Wednesday, Mar 29

Chris Buescher Las Vegas Motor Speedway Transcript

Chris Buescher, driver of the No. 17 Fastenal Ford Mustang, comes into this weekend’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway sixth in the driver standings after a fourth-place run in the Daytona 500 and a 13th-place finish last weekend at Auto Club Speedway. He spoke with members of the media this morning about his team’s start and their hopes for the rest of 2023.

CHRIS BUESCHER, No. 17 Fastenal Ford Mustang – HOW DOES YOUR START BUILD MOMENTUM FOR THE SEASON? “It’s definitely a good start for us. Daytona, we knew we’d be fast down there. We always have been, but we were able to finish it out this time and that makes a big difference. We don’t have a trophy to show for it and I’m a little bit bummed about that still, but it’s still a really solid beginning there. Going out west, last year was especially difficult with the new car and very limited practice. We were fighting a lot of tire issues and we ended up with some really rough finishes out there. Even though we ran better than where we finished, at the end of the day it didn’t set us off on a good start for the year. We’re in a much better place now. Fontana, we ended up running pretty decent. We missed it a little bit on the start and really would have loved to have had some practice, as would everybody, but after that we feel like we have a decent idea going into Phoenix. Brad did the test there a few months back and was really happy with the race car there and the new package. I think we have a lot of good things coming at us here, and I feel like we’re in a good spot to head out west for the next few weeks and keep that momentum going as we come back to the home coast.”


HOW IMPORTANT ARE AUTO CLUB AND LAS VEGAS TO GAUGE SPEED AT INTERMEDIATE TRACKS THE REST OF THE YEAR? “Fontana is hard just based on the asphalt condition, the lanes, the seams. It’s a fantastic racetrack and I’m definitely bummed that that was the last one there, but I don’t know if it’s a true read for any other places other than maybe Homestead as we head later into the year, but Vegas will be very important to look at because it does have a lot of similarities to a lot of the other mile-and-a-halves that we’ll be going to. This will be a good test this weekend to see where we stack up, what we need to work on and what we’ve done right through the offseason.”


WAS THE BRISTOL NIGHT RACE THE SPARK YOUR TEAM NEEDED? “It was surely the biggest spark. I would say it hit us a little bit earlier in the year at Dover. We had our first pole there and ran really well that whole race at a track that we had not been the best at. We’d been decent there, but hadn’t had that real great speed there in a long time, so I think that was a good kick in the rear for us and then we headed through the summer months and into the end of the season and felt like we were hitting at a lot of racetracks that haven’t been our strongest. Richmond was fantastic. Road courses were very strong. Bristol was just the time that we finally put it all together and had the most to show for it and showed it for ourselves and everybody else. I think that was the big one that said, ‘All right, we’re in a good spot. We can win these things. Now, let’s figure out how to get more.’ We went to the end of the year and Brad got the pole at Texas, a mile-and-a-half which was probably the style of racetrack we struggled with the most during the season, so that was really optimistic there heading into the offseason. Now, we feel like Vegas is probably the good test to see where we stack up and where everybody has gone during the down time and where we’ll be hitting it off.”


WHAT HAS YOUR PREP BEEN LIKE COMING INTO VEGAS THIS WEEKEND? “We’re definitely shooting for a whole lot better than that. We’re trying to figure out how we can get across the bumps. I think our feeling, and I would imagine it’s probably pretty similar across the garage, is if we didn’t have tire issues from Fontana, which has historically been very hard on every tire we’ve ever had, we’re probably not gonna see them going forward into the Vegas weekend. Does that still keep us on our toes for some of the right side issues that we had at Texas Motor Speedway? Maybe, but I’m feeling good about this weekend not being something that we’re gonna be concerned about there. With that, Vegas is gonna be nice and cool, so speeds are gonna be up. It’s another fun racetrack. We’re able to move around a lot. We have a lot of choices. The bumps into one are really rough, especially in this car and so we’ll be focusing pretty hard on those, figure out how to get them better, and then actually some of the wildest restarts I felt like we saw last year came from Las Vegas. We’ll definitely be on our toes for that as well, ready for four and five-wide. I was just going back and watching the races from last year and it’s bound to get a little bit wild out there, but we’ll do what we can to be ready and try and have another surge forward like we were able to get last year.”


ARE THERE ANY DOUBTS YOU HAVE FOR THE SEASON AHEAD? “I feel like we’re ready to go. We’ve got a lot of excitement for a lot of different styles of racetracks. If we take Daytona and the speed that we had there, that’s obviously not something that really transfers into many of the other racetracks, but Auto Club was solid and I feel like both of our cars ran really well. The 6 was securely in the top 10 at the end, so this West Coast swing is tough. We get another mile-and-a-half and then a one-mile, call it a short track if you want, but a lot of different styles of racetracks coming up. We’ll get a read on where we’re at here and then from there we’ve got to just try to dial it in once we get back to the East Coast and see if we can really start working on it. We’re kind of in a box as we go out west. We just don’t have the ability to tear everything apart and start over that far away from home, so that makes it a little bit difficult, but I feel like we’re in a good place to go out there. We’re ready to get through the next two and see where we stack up, and then we’ll get home and take a look at it to see where we can get better.”


