The Dallas Morning News

More comfortabl­e racing at Daytona

With team returning, Buescher hopes for Daytona breakthoug­h

- Twitter: @gfraley

Gerry Fraley: Chris Buescher used to struggle at Daytona, but lately the Prosper driver has performed much better and is feeling confident for today’s race (1:30 p.m., Ch. 4).

After a terrible start, the relationsh­ip between Chris Buescher and the Daytona Internatio­nal Speedway is on the rise.

Buescher, the NASCAR Monster Energy Cup racer from Prosper, finished 10th in a CanAm Duel on Thursday night at Daytona. In July, he placed 10th in a Cup race at NASCAR’s most venerable track.

That represents a dramatic turnaround from Buescher’s previous experience. He went out early because of a crash in each of his previous three starts at the superspeed­way, completing only 307 of 561 laps. He has finished all 221 laps in his last two starts.

The change brightens Buescher’s outlook for the seasonopen­ing Daytona 500 on Sunday. He will start on the inside of the 11th row in the No. 37 Chevrolet Camaro ZLI of JTGDaugher­ty Racing.

“To be able to compete in the 500 is pretty cool,” Buescher said. “My performanc­e in the 500 has certainly not been as smooth as I wanted. I’m hoping that this will be the one that changes that.”

This will be Buescher’s third full season at the Cup level. For the first time, he has stability on his team.

A year ago, he moved over to JTG-Daugherty in a hastily arranged deal. The team was still coming together in the weeks before Daytona and lost valuable preparatio­n time during the three-race West Coast swing in March.

Buescher’s performanc­e improved during the second half. He finished 25th, with four top-10 finishes, and did not return to the playoffs.

The team returns intact this season. Buescher will be working with crew chief Trent Owens for the second consecutiv­e season. The last time Buescher and a crew chief were together for consecutiv­e seasons, he won the Xfinity title with Scott Graves in 2015.

“That’s one of the things we’re excited about,” Buescher said of the team continuity. “We’re not starting from scratch. It’s really good to have that consistenc­y all season. We can get going in the first half and build on it.

“We know what we’re showing up to do, and we’re in a good place to be able to do it.”

There will be challenges at the start of the season, for Buescher’s team in particular and the field in general.

The team did not participat­e in offseason testing of the new, pointed-nose Camaro. Because of that, Buescher spent as much time as possible watching the other Chevrolet teams in last weekend’s Clash and studying video.

NASCAR continued to reduce the downforce and also changed the height rules, lowering the car. The result is faster but harder to handle cars.

In the Duels, rear ends dragging on the track sent up sparks. It also did not take contact to cause spins. Several times a driver dropped into a lower groove and turned around the car ahead of it.

The Duels were an adventure.

“For a race that doesn’t mean a whole lot, that was wild,” Buescher said.

Buescher earned one point for the playoff standings in the Duels. It’s a start on the team goal of getting back to the playoffs.

The easiest path is a victory. Buescher qualified in 2016 with a win at Pocono. His best chances at a win this season will come at the bullring of Bristol and on the road courses of Charlotte, Sonoma and Watkins Glen.

If form holds, there will be two or fewer playoff spots earned on points. Those will go to the consistent drivers who avoid finishes in the 30s. Buescher had six of them last season, starting with the Daytona 500. That was before he made peace with the hallowed track.

 ?? John Raoux/The Associated Press ?? Prosper driver Chris Buescher takes a selfie with a fan in the garage area before practice for the NASCAR Daytona 500. Buescher, hoping to have success at Daytona for the first time, starts on the inside of the 11th row in Sunday’s race.
John Raoux/The Associated Press Prosper driver Chris Buescher takes a selfie with a fan in the garage area before practice for the NASCAR Daytona 500. Buescher, hoping to have success at Daytona for the first time, starts on the inside of the 11th row in Sunday’s race.
 ??  ?? *Blaney joined Team Penske in a new team as the No. 12.
*Blaney joined Team Penske in a new team as the No. 12.
 ?? Gfraley@dallasnews.com ?? GERRY FRALEY
Gfraley@dallasnews.com GERRY FRALEY

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