12 Questions with Chris Buescher

The 12 Questions series of interviews continues with Chris Buescher, who is currently 26th in the standings for JTG Daugherty Racing. Despite missing the playoffs after making it in 2016, Buescher’s average finish has improved by five positions over last year.

1. How much of your success is based on natural ability and how much has come from working at it?

I’d to think that it’s been 50-50. I feel like I’ve been able to hang tough. Early on, I kind of had some idea I could do this, and from then on it’s just been working at it to to fine-tune it through the years.

2. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards and now Dale Earnhardt Jr. have all either retired in the last couple years or will retire soon. What’s your pitch for fans of theirs to become fans of yours?

That’s all the guys that I grew up watching before I was even racing, before I was racing hardly anything. So for me, I feel like I can relate to a lot of the drivers from a lot longer ago. I feel like I’m a pretty normal person. I’ve worked on race cars all my life. I’ve been able to be a big part (of the team), being in the shop and working through the last handful of years to understand what goes into them. So I feel like I’m a bit more hands-on, I’d say.

That actually reminds me: When they announced that you had re-signed with JTG, they said you’re in the shop more than any other driver they’ve worked with. Why do you go in the shop so much?

Because I have friends there. (Laughs) I like going in and just seeing what’s going on. I don’t really get my hands dirty anymore; I think everyone’s scared that I don’t know what I’m doing, and I probably don’t at this level. This is the best of the best that work on our race cars every week and that are on the track every week.

So it’s a way for me to go in and hang out in a much less stressful environment. Race weekends are very much down to business and get things done, and you can goof off and have a good time, but everybody’s stress levels are a lot higher. I feel like when you’re at the shop, you get a little more personality out of everybody and can hang out, go to lunch, talk about something other than racing sometimes. I think everyone likes to take a break every now and then with the length of the season and how often we are traveling. So for me, it’s just a good way to go catch up.

3. What is the hardest part of your job away from the racetrack?

A lot of that, for me, is trying to dress up. I don’t get too fancy most of the time, so a lot of our functions we go to, a lot of events, I have to really focus on that.

JTG Daugherty has a thing with golf around here that everybody likes to go have meetings and hang out with sponsors and discuss business on the golf course, and I’ve played two games in my life — both this year as a matter of fact — and I’m horrible. So I’d say that’s got to be the hardest part of my non-driving part of this thing, is trying to figure out how to play golf at this point.

That’s gonna be a work in progress. Golf takes a long time to learn, so that’s pretty frustrating.

Yeah. AJ (Allmendinger) is very good, Ernie (Cope) is very good, Trent (Owens) is very good — and I’m not. We were at the shop hitting a couple the other day and I actually hit the building on my first shot. So, not good.

4. Let’s say a fan spots you eating dinner in a nice restaurant. Should they come over for an autograph or no?

I’ve had that a couple of times. It’s actually kind of fun because I feel like I’m still under the radar enough to where no one’s ever sure of themselves. It’s always like, “Well, maybe…”

They’re like, “Is that Chris Buescher…?”

We get a lot of that, and that’s actually kind of fun. I like to mess around with people for a little bit and then yeah, we’ll sign stuff. It depends on how nice of a restaurant, I guess.

So wait — do you try to tell them at first that you’re not Chris Buescher and see the look on their faces or something?

I’ll usually tell them I work in racing or I’m a mechanic or something and then kind of ease into it and see if they catch on or see if they believe it. I like to play games for a little bit.

5. What’s a story in NASCAR that doesn’t get enough coverage?

Something that I think a lot of fans don’t realize is how much time and effort our teams put in. (Richmond) being a Saturday night race is actually very nice for teams, especially the crew members. They get back from a Sunday night race and they’re back at work mid-morning Monday and roll right up until that plane takes off. It’s a very long season, and it’s a commitment by everybody in the garage area that’s very time-consuming. It’s very difficult to live any kind of normal life in this business, and I think everybody deserves a lot more credit than what they get on the amount of dedication they have to this sport to make it what it is today.

