoenix, which obviously isn’t the same racetrack by any means, but it was a really good day for us and really turned around the feeling of disappointment from the Clash for us. Daytona was really good to be able to win the Duels, have a shot to win the 500 – no doubt in our minds there. So we had some highs there. Fontana, we saw everybody going through growing pains out there. There were more spins and more cautions than everybody probably expected and with that we were steadily getting better before we cut a left-rear down, so I would take that one as a pretty decent day for us – not quite as good as we had hoped, but a pretty decent day there. Vegas wasn’t real good, so that was one we underachieved on and expected more, and then Phoenix, to be pretty blunt about it, has probably been my worst track for years now. To be able to go there and not fire off in practice near like we wanted, got better for qualifying, started improving each stage and was able to have a solid top 15 race car and then be able to have some good strategy at the end and sneak a few more spots to grab a top 10 was a small victory in my eyes for Phoenix. So that was a pretty big plus. Even though it’s not what we wanted, we’re not content at that point, but it was a large step in the right direction. There’s been some really good. There’s been some really bad. There’s been a lot that’s just OK or been pretty decent. We just have to get more. We want to be more consistent with it. This car is tough. We’re all just all learning every time we go to the racetrack and we have a lot of different racetrack styles coming up here. We have already, so we’re gonna really touch on all of them right from the get-go and we’ll be making a notebook and hopefully by the second half of the season we’ll be able to erase all those lows and create a much more constant line in the high.”
HOW CRITICAL IS THE FRIDAY PRACTICE? “I would say we’re still in the same storyline of not having quite enough parts to be able to go out there and be 100 percent aggressive, but we do have to learn. We need to get out there and get some group runs in. I would expect that you’ll see teams try and control their groups, stay with cars they know and trust. I think that will be our initial plan. If we feel like we need to get in a bigger group, we will. I don’t know if that will be the case. I will say that even though the Truck and Xfinity races are much different now from us, we will be paying very close attention to those races to watch how it plays out, what the track trends towards, if it will get to three-wide. If it does, it will be a very narrow three-wide. Obviously, the side force or the lack thereof in these cars is pretty much overcome by the diffuser, so I feel like we are able to race side-by-side better than especially the Trucks. So, we’ll kind of take everything with a grain of salt along the way, but we’ll be paying a lot of attention to every session that’s on track, not just that Friday session for us, weather permitting. It’s gonna be an interesting weekend. I don’t think anybody knows what to expect right now and so that’s the tough part. We’re all winging it. We’re all trying to figure out how to get all the information we can without tearing up race cars ahead of the race. Once we get into it, I’m sure the aggression level goes up and we’ll inevitably have some exciting moments through the race, but we’ve got to get to the race first.”
WHAT KIND OF SPEEDS ARE YOU EXPECTING AND WHAT DID YOU SEE IN YOUR TEST SESSION? “I do not know that. They don’t give us speedometers and it’s probably a good thing. I know we can rework math and get that, but I tell you, that big digital speedometer on the entry to turn one at Fontana is a terrible idea. I hate that thing, so I’d much rather not know – the whole ignorance is bliss thing, we’ll stick with that for now. I’d say it’s gonna be fast. It’s gonna be if not wide-open, very close to it. There’s gonna be drafting and there’s gonna be handling and moving around, but it will be quick just like Atlanta always has been. It’ll be interesting to see how it all plays out and figure out where it goes, but I guess the short answer to all of that is no. I don’t have an idea on the miles per hour right now.”
HOW WILL THE RACE AT ATLANTA COMPARE TO DAYTONA OR TALLADEGA WITH THE TRACK BEING A MILE SMALLER THAN THOSE TWO? “That’s a fair question. We don’t have that extra half-mile at the end of the straightaway or quarter-mile to do something with that run, so it will be a little bit tougher. More than likely, the racetrack is gonna be pretty narrow. In reconfiguring it and adding the banking it narrowed up the racing surface at the same time, so I don’t know how much room there really is to take a run, where you can go with it. We’ve talked about in the past that Daytona is not real easy to be three-wide and, to be honest, we didn’t do a whole lot of three-wide racing at the 500. We always know that Talladega lends itself to a lot better than that and I’m sure we’ll see that once we get there, but even Daytona we weren’t that aggressive on three-wide. I think some of that was just the newness of it for everybody, but it is narrow and Atlanta is gonna be worse yet. The frontstretch is very flat there, so I think that even in the test with just a few cars losing the nose is a lot easier or worse. I guess it is a worse condition, but losing the nose makes it tough to stay in line tight, so if you’re two-wide through there, losing the nose and sliding up to that outside lane you’re gonna have to lift or drag some brake, which is gonna hurt your line. I think you’ll probably see a lot more comers and goers and a lot more movement initially until we figure out what to do with it, but it is tight. Even to be on a speedway package and wide-open around Atlanta while we were there with just those three cars, it’s a significantly tighter radius than the other superspeedways, which we know, but you felt it on track pretty quick, so it’s gonna be a lot different in certain ways. It’s gonna be very similar in others, but it’s gonna be a fun one. We have a lot to learn. That’s what I know for sure.”