WHAT TRACKS DO YOU THINK YOU CAN WIN AT THIS YEAR? “I would say that Bristol was obviously kind of a hit for us and concrete racetracks, so Dover was strong for us. Road courses were extremely strong last year with the exception of COTA, and I think the only reason that was was because it was our first one and we learned a lot during that race that put us on the correct path for all of the other. I’ve got road courses circled pretty high up on my list right now and then a track that I’ve been telling everybody to fill with water for years and years was Richmond, and then we went there and had a really solid run last year, so trying to get my attitude changed a little bit around that facility, but I feel like that’s another great opportunity for us as well.”


WHAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS ABOUT THE NEW PACKAGE FOR SHORT TRACKS AND ROAD COURSES? “I was not one of the drivers at the test, but Brad was there and I think that we came back and were able to talk a lot about the different things that ran through, the different options. I guess where we ended up and the package that we will be running I’m not sure exactly which one that was that they ran out there and talked about. That being said, it seems like that the general consensus was everything that was being done was trying to get the cars to move around a lot more. I think that’s what we’re hopeful for is harder cars to drive, more movement that will probably come at the expense of some corner speed, mid-corner speed, which is fine. Straightaway speeds will come back up, so I feel like the idea is to try and make the racing better. It wasn’t shied away from that our short track and road course races weren’t as exciting as we would like them to be and a lot of the drivers, we had our complaints about dirty air being an issue at tracks where we typically did not talk about that, and all these steps were implemented to try and get us away from having those discussions of hard to race around other cars or dirty air being issues at slower racetracks. That way we can get the cars tightened up a little bit, have more passing, and put on a better show at the end of the day and be more competitive. I don’t know without running it my exact answer yet, but my hopes are very high for everything we’ve done.”


HOW DO YOU LIKE THE LONGER RESTART ZONE? WE HAD THAT BIG CRASH AT AUTO CLUB, SO SHOULD IT STAY FOR THE REST OF THE SEASON? “It’s a little early to make a final call. What I will say is I think it was pretty widely agreed up that the leader has earned an advantage every week, and that being in the restart zone and it being so small at a lot of places was ultimately letting the rest of the field predict what the leader was gonna have to do in that smaller zone. To be fair, the leader should have an advantage. Other series will put the leader out in the first row all by themselves and then start double-file. Some series will let the leader choose their lane and then the entire field just has to fill in odds and evens, side to side. With our choose rule we have a lot of options, but it does put the leader at somewhat of a disadvantage, so with the longer zones I think that it’s trying to combat that and give them a little bit better opportunity. From what I’ve seen at Fontana and the big accident that we had there was not the leader’s fault. In my eyes, that was another car trying to predict what the leader was gonna do and take away their advantage and it ended up stacking up the field and making cars further back pay the price for it. I think it’s going to help get rid of the loss of that advantage for the leader, but there will probably be some growing pains with it as well. We don’t want to see torn up race cars and we need to be holding everyone accountable for laying way back and getting the big runs and trying to time everything like that. That’s been a rule for a really long time and I think enforcing that, along with the restart zone being larger, will help clean it up.”


HOW CLOSE ARE YOU ABLE TO DIAL IN A CHANGE LIKE THIS ON THE SIMULATOR? “I haven’t done that yet and, to be fair, a lot of our simulator work has been post races right now. A lot of the reasoning behind that would be simply the fact that this new Next Gen car has created basically a blank slate and has been very tough to figure out how to make it simulate. It’s tough. I do not envy the individuals that are trying to program numbers to make a simulator drive like a real race car. I can’t imagine the level of difficulty there and I know that it’s very hard to get correct, and so what most of what I’ve been doing through simulation has been post work, so that we can come in after a race event, go in the simulator and figure out how to make it as realistic as possible. What do we need to keep working on to make this more realistic so that hopefully soon we can be working on it to use for more preliminary work. From that standpoint, I’ve not done what you’re talking about yet. I would say at this point there is probably a way to get it in there and get an overall read on it. It’s actually something that we may be talking about, but it’s something that has become a big thing in our sport is simulation and we’re gonna continue to improve them and get them better. I know we’re excited to get rolling on them and get it dialed in to where we can use it for preliminary work. We’ve got to figure out what exactly we did. I know they went through so many different packages for a lack of time is my understanding threw a lot of different things at the car at one time, and so they kind of pulled their favorites out of those changes, combined them, took some away to make something that the owners were happy with, the drivers were happy with and that NASCAR was happy with. It sounds like they came up with something pretty close to what they were planning on, so I’m excited to see how it races. It sounds like there’s a lot of potential.”


