Chris Buescher’s Mistake

It’s difficult to predict which NASCAR prospects will bust and which ones will have long and successful careers. Even when everything goes right for a driver, sometimes they just can’t make it work at the highest level. When a driver makes a mistake, by joining the wrong team or moving up too early, the path to success becomes even harder.

After winning the 2015 XFINITY Series championship with Roush, Chris Buescher decided against staying in the second-tier series. He instead moved up to the Sprint Cup Series for 2016. However, he did not step into a Roush ride. Buescher instead signed with Front Row Motorsports, a perennial backmarker with just one win to its name. Front Row Motorsports formed a technical alliance with Roush Fenway this year, but given Roush’s recent struggles, the partnership hasn’t helped much. Buescher is currently languishing in 32nd in the Sprint Cup standings. He’s posted just two top 20 finishes on the year and sits 55 points behind 27th place teammate Landon Cassill.

Almost overnight, Buescher went from an XFINITY series star to just another Sprint Cup backmarker. Buescher has undeniable talent, but he’s still raw. He needed more time and experience in NASCAR’s lower series before moving up to the Sprint Cup. The lone bright spot in his future is that a seat at Roush may be opening up soon. Greg Biffle is NASCAR’s oldest regular driver, and is also Roush’s worst performing racer this year. If Biffle retires soon, Buescher may get a shot to prove himself in competitive equipment. However, the ride he’s in right now isn’t helping his chances.

 

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Ranking the 2016 Rookie Class

We’re less than two weeks away from the start of the 2016 Nascar season, and one of the most exciting storylines is this year’s rookie class. While the 2015 rookies were lackluster (Rookie of the Year Brett Moffitt can’t even find a ride) the 2016 group has a number of promising prospects. Here we take a look at this year’s rookies and rank them by how likely they are to succeed in Nascar’s big leagues.

Ryan Blaney

Ryan Blaney, son of former Sprint Cup driver Dave Blaney, will be running a full-time schedule in 2016 with the historic Wood Brothers racing team. Blaney finished 2nd in the truck series in 2014, before being forced to a limited schedule last year. Blaney won two Xfinity races and a truck series race driving for Penske, but what was perhaps most impressive were his performances in the Sprint Cup series. Driving for the Wood Brothers, Blaney notched 6 top 20’s in the 11 races he competed in without engine problems. With the Wood Brothers’ new technical alliance with Penske, expect Blaney to be very competitive in 2016 and to have a long and successful career once he eventually moves to Penske’s full team.

Chase Elliott

Chase Elliott, the son of legendary Nascar racer Bill Elliott, will be taking over Jeff Gordon’s 24 car in 2016. Chase and Ryan Blaney are equals in almost every way–they are both excellent racers who look to be in the Sprint Cup series for a long time. Elliott has experienced far greater success at Nascar’s lower levels. He burst onto the racing scene in 2013, winning the Silverado 250 at Mosport with a daring last-lap pass. Elliott won the Xfinity series championship in 2014 and placed 2nd in 2015, racking up 4 wins and 27 top 5’s in his two year stint. Chase Elliott has big shoes to fill. If he can translate his lower series success to the Sprint Cup, he’ll be able to write his own legacy.

Chris Buescher

The man Chase Elliott lost this year’s Xfinity series championship to is Chris Buescher, the 23-year old from Prosper, Texas. While Elliott’s racing style was often boom-or-bust, Buescher took a more conservative, methodical route, racking up 2 wins and 20 top 10’s en route to a championship victory. Although he drove for Roush in the lower series, Buescher will be racing for perennial backmarker Front Row Motorsports in the Cup series. Why? Although Buescher is a top prospect, funding is very tight for Roush these days. Rather than add a 4th car to their stable, Roush formed a technical alliance with Front Row, bringing Buescher in this season. Expect to see Buescher in a Roush car sin the near future, possibly as soon as next year–Roush driver Greg Biffle is the oldest Sprint Cup regular and is entering the final year of his contract. If Biffle bows out, Buescher could fill his seat.

Brian Scott

Lastly, we have Brian Scott. Scott has shown himself to be a capable racer in the Xfinity Series–although he has never won a race, he’s recorded 73 top 10’s in the past 5 years. While many other drivers would have lost their ride to younger prospects, Scott has held steady, supported by his family’s Shore Lodge sponsorship. Scott brings this money to Richard Petty Motorsports this year, taking over Sam Hornish’s ride. Scott projects to be at best, a racer like Paul Menard–a consistent, if mediocre driver who can occasionally put together a strong performance. However, don’t count him out just yet–many great drivers, such as Jimmie Johnson, were lowly-regarded in lower series before making the jump to the Sprint Cup. Scott showed decent speed in a limited schedule for Richard Childress Racing last year–maybe a change of scenery is just what he needs.

2016 in Preview

We’re just 42 days from the 2016 Daytona 500 as we count down the top stories of the new year.

Legendary racer Tony Stewart announced his impending retirement near the end of the 2015 season. Stewart’s career is long and storied–his impressive resume includes 48 wins, three Nascar championships, and a 1997 IndyCar championship to boot. Stewart, the first owner-driver to win a championship since Alan Kulwicki in 1992, is expected to retain his stake in Stewart-Haas Racing while giving up his ride to Clint Bowyer in 2017.  Beset by a broken leg in 2013 and the tragic Sprint Car accident which killed Kevin Ward, Jr in 2014, Stewart has failed to win a race in 2.5 years, finishing 25th or lower in points each of the last 3 seasons. While it’s unlikely that Smoke will go out racing for a championship, look for him to try and capture his first ever Daytona 500 victory when he suits up for his last season.

After the 2014 season, which produced some of the best racing in recent memory, Nascar tweaked its rules package for 2015. The result? The quality of racing dropped–fans and drivers complained that the new cars were hard to pass with and led to boring follow-the-leader races. Thankfully, Nascar listened. It modified the rules package again for the upcoming 2016 season, creating low-downforce parts that will cause the cars to slide around more on the track, making them harder to drive and easier to pass. The package’s test at Kentucky produced record numbers of green-flag passes. Look for more of the same in 2016.

Nascar’s 2015 rookie class was, to put it lightly, weak. After a strong group in 2014, 2015 featured little-known drivers such as Brett Moffitt, who captured the Rookie of the Year award despite finishing in the top 30 just twice throughout the season. 2016 promises to feature an exciting battle. Chase Elliott will move up from the XFINITY series to replace Jeff Gordon in the #24 car, while Ryan Blaney will take over the Wood Brothers #21 Chevy and XFINITY series champion Chris Buescher will drive for Front Row Motorsports. These three young drivers have all run very strong in Nascar’s lower levels. It’ll be exciting to see them try and take their talent to the big leagues.