6. Who is the last driver you texted?

Probably AJ. And before that it was probably (Matt) DiBenedetto, I would say. That might have been social media though. He wanted to go four-wheeling with us next time.

He felt left out?

Yeah, we had a little fun in West Virginia last off-weekend, and I guess I forgot to invite him. I didn’t know he wanted to go.

7. Do you consider race car drivers to be entertainers?

Certain ones. (Laughs)

8. What is your middle finger policy on the racetrack?

My policy is trying to keep it down to three times a year or less. I used up one (at Darlington), and I think I had one earlier this season as well. White gloves are bad for that policy. I try to do it discreetly.

What did the person do last week (at Darlington) to deserve that?

I kind of just got run over. We all but wrecked. It was Turn 1 all the way to the exit of Turn 2 sideways, and it was bad. I felt it was very deserving.

9. Some drivers keep a payback list in their minds. Do you also have a list for drivers who have done you a favor on the track?

I don’t think it’s a case-by-case deal. I think you get to know who you race around a lot of times. I think you just kind of build up a resume, so to speak, with other drivers. So when you’re around certain ones, you kind of know what you have from a good side. And I’d say on the bad side of things, I think more or less, more times than not it’s unexpected, and so that’s why you feel like you deserve retaliation. And then there’s those where you fully expect it going into it and you know that’s how you get raced.

10. Who is the most famous person you’ve had dinner with?

I just happened to run into Miss Brazil at a steakhouse like eight or nine years ago. That was kind of neat. That was in Vegas.

How did you know it was Miss Brazil?

She was wearing her sash. She wasn’t trying to hide it by any means.

She was in the restaurant with the Miss Brazil thing right on there?

Yeah, so we got to sit down and talk to her and the people she was with for a while. That was kind of neat. At the time, I was nobody, so that was pretty cool.

Did you just go up and say, “Hey Miss Brazil, mind if I sit down?”

I don’t remember exactly how it happened. I don’t think that’s how it went; I’m not that slick. But between the people I was with and the people that she was with and had there, I think something about racing came up and then we got to talking.

11. What’s something about yourself you’d like to improve?

A lot of things. (Laughs) Just a lot of things come back on the track, trying to go faster in these things, trying to understand these cars, trying to understand the bump stops, the splitters on these things. It’s all very different from everything I grew up racing, and I think that’s been the hardest thing for me to adapt to. I feel like the cars feel more like a go-kart now than a stock car in a lot of ways, and that was not my upbringing. So it’s been a challenge for me.

12. The last interview I did was with Aric Almirola.  His question was: Why did you agree to do this interview?

Why the heck I agreed to do this interview? Because Kelly (Boyd, his public relations rep) told me I was going to do this interview.

It’s that simple, huh?

Yeah, pretty much. It’s always fun to do something that’s a little bit outside of just the racing questions that you get every week, and I think you’ve hit on something here that makes it a little more enjoyable than the normal one.

You’re making me blush. Anyway, I’m going to the IndyCar championship next week, so I’m probably going to do the next 12 Questions with an IndyCar driver. Do you have a question I can ask one of them?

What made them crazy enough to strap into one of those things? And that’s not insulting in any way — they’re braver than I, I will give them that.

Those dudes, I watch them and go, “What are they doing?”

(Laughs) It looks awesome and I bet it is so much fun to drive, but I could never convince myself to do it. No way.

This interview was brought to you by Dover International Speedway. The cutoff race for the first playoff round takes place at Dover on Oct. 1. Here’s a link to buy tickets (and make sure to come say hi at the tweetup).

The Top Five: Breaking down the Martinsville race

Each week, I’ll provide some quick postrace analysis with five thoughts from the race. This week: Martinsville Speedway.

