By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service
HOMESTEAD, Fla. – As it turned out, the final step in Chris Buescher’s march to the NASCAR XFINITY Series championship was almost pedestrian.
None of his closest pursuers could mount a serious challenge for the victory in Saturday’s Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In fact, Buescher, title runner-up Chase Elliott and fellow contenders Ty Dillon and Regan Smith all went a lap down to race winner Kyle Larson during a long green-flag run in the middle of the race.
Ultimately, Buescher got a free pass back to the lead lap and finished 11th, leaving him with a 15-point edge in the standings over Elliott, the defending series champion, and 18 over third-place Dillon, who finished seventh on Saturday.
With no real pressure from his competition, and with 18 points in hand entering the race, Buescher’s primary task was to keep his No. 60 Roush Fenway Racing Ford out of trouble, and the 23-year-old Texan did exactly that.
If the pressure of an impending first NASCAR national series championship was weighing on him, Buescher didn’t show it.
“I did a good job masking it didn’t I?” Buescher said after the race. “I was a little nervous. All things considered, that was exactly what we needed to do, and we knew that and knew we were capable of doing it.
“I’m glad we could pull it off for all the people that were on board all year, AdvoCare, Roush Performance, Cheez-It and all the fans. I know the weather wasn’t ideal today (rain caused the fourth caution), but they hung in there with us and we made it through this thing and get to celebrate.”
More than seven years earlier, Buescher left home to pursue a racing career, despite the reservations of his parents.
“I’m glad (my mother) let me,” Buescher said. “I think she’s OK with it now. I have to thank my parents so much for the opportunity to be here and leave home and do this. That was such an amazing race, just being careful.
“Our Fastenal Mustang had good speed in it. We just had to be careful out there… It’s pretty amazing to be in this position.”
Keeping his desire to race for victories in check, however, has been a difficult proposition for the young champion.
“I am not a points racer,” Buescher said. “I don’t like it. It’s not the most fun way to run the last 10 races of the season, but it is important.
“This is what we have been fighting for since February at Daytona, and these guys (the team) have done such a great job and stuck in there with us all year and had no mechanical failures or DNFs. It’s a huge accomplishment for our team.”
Austin Dillon, who finished second to Larson on Saturday, wasn’t surprised Buescher and his team exhibited that sort of race management.
“Chris is a smart race car driver,” Dillon said. I think that’s what won him a championship. I noticed it earlier on in the year. I’ve noticed it from when he was driving ARCA against Ty (Dillon, Austin’s brother). Him and Ty had good battles then, and Chris is always smart with his equipment.
“I think he knows the ability of the equipment, uses it to its ability every time, and finishes races well. So I think Chris is going to be good. He’s smart. He doesn’t tear up stuff. He’s raced with less before, and it teaches you what you have in the car, so I think he’s very good at managing his equipment and getting the best out of it.”
Interestingly, even with a championship to his credit, Buescher hasn’t settled his plans for next season.
“I’m optimistic about it,” Buescher said. “I feel like we’ll have something… I just don’t have anything right now. We don’t have everything planned out at the moment. It will be a couple weeks, I’m sure, before we get everything lined up and get a little bit closer – not that I’m worried about it.
“I feel pretty confident that the guys back at the shop are doing everything they can to get sponsors on board and to try to put together a 2016 season, wherever that may be.”
Team owner Jack Roush indicated Buescher would run some NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races next season. What’s unknown is how many.
“We’re still not sure what his arrangement is going to be next year,” Roush said. “He will be involved in a Cup car to some extent, but whether it’s a part-time program or a full program, we’re still in the midst of finalizing the conditions.
“We’ve got a number of possibilities, but we’re not ready to announce that today.”
Image: Chris Graythen/Getty Images