ARE YOU CONCERNED THIS CHANGE COULD TAKE AWAY SOME OF YOUR ADVANTAGE ON THE ROAD COURSES? “I would not believe so. I think so much of short track racing and road course racing and what makes you good comes from geometry from mechanical grip, what you’re able to tune in the car. The aero effects ultimately are going to affect everybody the same. If we’re all losing so many counts of downforce, then so be it. We’re all the same. We’re still gonna work on the mechanical grip side of it, so will it make the racing a little bit different and close it up, then also make it a little bit easier to pass cars? Maybe that’s good for us, so I’m not looking at it as something that I’m upset about even though those were the stronger races for us last year. I’m still looking at it as a good opportunity to make our racing better and to make us more capable of passing cars when I felt like we should have been able to get by them last year at those events. I’m excited for it.”


THE SAME TIRE IS BEING USED FROM AUTO CLUB, VEGAS AND KANSAS LAST YEAR. WHAT THINGS ARE YOU WORKING ON TO IMPROVE ON THOSE 13TH-15TH PLACE FINISHES? “For us, I would say it’s not so much based around the tire. It’s something that we’ve been worried about for the longevity of it. I think we’ve got it dialed in to where we haven’t had failures at all of these racetracks, so it’s just a matter of getting our balance better for short runs versus long runs. It was really exciting to see Brad run well inside the top 10 at Auto Club and definitely felt like there was some gains made there that we’re all studying, and feel like we can help apply to what we’ve been working on on the 17 side as well. I would say it’s more or less still just setup development. It’s what can we do to be a little bit better at these places. How can we maximize our short run speed and our long run speed and not give up long run speed as we have been able to get some green flag stops towards the end of last season and then already at Auto Club. Now, we’ve got tires staying underneath us here throughout runs and we’re learning to be smarter with our choices. We’re going to be getting into those longer runs and that’s something we’re working on to be better in those, so that we can hang on further into a race. We felt like at Auto Club we were capable of running about 10th and then just long run speed really hurt us there. We’re trying to hone in on that a little bit, so that we can keep it later into a race and be ready for some of those longer runs that are inevitably gonna start coming back around now that we’re starting to get a handle on this new car.”


WHAT IS THE VALUE OF GETTING THAT PRACTICE SESSION AT PHOENIX WITH THE CHANGES THAT WERE JUST ANNOUNCED? “It’s a big help. Anytime we have such a massive change we need to be able to get what we can and that’s a big help for us, getting that early practice in. I would love to have a split practice as well. That’s something that gave us a little bit of time to make some rather larger changes if we needed them. That would be my only thing that would make it better, but it is sure nice not to be rushing through a 20-minute session that ultimately at a Phoenix would mean three runs and kind of rushing through your changes as well. It is appreciated when we have some massive changes coming. We’ll take what we can get. We had a lot of these 20-minute practices with a completely new car last year and I don’t think any of us felt like it was enough then either, but we had a few choice ones in there that were longer and I’m glad to have it for Phoenix with the package updates.”


DOES NASCAR NEED TO GET INVOLVED IN THIS RESTART ZONE SITUATION AS FAR AS DRIVERS LAYING BACK? “One wreck at Auto Club out of the dozens of restarts that we’ve had to being the year it’s a pretty good percentage. Now, as seen through my eyes, the cause was very specifically cars laying back and trying to time it and take a stab at the leader. So, it’s a rule. It’s already in there that you’re not supposed to lay back. They talk about it fairly often. We don’t see it enforced very often and usually it comes in the form of a random warning and then spotters will tell us that they’re on it today. It’s a gray area. We don’t want people telling us what to do on every aspect of it, but also it is a rule and I feel like we try to play pretty tight by it and not lay back and try to get those runs. Watching back through the Vegas race from last year there were cars that laid back two or three car lengths and completely shifted the rows so that they could have a run at the start-finish line. That’s why we’ve seen some of the four and five-wide restarts there last year. I think if we’re gonna call it a fair sport, we do have to hold everybody accountable when the rule is already there. At the end of the day, the laying back I don’t think is specifically going to connect to the longer restart zone. I think that’s kind of a separate deal that probably needs to be tightened up a little bit as it’s been a while since it was last given warning for, and probably need to remind everybody that it is a rule and that we do have to be closed up when we come into the box.”


YOU LAY BACK TO GET EXTRA MOMENTUM ON THE PERSON NEXT TO YOU? “It’s the car in front of you. On double-file restarts you’re almost never concerned about the car next to you. It’s about the car in front of you. The problem is if you try and stay within a car length, the typical restart length away, and you get going on the restart an you’re running the same speed as the car in front of you and the car behind you laid back, when you get to the start-finish line they have a very easy opportunity to put you three or four-wide in the middle and then you pay that price for not playing their game. It’s a slope and a slippery one at that. As soon as one or two cars start doing it and everybody sees it, it becomes necessary for everybody else to do it to be able to defend if it’s not gonna be called out for not correctly executing a restart.”

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