Brad isn’t so bad

Martinsville is one of the tracks where Brad Keselowski gets booed the most in pre-race introductions. The reasons why people don’t like Keselowski — he’s brash and runs his mouth at times, races some popular drivers too hard and is unapologetic and unflinching when it comes to on-track incidents — all come to the forefront here.

So it was interesting after the race when Keselowski decided to dash into the stands to greet a group of fans — some his, but not all — who had stuck around to watch victory lane on the frontstretch.

Why?

“This might not be the track where I get the loudest cheers,” he said with a laugh. “But that’s OK — that’s part of what makes this sport go around.

“I just felt really good about it and saw a couple people I knew up in the grandstands. … I just thought it was worth saying hey.”

You may not want to hear this, but that’s more of who the real Keselowski is than what you see on the racetrack.

Keselowski is the type of guy who uses reporters’ first names in news conferences when answering questions. Not because he’s trying to kiss media butts, but because he’s respectful and personable.

He is fan-friendly (did you see his Facebook Live videos in the first couple weeks of this season, when he surprised people in the campgrounds?), intelligent and a good ambassador for NASCAR, his sponsor and his team.

And yet, so many fans hate his guts! It’s honestly a shame for NASCAR as a whole, because Keselowski has the type of personality that could make him a really popular driver. The problem for fans is since he’s opinionated and never backs down from a fight, they’ve already determined he’s a villain.

There’s probably nothing that can be done to reverse that for now — maybe people will come around later in his career — but fans who don’t think there are interesting drivers with personality in the series are overlooking Keselowski.

Stages Right

Stage racing continues to produce unexpected results. For example: Who would have imagined it would prompt a lapped car to bump the race leader out of the way?

That’s exactly what Ricky Stenhouse Jr. did at the end of Stage 2, sending Kyle Busch up the track and costing Busch a potentially valuable bonus point for the playoffs this fall.

Stenhouse said he wouldn’t normally make such a move because “You respect the leader.” But knowing a caution was about to come, he said, made him go for it.

“It’s as hard as I could drive,” Stenhouse said. “I’ve got sponsors, fans and a team to take care of. I had to stay on the lead lap. That was a turning point in the race. If (Busch) laps (Austin Dillon, who was the next car in line) and we’re stuck a lap down, it could ruin our race. So I drove as hard as I could, and it paid off for us.”

Stenhouse ended up with a 10th-place finish — his second top-10 in three weeks. He said he planned to nudge Busch just enough to get the lap back, but “didn’t mean to give up the win for him in that stage.”

Busch wasn’t impressed by the move. He said Stenhouse should expect payback, particularly since — in his mind — the bump wasn’t necessary. The defending race winner explained he intended to give Stenhouse a lane and allow the driver to get his lap back at the line; instead, Stenhouse “just drove through me,” Busch said.

“I was trying to be a nice guy,” Busch said. “But nice guys don’t finish first.”

Crew chiefs getting tire-d

Why in the world did Jamie McMurray stay out when it seemed obvious his severe tire rub was going to result in a flat — one that ended up wrecking his car?

Well, because the team — like many others that have gotten burned in similar ways before — thought the tire rub might go away.

Another part of the reason not to pit, McMurray said, was “If we pit and we lose three laps, you are never going to make those up here.”

The problem is, that’s not really true. Drivers have come back from incidents that put them multiple laps down at Martinsville, because there are so many cautions that wavearounds and even free passes are likely here.

This honestly isn’t to pick on crew chief Matt McCall or McMurray’s team, because this seems to happen every few weeks: A driver gets damage from another car or from brushing the wall, resulting in a tire rub; then, either because the team thinks it will go away or because it’s praying for a longshot caution, the driver stays out and ends up wrecked when the tire blows.

But these teams are really out-thinking themselves if that’s the case. Points for finishing 25th and laps down are still way better than last-place points after a wreck.

If it’s a minor tire rub like Kyle Busch had? Yes, that can go away. But when there’s THAT much smoke? I’m not an expert, but PIT, damn it! The tire isn’t going to heal itself.

