By Reid Spencer
Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service
(July 21, 2011)
Can a driver spot the rest of the field a full race and still win a championship?
Texan James Buescher is trying to do just that, as he leads a group of 20-somethings toward the top of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series standings.
After starting second and finishing ninth in the season opener at Daytona, Buescher, 21, failed to qualify of the second race of the season, at Phoenix. Since then, he's made a remarkable run, having scored top-10 finishes in eight of nine races.
From 24th in the series standings after the Phoenix race, Buescher has climbed to fourth and trails leader Johnny Sauter by 36 points as the series moves to Nashville for Friday night's Lucas Deep Clean 200.
Finding success at an early age is nothing new to Buescher, who won the first ARCA race he entered at age 16. Driving the No. 31 Turner Motorsports Chevrolet, Buescher expects to do well, but he's also a realist.
"I expect to perform at whatever level I'm at," Buescher told Sporting News. "I'm not happy until we've performed. We're still trying to win our first race. We're in the hunt for the championship, and I think we've come a long way this year.
"After the setback at the beginning of the year, to be fourth in points right now says a lot about what our team's capable of and what we can expect for the rest of the season."
Through 11 races, 57 points separate Sauter from ninth-place Joey Coulter. Of the top nine drivers in the series standings, five are 21 or younger: Austin Dillon (2nd in points), Cole Whitt (3rd), Buescher (4th), Parker Kligerman (8th) and Coulter (9th). Three of those drivers—Whitt, Kligerman and Coulter—are series rookies.
"Guys my age are finding ourselves in some good equipment," Buescher said. "A couple of years ago, it was a bunch of veterans that were pretty much running the show, and we were trying to keep up with them. I think we've all kind of caught up, and we're just getting opportunities now."
About the only thing that has eluded Buescher this year has been a victory, though he did score his first NCWTS pole at Texas in June.
"You're definitely disappointed any time you don't win," Buescher said. "To go winless for a season is not what anyone in NASCAR wants to do. But you're racing against the best in the business, and if it's not your time to win, it's not your time to win.
"We've had a couple races where we were in the best position possible to win the race, and it slipped right out of our hands. Everything just has to fall your way."
What can be said of one race also can be said of a career, and Buescher knows he still has much to learn. That's why he's not trying to force a move to the Sprint Cup Series before he's ready.
"This is my third year in the truck series, my second year in really strong equipment," he explained. "If you're in the right equipment, you can learn a lot faster. You can put yourself in position to race against the Cup drivers (in truck and Nationwide races), and you learn more when you race against those guys up at the front of the field.
"Right now, I feel like I'm as competitive as I can be in the truck series. I feel like we have a shot to run in the top-three to top-five each and every week we go to the racetrack. Before you move up to the next level, you need to be successful at the level you're at. So, for me, I'd like to run the Nationwide Series for probably at least two years, or until I feel like I can win the race each and every week we unload.
"I've just got to take it one year at a time and one race at a time, and, hopefully, I'll get to the Cup level eventually."