By Aaron Burns
Lady Luck shined on Chris Buescher in ways few NASCAR XFINITY drivers could image.
Buescher didn’t overpower everyone as he drove to his first XFINITY championship. He was, however, remarkably consistent. Only twice in the 33-race season did Buescher finish outside the top 15 – and he never finished worse than 20th.
After the season-ending Ford EcoBoost 400 on Nov. 22 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Buescher was the last man standing and Roush Fenway Racing’s first champion since Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in 2012.
The 23-year-old Texan won two races, both in May, and did enough to hold off Chase Elliott, Ty Dillon and Regan Smith down the stretch. Consistency was the name of Buescher’s game. He wasn’t flashy, but the trophy he got to hoist sure was.
Who will be back to chase the 2016 XFINITY title?
As of the Homestead-Miami finale, Chris Buescher was expected to return to Roush Fenway’s XFINITY program, but his successful season raised questions as to when he should move to Sprint Cup. Chase Elliott, Buescher’s biggest rival for the championship, graduates from JR Motorsports to Hendrick Motorsports and the famous No. 24 car.
A ton of turnover at JRM sees Elliott and Regan Smith out and Justin Allgaier and Elliott Sadler now in the fold. Richard Childress Racing’s lineup included Brian Scott, Ty Dillon and Brendan Gaughan. At least one of those seats could go to someone else. Erik Jones will be competing for the title with Joe Gibbs Racing. His candidacy, at least, is certain.
Twenty-three of the 33 XFINITY races were won by NASCAR Sprint Cup regulars.
Is that number too high? Should it be zero? The discussion will continue.
What isn’t up for discussion, though, is how dominant Kyle Busch, Joey Logano and Austin Dillon were when they stepped down a level. Busch won six XFINITY races in 15 tries. Logano and Dillon won four each.
The fact the Cup guys can’t race for a championship, a rule instituted in 2011, has been met with tons of approval.
But the top four drivers in points – Buescher, Elliott, Dillon and Smith – combined to win only five races. Just two of the last 12 races were won by XFINITY regulars. Ryan Blaney’s part-time schedule dealt him a pair of victories.
Buescher will have a fight on his hands if he wants to win two titles in a row, something Elliott came close to accomplishing. Jones’ Truck Series championship opened the door for a shot at the XFINITY crown, but he’s only one of many who are capable of bringing home the hardware.
Allgaier’s move to JRM puts him in title-winning equipment for the first time since he left Team Penske five years ago. In 2010, Allgaier was the only non-Cup, full-time XFINITY campaigner to win. Others, like Daniel Suarez, Jones’ JGR teammate, are in the mix.
Suarez did everything but visit victory lane in 2015. With a year of experience under his belt, his first win is all but assured. A championship is also possible.
Nationwide Children’s Hospital 200 at Mid-Ohio
Regan Smith and Alex Tagliani’s Mid-Ohio last-lap battle