Cash me ousside

Holy crap, did you see that outside lane working at Martinsville? They’ve been racing here for 70 YEARS, and the outside lane has never been a viable option (as far as I know) until Sunday. The new tire Goodyear brought laid rubber in the top lane, and Busch seemed to pioneer a new strategy of making the outside work.

Team radios were abuzz with spotters and crew chiefs telling their drivers about Busch’s line, and others seemed to try the same thing with some degree of success. Keselowski even made the outside lane work on a late restart.

Of course, it’s not like drivers have never made passes on the outside (Tony Stewart passed Jimmie Johnson that way for a win in 2011) — but it’s just never been the preferred way around.

And it wasn’t necessarily better than the bottom on Sunday, but at least it became an option. There was only one time all day where I noticed a driver hit the brakes to try and get the low line on a restart after pit stops, so that was an improvement.

It’s worth wondering whether setups can be geared to run that way in the fall, when the playoff race will have much more importance.

JTG FTW

Hey, how about JTG-Daugherty Racing?

Sixth-place AJ Allmendinger had his best finish on a non-plate oval track since, well, this race last year (he finished second that day).

And second-year driver Chris Buescher, in his first season at JTG, finished 11th — his best result since a fifth-place run last fall at Bristol.

“We needed a good run,” Allmendinger said. “I actually felt like a race car driver today. That was a lot of fun.”

Maybe all is not lost for Allmendinger, who had a miserable start to the season after a 35-point penalty and three-race suspension for crew chief Randall Burnett, who returned Sunday. He moved up four spots to 26th in points (Buescher is 27th) and there are still two road courses ahead for Allmendinger.

12 Questions with AJ Allmendinger

The 12 Questions interview series continues this week with AJ Allmendinger of JTG-Daugherty Racing. I spoke to Allmendinger at Phoenix International Raceway.

1. How much of your success is based on natural ability and how much has come from working at it?

I would say 50-50. You’ve got to have natural ability to be here for sure. When you’re at the top level, you’re racing against the best in the world. With that said, the difference between the top and the bottom is very tiny. So you’ve got to really work at it to keep trying to hone your skills and especially as they keep changing packages figure out what makes these race cars fast.

2. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards have all retired in the last couple years. What’s your pitch for fans of theirs to become fans of yours?

Nice hair. We’ll just go with that. Nice hair.

Do you give out free gel samples?

No, I still need a gel sponsor. I get a gel sponsor, and I’ll start giving out free samples.

3. What is the hardest part of your job away from the racetrack?

For me, it’s the mental strain of it. Whether or it’s good or bad, you’re always thinking about it. Especially when it’s bad.

There’s a lot that comes with the job — sponsor obligations and having to do things like that. So it’s hard at times to put on a good face when you’re struggling to figure out where you need to get better.

More than anything, especially since it’s every week and you’re racing every weekend and there’s so much going on, for me it’s the mental side of it. It’s hard, especially when you put a couple of bad weeks together and it kind of steamrolls.

I always tell people for sure it’s one of the best jobs in the world and it gives me a great life. All the things I want to do, I get to go do. But at the same point, it feels like the worst job in the world because you put so much into it and it feels like you get gut-punched half the time. Especially as I get older, I think that’s probably the toughest thing: I can’t let it go. It’s always there.

4. A fan spots you eating dinner in a nice restaurant. Should they come over for an autograph or no?

Depends on how hungry I am. If I’m really hungry, they probably shouldn’t come near me, because I won’t be the nicest person. I would make sure they come over after I’ve eaten, because I’ll definitely be in a lot more pleasant mood.

5. What’s a story in NASCAR that doesn’t get enough coverage?

I think everything gets too much coverage at times.

We overdo it on everything?

It’s everything. Everything gets covered so much now. There’s so many media outlets to cover everything. The only thing I’d think sometimes is when you’ve got drivers that are doing well and certain incidents happen that take away from guys doing well, I think that gets covered too much. But it’s the world we live in — we want those fights. We want those arguments. We want those rivalries. So I think that’s what we go to first.

