Yes, at six races into the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season, it’s still early. But Chris Buescher and his No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing team are showing some solid strength to this point in the season, and had speed once again this weekend in the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta. This time, they got the finish they deserved in a seventh-place result.
Buescher, 28, rolled from the starting grid in 17th spot on Sunday, and after initially surging to 12th by lap seven, Buescher settled in to 14th at the time of the lap 25 competition caution.
The car wasn’t totally to Buescher’s liking at this point, so the team added a packer and adjusted tire pressure under their pit stop. The changes seemed to help as the Texan began to work his way through the field as Stage 1 progressed.
With 11 laps left in the opening Stage, Buescher slipped into the top-10 for the first time and when the green and white checkered flag was displayed, Buescher was ninth, which means he had accrued two Stage Points.
Buescher radioed that his No. 17 Fastenal machine was a little too tight, so under the Stage break caution, Luke Lambert took a swing to loosen the car. The pit stop was quick, and gained Buescher two spots, which would place him in the seventh position to start Stage 2.
The Fastenal car was still a fixture inside the top-10, but the once tight car had been loosened up a little too much, so at lap 160, Lambert looked to turn the dial back the other way to find a perfect balance on Buescher’s car.
Those changes seemed to please Buscher as he ended Stage 2 in eighth to grab three more Stage Points and he radioed to his team that he was happy with his car.
Buescher would start the final Stage of the race from the ninth position. Buescher would work his way up to seventh with 15 laps to go and he wouldn’t look back as he scored his first top-10 finish of the 2021 season.
After climbing from the car, Buescher was excited about his day.
“It was a good day,” Buescher said. “I’m pretty happy with that from start to finish. We were able to fire off and make some progress and head forward and stay with it all day. We didn’t really have to work on much. This car has a lot of similar characteristics to our Homestead car and definitely feel pretty good about these low grip racetracks.”
While this is Buescher’s first top-10 of 2021, it isn’t his first good run of the season. At Homestead, Buescher led an incredible 57 laps and won a Stage before fading to a 19th-place finish in the final Stage of the race.
Still, the pure speed the No. 17 team showed that day opened a lot of eyes.
Aside from being part of a crash in the season-opening Daytona 500, Buescher has had a very consistent start to the season, which has led to him being inside the top 16 of the championship standings after six races. If he and Lambert can continue moving the needle in the right direction, we could potentially see a Roush Fenway Racing victory at some point in 2021.
“We’ll keep working on it and try to tweak on that a little bit and get it to a top five and ultimately winning a race,” Buescher said.
RFR, which has 137 NASCAR Cup Series victories in their history, have not visited victory lane since the 2017 season.