WHAT WAS YOUR MOST IMPORTANT TAKEAWAY FROM COTA LAST YEAR WHEN YOU WERE OUT THERE IN THE DRY? “I was getting ready to say Rain-X. That was the biggest thing, but I don’t know yet. We did not spend very much time on the dry at all. Our qualifying was in the dry and at that point we had brake problems that surfaced from the rain in practice, so we did not get any really good, hard dry laps, unfortunately. I did go there and run some Mustangs ahead of COTA last year and got to go around with some instructors and learn a little bit about the track, so I think that will probably be more applicable than our Cup race was last year. I think this car is going to lend itself really well to road racing. The sequential shifting is gonna be fun. It’s not gonna be that much of a game-changer. The old four-speed had gotten very good, very efficient for what they were, but it’ll be fun to have an extra gear, have another option just like we’ve seen at Phoenix with a ton of cars shifting there and some shifting on both ends. It’s giving us some options there. The brake package in this car is very large, very good. You’re gonna be able to get in the corner a whole lot deeper with the rear suspension, without the truck arms underneath them. Wheel hop is less of an issue. I would expect it will start surfacing as people get more comfortable getting more rear brake in them, but it is less pronounced and a little bit more controllable. I think obviously the composite bodies lend themselves to not pushing metal in on a tire and cutting a tire down. I don’t think that I’ve seen any side-by-side contact cutting a tire down yet and having an issue just from that. I may be wrong in seeing it and obviously I don’t have the best vantage point during the races to see the whole field, but I think that’s not been too much of an issue or any of an issue, which I thought might have been a little bit more so. I think we’ll be able to have a little bit more close quarters racing and with that I don’t think the brake fade, going back to the brakes being bigger, being more efficient, I don’t think brake fade is gonna be near the issue that we’ve struggled with with the outdated technology that we were working around for the last 70 years.”
WE DON’T HAVE OFFICIAL WORD YET ON THE DOUBLE YELLOW LINE, BUT THERE HAS BEEN SOME TALK THEY SHOULD DO IT ON JUST THE FRONTSTRETCH OR ALL THE WAY AROUND. DO YOU HAVE A PREFERENCE AND DO YOU THINK IT’S NEEDED? “Waiting to hear the official word as well. I think that from the test, what I’ll say from the test, is with the way the frontstretch was paved and all the extra asphalt was added, the transitions didn’t match up to the previous racing surface or the current racing surface, and it left some very rough areas, some big dips. Basically, it’s stuff that would be flat-out dangerous at the end of the day, so I think that the frontstretch needs something. We need to have some kind of boundaries and at the same time we’ve been talking about the racing surface being maybe wide enough for three-wide and the frontstretch being wide enough for six, and where in the world are you gonna go if you realistically get four-wide on the frontstretch, which is very doable if you use it all – where do you go from there? Somebody is gonna have to give, and if it’s not the right car or truck and they end up having to enter the corner on the apron, you’re setting yourself up for disaster. That’s not what we’re trying to do. We’re not trying to create a demolition derby, so I would say there needs to be some kind of boundary for it. If the racing surface was six lanes wide once we got to turn one, then have it. Smooth out some of the transition stuff. Smooth out some bumps and say go for it, but when you funnel it down to that narrow of a racing line, you just can’t expect everybody to give that up every time. We’re all gonna be hard-headed and we’re gonna try to stay in it and that just won’t create good racing. It’ll create a spectacle for wrong reasons.”
IT SOUNDS LIKE THERE WILL BE A CHOOSE RULE FOR THIS RACE. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THAT IF THEY OFFICIALLY MAKE THAT A RULE THIS WEEKEND? “I like the choose. I loved it when the idea came up. I grew up racing in the Summer Shootout in Legends cars choosing. Obviously, we didn’t have all the data ahead of time and somebody in your ear and going through numbers and really studying it. It was kind of more of a seat-of-the-pants feeling at that moment, but I think the choose has been really good. I think it’s exciting every week. I don’t think that it’s gonna create any more teamwork issues than the current restart does at a superspeedway because inevitably when teammates are pushing, one is gonna end up on top and one on the bottom – somebody is gonna slow up the whole line, lift, drag the brake, let them in. I think that creates just as many issues as letting us choose and get in line ahead of it before we take the green, so I think it’s good. I don’t have any issues with the choose rule anywhere. I think there is some similar sentiment throughout the garage area that it can be just fine anywhere we go, so I think that’s good that we’re gonna have that option for Atlanta, especially as the race plays out and we see where we want to be on the racetrack. If you want to be moving up or if you would prefer to be down on the bottom and wrapping that line, give us the option to try and get there ahead of time, so I like it. I think it’s good.”
ARE THERE ACTUALLY BUMPS COMING OUT OF TURN TWO? “Yeah. There’s a handful of bumps around the track and we’ve been told and kind of shown where they ground and smoothed out a lot of those bumps from the initial paving. Our understanding is off of turn two it’s not so much a bump up as much as it is a dip, which they can’t really do anything about. So, yes, there will be some character there. Considering how rough Atlanta was beforehand, it’s amazing it’s as smooth as it is. That being said, I love the character of Atlanta. I love character anywhere we go, so bumps are not a bad thing. We wouldn’t expect it to be like glass, but that will be one that is probably more pronounced than others, which is a little surprising because you expect tunnel bumps or where different asphalt meets up, but this one seems to be more of just a dip off of turn two that will show up pretty aggressively in our cars.”
IS IT JUST A DIP IN THE TRACK THAT ONCE YOU GO DOWN YOU STAY AT THAT LEVEL? “I believe it’s just a dip that if you were in a Ford Explorer going down the road you wouldn’t think twice about, but when we’re sitting on stops and the car gets light across where it just kind of falls into the dip when it loads up, I think that’s what’s gonna hit you. It’s gonna feel like you’re going up, but it’s really caused from the fall into it first, and I think it’s large enough that it is gonna send spike loads through, just like Fontana backstretch was. When the ground Fontana on the back the reason we saw the bumps as rough as they were is because it’s not all just asphalt rolling up and swelling, it’s still a lot of dips and you can’t grind enough asphalt to make that dip line up with the rest of it, so I think it’s just something that’s gonna be there for this race and I think, like Fontana – I mean, we’re gonna put these cars on dirt in a few weeks. We better get used to a few bumps here and there.”
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