NASCAR

Spencer: New team a step up in Buescher's Sprint Cup dream

James Buescher is looking for big things this season.
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Lee Spencer

Lee Spencer is the Senior NASCAR Writer for FOXSports.com. She has provided award-winning coverage of auto racing over the last 15 years. Spencer has lent her expertise to both television and radio and is a regular contributor to SiriusXM Radio and the Performance Racing Network. Follow her on Twitter.

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DAYTONA BEACH, FLA.

When Robby Benton offered James Buescher the opportunity to drive the No. 99 Rheem Toyota in the Nationwide Series, the 23-year-old racer didn't have to think twice about it.

While it was difficult to break away from his father-in-law Steve Turner's business (Turner Scott Motorsports), where he raced in trucks full time for the last four seasons and won the championship in 2012, it was time to join forces with another organization in order to move up the NASCAR ladder.

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"In some ways it was a really difficult decision from the family aspect and everything that we've accomplished together at Turner Scott Motorsports — championships, race wins, poles and kind of building that organization with them, and leaving was definitely tough,” Buescher said. “But I want to make it to the Sprint Cup level and I want to be a Sprint Cup champion one day.

"I have to make the moves in my career that are best for me, and I feel like coming over to RAB Racing and Toyota and being able to bring Rheem with me as a sponsor was the best situation for me to be in right now.”

Buescher was searching for a team with the same family feel he enjoyed at TSM — but on a smaller scale. He appreciated that Benton, RAB's founder, was a former driver and that the organization was filled with racers. Although he competed on a limited basis in the Nationwide Series with Turner for the last four seasons, a full-time opportunity would enable the Plano, Texas, native to edge closer to his goal of advancing to Cup.

For Benton, who has endured a revolving door of drivers since forming in 2008, Buescher offers the organization the stability of a full-time driver with a NASCAR title on his resume.

“James has a tremendous amount of talent and experience, and we feel like he will take our program to the next level,” Benton said in a release. “I'm looking forward to what will likely be a very special season, not only for our team, but all of our partners as well. This is a great addition to the Toyota family, and I'm proud James saw the strength in our team to further his career."

Buescher first tested with the team at Nashville Speedway last month. He feels his relationship is coming along solidly with crew chief Chris Rice. Although the competition level will be “a step up” from what he's accustomed to in the truck series, Buescher believes he “can be a contender for the championship.”

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“Coming over to a new team, it’s going to take some learning and there’s a lot of unknowns,” Buescher said. “We have to learn each other and I have to learn the cars and just the way things work and workings with a new manufacturer. So I have a lot of unknowns.

“But the fact that I was able to finish in the top three in the last three years in the Truck Series, I think, plays into me thinking I can do it again in the Nationwide Series. I'm looking forward to being able to be in position to win some races and hopefully be around at the end of the year for that championship.”

At Saturday's testing at Daytona, Buescher shot up to second on the speed chart with a lap of 183.397 mph — just slightly off of the top circuit posted by Dylan Kwasniewski (183.408 mph). In the draft, during the second practice session, Buescher was 13th, with a lap of 186.710.

In 10 starts on the 2.5-mile superspeedway, Buescher has posted two wins — in the 2009 ARCA race and two years ago in the Nationwide season opener. At the time, the victory in the DRIVE4COPD 300 was Buescher's first NASCAR-sanctioned win.

“It was definitely really big,” Buescher said. “I was relieved to finally win a race, and the fact that I won one when everybody was crashing, there was a lot of doubters that said it was a fluke. The fact that we were able to go follow that up with four more wins in the Truck Series that year and a championship solidified that win.

“I’ve had some strong runs here, and just being able to get to Victory Lane any time you can win anything at Daytona, I don't think it matters how you did it. It's a cool place to get to Victory Lane.''

GENERATION NEXT

Katelyn Bernasconi grew up around race cars.

Her father Todd raced Late Models and Pro Stocks in New England. Long before the 22-year-old Guilford, N.H., native graduated the University of North Carolina-Charlotte with an engineering degree, she attended races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Initially, Bernasconi considered a career as a driver. She started racing go-karts at 10, but a hockey scholarship to New Hampton Prep changed her path. In August, Bernasconi was offered an internship at Turner Scott Motorsports. When she graduated in December, TSM hired her to be a project engineer. On race days, Bernasconi will be a part-time race engineer for Turner’s truck effort.

Her long-term goal?

“I’d love to be a crew chief,” Bernasconi said. “That’s my goal. And this will give me a great foundation.”

NUMBERS GAME

4 — Drafting sessions took place during the afternoon Nationwide Series testing at Daytona International Speedway. David Ragan, Trevor Bayne, James Buescher, Kyle Larson, Dylan Kwasniewski, Ty Dillon, Ryan Reed, Chris Buescher, Brendan Gaughan, Chase Elliott, Bill Elliott, Regan Smith, Tanner Berryhill and Dakota Armstrong participated in the exercises.

9 — Cars comprised the largest drafting group on Saturday. A total of 25 drivers shook down cars on Sunday.

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187.993mph — Fastest lap of the day, posted by Chase Elliott in the No. 9 NAPA Chevy.

SAY WHAT?

NASCAR warned Nationwide and truck teams in October that changes were coming to the 2014 cooling, spring and spoiler packages to discourage tandem drafting in an effort to diminish the potential for wrecking.

“We got to do it,” said NASCAR VP Robin Pemberton. “We know things can happen on the track, and we’re going to do what we can to stop it.”

Nationwide series director Wayne Auton reiterated the message to drivers in Saturday morning's safety meeting, warning that competitors would be black-flagged if they lock bumpers.

Tagged: Bill Elliott, James Buescher

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