CONCORD, N.C. — Looking to rekindle the magic from years past, Roush Fenway Racing heads into the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season with an intriguing organizational dynamic.
New No. 17 Ford Mustang driver Chris Buescher links up with former Richard Childress Racing crew chief Luke Lambert. Lambert worked with No. 6 driver Ryan Newman for five seasons at RCR, recording a victory at Phoenix Raceway and 19 top fives in five full-time seasons.
Heading into his second season with Roush, Newman will stick with crew chief Scott Graves. It was Graves who called the shots for Buescher during his 2015 NASCAR Xfinity Series championship-winning season, earning three wins and 16 top fives in a two-year span together.
Although Newman made the 2019 NASCAR Playoffs, the organization has lacked some of the consistency necessary to compete with the top teams in recent years. But it appears the tide may be starting to slowly turn at the Concord, North Carolina, shop. Newman is optimistic the driver-crew chief synergy will continue that trend.
“Organizationally, I think having Luke and Chris be a part of our teamwork is going to be huge,” Newman said. “When I say our teamwork, it‘s not Scott and I, it‘s the organization. Just working together to be stronger in unison.”
Newman thinks lofty goals like making the Championship 4 can be within reach if both teams improve upon unloading faster cars off the haulers this season. Newman cited that last season, the team was unable to focus on qualifying trim because its race trim needed work, which limited its chances at a higher starting position for each race. Newman thinks this can be accomplished with the lineup they have established for this season.
“The cross-synergies of me and Scott and Chris and Luke and the fact that we were both related at some points in our past life,” Newman said. “So, to have the four key guys … to be affiliated with each other in the past and to know we are not aligned the way we were, but we are still aligned together for the greater good for Roush Fenway Racing to work toward our goal this season. I think that that‘s one of our strengths now.
“I think Chris will have a learning curve with Luke, but I can help Chris because I know Luke. Scott can help Luke because he knows Chris and those types of things. You don‘t get that opportunity many times.”
For Buescher, many familiar faces greeted him walking through the shop for the first time since 2015. The Roush homecoming gives Buescher his best chance to date for more Cup Series victories. Between relationships already established from his Xfinity days at Roush and the strengths Newman, Lambert and Graves bring to the table, Buescher thinks the timetable of a typical eight-to-10 week process of getting comfortable with a new team can be drastically cut.
“I think that‘s something we‘ll be able to get down to just a couple weeks,” Buescher said. “Really be able to get back from that West Coast swing and have a good understanding of each other and be able to get rid of worrying about the feelings part and the personalities part and get worried about race cars.
“There‘s not really a bunch of strangers in this scenario and that should help speed the process along. It is tough when nobody understands personalities of any others. Nobody wants to step on toes, nobody wants to come off as rude or overbearing or any of those things. I think everyone has a good sense of someone else in the process so that should streamline some of our learning curve.”
If the organization can get through the three-race stretch of West Coast races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Auto Club Speedway and Phoenix without a hitch, Buescher strongly believes success for the No. 17 team can come as early as Bristol Motor Speedway in April. Buescher‘s predecessor, new JTG Daughtery Racing driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr., also put together strong runs there in the past.
“I always ran well at Bristol on the Xfinity side,” Buescher said. “I‘ve seen the Roush cars and the Roush chassis, not even just Roush, but even that Front Row car run very competitively at Bristol and that‘s always been a strong suit of this organization. With it being probably my strongest track as well, yes, there‘s a lot of confidence going into that one. That could be a great opportunity for us to go win a race.”
Buescher is well aware the vision that he and the entire organization share for the future will not come overnight. It‘ll be a grind, but he’s confident they can collectively get Roush back to its winning ways.
“It‘s been there before, and it can get back,” Buescher said. “Now to see it back on that upswing heading back toward that. Not there yet, but pieces in place and things heading in the right direction gives me hope. We definitely have opportunities ahead of us, and we‘ve got work ahead of us as well.”