6. Who is the last driver you texted?

Most of the drivers don’t like me, so I don’t really have to text back and forth.

Why do you say that?

Because I’m not a real pleasant person most of the time, and I was raised in a world where my dad taught me, “We bring our friends to the racetrack. We don’t come to make friends.” I think the last driver I texted was Tony Stewart, because I love me some Tony. We went back and forth, especially at Homestead, his final race.

7. Do you consider race car drivers to be entertainers?

We definitely live in an entertainment business. I wouldn’t call us entertainers. Hopefully we bring entertainment to the people watching — otherwise they’re not going to watch. And to a certain degree, you don’t want boring racing because nobody is going to want to watch that. But I don’t want to say we’re entertainers; we’re race car drivers.

8. What is your middle finger policy on the racetrack?

Use it as much as I can. The thing is, nobody really knows I’m flipping them off because my arms are really short. So when I stick my finger out the window, it’s really just the tip of my finger so nobody knows I’m flipping them off. I try to wear white gloves, so if they do see me flipping them off, they’re going to see it a little easier.

The problem is now we have an in-car cam a lot, so I’ve got to tone it back a little bit. I make sure my team reminds me whether we’ve got an in-car cam that weekend or not to know if I can flip out inside the car without anyone seeing.

9. Some drivers keep a payback list in their minds. Do you also have a list for drivers who have done you a favor on the track?

Definitely. It’s one of those things where you race how they race you and how you want to be raced. There are certain guys you just know are going to race you harder than others. But you also know you get to certain guys and you’ve got that relationship where it’s that give and take. (And) you know at the end of the race, no matter what, the rules are off.

Tony Stewart was a perfect example. The first couple years, about every other race, he tried to come down and kill me because, as he told me, I was doing something really stupid. I think it was Dover, we got to one race, and he beat on me a little bit and we were having a great run and I got tired of it and I drilled him, and after the race, he comes stomping down.

I thought, “Alright, here we go again. I’m getting first punch in though, because if he gets his hands around me, it could be trouble.” And he slapped me on the back and said, “That’s how we race!” And he walked away, and ever since that time, we were racing each other fine. It’s definitely a give and take, and you have a list of who raced you how and how difficult it’s going to be.

10. Who is the most famous person you’ve had dinner with?

I don’t have a lot of famous people that I’m — I’m really to myself, so I’ve got a really small group of friends. Jeff, I don’t have a good answer for you. I don’t have anybody famous I’ve done dinner with.

You might be the most famous person you’ve done dinner with, apparently.

I guess, and I really tried to hide that fact.

11. What’s something about yourself you’d like to improve?

(Laughs) Everything? Except my hair. We can go back to the hair thing. The hair is pretty good.

You’re really selling yourself short in this interview. You’re saying you’re not pleasant and hard to like and difficult.

It’s been a rough few weeks, man. And I’ve spent about three days in Vegas, so my energy level is quite down.

No, there’s so much to improve. The good side of it is I’ve somewhat got a good heart. I love animals, so we’ve got that. The people I truly care about and they care about me, I try to show my appreciation in every way possible. There’s just a lot to improve on, let’s just put it that way.

12. Ryan Newman was the last interview. His question for you was if you could build any type of racetrack — oval or road course — what would be the ideal racetrack?

That would be fun. It would be definitely a road course. Just add all the famous corners you could figure out — whether it was the Corkscrew at Laguna Seca, the top of the (mountain) at Bathurst, Mulsanne Straight (at Le Mans). Just try to take all those cool corners from so many different racetracks throughout the world and just put it together and have one really badass racetrack. That’s what would be ideal.

There’s a golf course in Myrtle Beach like that, right? With the best holes in the world?

They’ve got a few golf courses set up throughout the U.S. that I know of like that. Kind of the same deal.

Do you have a question for the next interview?

If they had to be one animal, what animal would they be and why?