By JENNA FRYER, AP Auto Racing Writer
One of the first things Brad Keselowski did before buying into Jack Roush’s race team was check the years remaining on the contract for Chris Buescher, the driver he was inheriting with his purchase.
He was pleased to learn that Buescher was locked down. But it wasn’t long enough, in Keselowski’s mind.
“I kind of felt like he was a hidden free agent gem that wasn’t being scouted properly and felt that way for a handful of years,” Keselowski said. “The first thing, it was literally the first thing I did when I signed the papers … was putting an offer in front of him to give him a contract extension.
“I thought he was somebody we could build around and get results.”
Buescher picked up the first win for rebranded RFK Racing last week at Bristol Motor Speedway, and the first win for a Roush car in a points-paying race since since Daytona in 2017. Buescher and Keselowski both won a pair of qualifying races at Daytona in February.
It also marked the first time in this format of NASCAR’s playoffs that drivers who are not eligible for the championship swept the three races of the first round. Now Buescher, a native of Prosper, Texas, returns to his home state hoping to again play the spoiler.
The second round of the playoffs open Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway, where Buescher and Keselowski finished eighth and ninth in May in the exhibition All-Star race. Buescher is thrilled to be part of an energized race team.
“I’ve had really good teammates through the years at different organizations at the Cup level, but nobody that’s put in the amount of effort as Brad Keselowski,” Buescher said. “He’s very passionate about it. He puts in the work and the time and the effort to be able to make this thing successful, and we’ve seen it this year.
“For Brad to come over in the ownership role and have that faith in me early on meant a lot to me. That’s a pretty big pat on the back when we haven’t always had the results to show for it.”
Texas Motor Speedway has been in the playoff rotation since 2005, and typically two annual stops for the Cup Series.
Texas swapped its spring race for the All-Star race the last two seasons, but the All-Star race will be at North Wilkesboro in North Carolina next season and Texas will have just one Cup race for the first time since 2005.
The demise of the speedway can be linked to a 2017 repaving and reconfiguration in Turns 1 and 2 that reduced the banking from 24 to 20 degrees. Passing became extremely difficult and NASCAR has been seeking solutions to improve the on-track product.
“I don’t like the racetrack and think they kind of ruined it. Texas, I just don’t enjoy very much,” said 2020 NASCAR champion Chase Elliott.
The race is concerning for the remaining 12 drivers in the playoff field because the second round has so many variables. Texas has been a difficult track for teams, next up is Talladega Superspeedway and then the field will be trimmed by four at The Roval at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“With the unknowns of Talladega and the Roval, we’re looking at Texas as a place we can go run up front, try to maximize our points and be in contention for the win,” Denny Hamlin said. “Passing was very difficult in the All-Star race though, so I expect that to be the case like it has been for the last few years at Texas.
“Qualifying up front and having a smooth day on the track and on pit road are going to be key for us to have a shot.”
Chase Elliott cycled back to the points lead as the playoff field was reset for the second round. Austin Cindric is ranked last in the 12-driver field. … Christopher Bell is seventh in the standings but the Joe Gibbs Racing driver was the only contender in the first round to score three top-five finishes. He was the points leader before the reset and the only driver to clinch a berth in the second round ahead of Bristol. … Kyle Larson is the FanDuel favorite to win Sunday at Texas.
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