Chris Buescher grinned once he saw an old photo of himself standing in front of a bandolero race car from his early racing days at Texas Motor Speedway.
As a 10- or 11-year-old at the time, Buescher knew he loved racing but didn’t know how far he could go in the sport. A couple years later, with support from his parents, he gave up his summer vacations in North Texas and headed to Charlotte to try and make a racing career a possibility.
Now 23, Buescher’s gamble on himself has paid off. The Prosper native has a full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup ride and is considered a rising star in the sport. He won the NASCAR Xfinity Series championship last year, and has shown signs of promise through five Cup races this season.
“He’s one of your young guys who is going to be a star tomorrow,” TMS president Eddie Gossage said. “And to have a guy who is from Texas is the best of all. It’s your home team essentially. You can be a Jimmie Johnson or Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan, but you’re watching this Texas kid come up too and you’re pulling for him.
“He’s the real deal.”
Given his Cup status, Buescher ranked as the highest-profile NASCAR driver at TMS’ media day at Gilley’s Dallas to promote the upcoming racing season. The biggest name at the event, of course, belonged to IndyCar driver Helio Castroneves.
But Buescher is in the early stages of making a name for himself and already has in some ways. He shared a road trip story from a couple years ago when he stopped at the Duck Commander store in Louisiana and grabbed lunch afterward. The waitress recognized him and gave him a complimentary meal.
“The waitress said, ‘I know who you are and we got your meal,’ ” Buescher said, smiling. “So that was the first time I got noticed in public.”
Those kinds of stories will likely only grow with more success, something that Buescher feels confident about with Front Row Motorsports and Roush Fenway Racing.
Buescher is under contract as a developmental driver with Roush Fenway Racing, and is driving Front Row’s No. 34 Ford as the organizations formed an alliance last off-season. And the organizations are showing progress this year.
RFR drivers Trevor Bayne has flashed during qualifying by earning a couple top-10 starting positions, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has a couple top-10 finishes, including a fifth-place run in the previous race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.
“It’s a huge uplift for Front Row Motorsports, for Roush Fenway, for the Ford camp and the Roush chassis,” Buescher said. “It’s a definite step in the right direction.”
Buescher hopes to follow suit in the coming weeks. His best finish so far this season has been 26th at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He also has a 28th-place finish with the other three runs in the 30s.
Those aren’t too inspiring, but early struggles were to be expected to some degree. The transition from Xfinity to Cup is significant, and Buescher is working with a new crew chief (Bob Osborne) and team.
“I’ve been a little disappointed in our finishes,” Buescher said. “I’m not going to say I’ve been disappointed in how we’ve run because we have had good speed and we have executed a lot of the races really well.
“It’s coming together and I’m really proud of the guys.”
Buescher has lofty expectations when he returns to his home track on April 9 for the Duck Commander 500, too. After all, Texas is the track he grew up on and he notched his first NASCAR top-10 finish on it a year ago in the Xfinity race.
“I love racing here,” Buescher said. “It’s got a ton of character in the race track — a lot of large dips in the groove where we’re able to move around all the way from the bottom to the top. It’s one of those places that puts on a great race.
“Hopefully we can get a top-15, top-10 out of it. I feel like we’re definitely heading in the right direction. This would be a great place to come point that out.”
Duck Commander 500
April 9, Texas Motor Speedway