By Toby Christie (Follow on Twitter @Toby_Christie)
Chris Buescher and his No. 37 JTG-Daugherty Racing team showed signs of top-level speed in 2018, but aside from a couple of restrictor plate breakthroughs the team couldn’t consistently close out solid races.
Buescher started the season off on a high-note as he worked through the chaotic melee-filled Daytona 500 to secure a fifth-place finish and the 26-year-old was just excited to have a shot at winning the sport’s biggest race.
“That was awesome. For us to even be in contention to have a shot at winning the (Daytona) 500 with our Kroger Clicklist team, that was pretty awesome, with two cars really,” Buescher said. “That was pretty neat. There at the end we just had to be a little bit too defensive with our Kleenex Camaro ZL1 to really go up there and push for it. The bottom really wasn’t the place to be all night and that is where we lined back up.”
Heading into the mid-way point of the season at Daytona in July, Buescher had racked up some solid results. The Texan finished 15th at Las Vegas, 15th at Texas, 11th at Talladega and 12th at Sonoma.
Then came the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona and it was deja vu all over again. Buescher again was in the mix for the win in the closing laps, just like in February, and he again recorded a fifth-place finish at the 2.5-mile speedway.
“Yeah, it was a wild night overall. Just proud of everybody on our Kleenex Wet Wipes Camaro ZL1. We fought hard today and stayed out of trouble and were there at the end with our teammate AJ (Allmendinger),” Buescher said. “We got a good run on the outside, we were able to give (Erik) Jones a good shove down the back there and got him clear. We just couldn’t quite clear with him. So, congrats to him on his first win. Proud of our operation and what we were able to accomplish today. Wish we could have lined up and tried to get it, but that’s always easy to say after Daytona you go back and would love to replay it, but a good day for us.”
As the Playoffs got underway, there was change in the No. 37 garage as there was a crew chief swap. Trent Owens was sent to the No. 47 team while Tristan Smith came over to turn the wrenches on Buescher’s Camaro.
But the results weren’t much different than what Buescher had achieved before the swap.
In the end, Buescher logged two top-fives and nine top-15 finishes for the 2018 season. He also scored the best average finish of his career (21.0). All-in-all it was a good season the young driver and team that continues to build toward being a contender.
What’s in store for 2019?
Well, the sponsorship package should look very similar with Kroger and a slew of the products available in their grocery store adorning the hood of the car this season. Buescher will be reunited with crew chief Trent Owens. Buescher will also have a brand-new teammate in rookie Ryan Preece.
Also, the team which has had a technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing for the past several years, will swap to Hendrick Motorsports engines for 2019 a move they tested out toward the end of 2018.
It’ll be interesting to see what another offseason of tuning the new Camaro body can do for the No. 37 team. It’ll also be interesting to see if Owens and Buescher can continue inching forward through the field as they build more chemistry.
Also, the great equalizer for teams like JTG-DR — who are on the cusp of being top-10 to 15 cars each week — could be the new aerodynamic and engine racing package for 2019 that is supposed to produce pack-style racing at 1.5-mile speedways. If that is the case it could bode well for Buescher who has shown an incredible ability to race in close packs at Daytona and Talladega.
Buescher has improved his average finish in each of his three seasons in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, I expect the former NASCAR Xfinity Series champion to continue that trend in 2019.