‘We aren’t an underdog’ this playoff season – Buescher

Chris Buescher might be in the NASCAR Cup Series postseason for the second time in his career, but in a way, it feels like the first time.

Buescher was a Cup Series rookie in 2016 when he made the playoffs through a weather-shortened race at Pocono Raceway. Furthermore, he was driving for a team that was underfunded and just happy to be included in the postseason. No one, including Front Row Motorsports, expected them to go far.

That’s not the case beginning Sunday night at Darlington Raceway (6 p.m. ET, USA). Buescher and the. No. 17 RKF Racing group have won three of the last five races and begin the postseason as the fourth seed.

“In a lot of ways that was an amazing accomplishment to make our rookie season with Front Row, but also, we understood we were a massive underdog in that playoff season and were just hopeful to make it into the next round,” Buescher said. “We aren’t an underdog in this one. We are very competitive.


“We expect a lot more out of ourselves and so in that way, yes, it’s a completely different situation than we were in that year. We are going to be learning a lot for the first time or approaching things for the first time.”

Buescher even joked earlier this week, “I forgot about media day for the playoffs.”

Buescher goes into the postseason with momentum after winning the regular-season finale at Daytona International Speedway. It was a 1-2 finish for RFK Racing.

“It’s really cool knowing we were locked in a while ago that it wasn’t a last-moment getting in,” he said. “We didn’t have the stresses of Daytona like we’ve had in years past, just doing everything we can to get in. It’s been a lot of fun the last several weeks, but [also] realizing we have a lot of racing ahead of us yet. What’s important for us to know is what worked for us this year, to know being consistent has been huge, but also to execute on a high level, to be clean, and to go to the racetrack to win races and do what that takes. Take some chances.

“I think it’s important not to get caught up in the extra distractions of the playoffs, the extra pressures, I would say, for some. I think it’s important not to let it be extra pressure for us; just go to the racetrack trying to win another race and committing to that, I think, is the best way for us to keep moving forward. We’ve built up a nice cushion of playoff points through the last five weeks, most specifically, but it certainly gives us a little bit of breathing room early. I just want to make sure we don’t change what we’re doing. It’s been a very good season.”

Simply put, it’s a business-as-usual approach for Buescher & Co.

“This was one of our goals on the season, to make the playoffs,” Buescher said. “[We had] several goals – it was to win races, it was to make the playoffs, to get both cars in the playoffs, and to run for a championship. We set very similar goals last year. I think we said we wanted to win races and make the playoffs, and we didn’t quite reach that but felt like we were close to doing it. With that, we set hefty goals this season but felt like they were reasonable.”

The three-time winner isn’t just in the playoffs — Buescher might be playing with house money because he has the speed and the playoff points (21) to propel him through the rounds if the team executes. In five weeks, Buescher bagged 16 playoff points through his victories, and a stage win, and was then awarded five more playoff points for jumping to sixth in the championship standings at the end of the regular season.

“It did come quick,” Buescher said. “It’s certainly put us in a good spot to start. I look at it as it’s not really that many points, though. Days can shift so quickly. It’s not much cushion, but also, I think it’s equally important to me not to get too caught up in the points and not go to the track to points race. Again, go to win the race. You win a race in the round, the points take care of themselves, so keep doing what we’ve been doing.

“We’ve executed very well the last couple of weeks. We’ve had some luck go our way … and focus on what we can control. Maybe that little bit of cushion lets us take a little more chance at times, but I don’t want to get too caught up in trying to stage race or points race and give up the potential end-of-race opportunity to win.”

The RFK standout qualified eighth for Sunday evening’s Cook Out Southern 500.

Story originally appeared on Racer