Nationwide can wait as champ tries to defend Trucks Series crown
Once the flight attendants found out there was a newly crowned NASCAR champion on the plane, James Buescher couldn’t sign autographs fast enough.
More than 33,000 feet skyward -- somewhere over the Rocky Mountains -- the passengers, row after row of them, were pointing in Buescher’s direction as the 2012 Camping World Truck Series champ enthusiastically signed napkins and boarding passes, accepted handshakes up and down the aisle and politely toasted with a beer sent his way.
If the people on board weren’t already NASCAR fans, they were by the time the plane landed in Las Vegas thanks to Buescher, who hopes to make a return trip to the Champions Week celebration as the first back-to-back champ in Camping World Truck Series history.
Turner Motorsports and Buescher announced on Thursday a multiyear primary sponsorship with Rheem Manufacturing Company, which presented an opportunity too good to pass up.
"It’s not everyday you get to (win a title), and we want to do it again."
-- James Buescher
“We had the honor of being at the head table in November, but looking across the stage we saw (Nationwide Series champ Ricky) Stenhouse and (his crew chief) Mike Kelley, they kept talking about how cool it was to be up there for a second year in a row,” Buescher told NASCAR.com
“I’m looking forward to the opportunity to be able to do that. ... To be able to take momentum off the championship and go for another one.”
At 22, Buescher is the second-youngest champion (by 31 days to Austin Dillon) in Truck Series history. He won the 2012 Nationwide Series season opener in Daytona and had a runner-up (Michigan) and eight top-10s in a limited 20-start schedule in that series. So there were plenty of solid options to choose from for the upcoming season.
“I had opportunities to go to other teams, opportunities to move up to Nationwide with Turner Motorsports, but between the fact we wanted to win back-to-back championships and the way sponsorship fell into place this is the best fit for me and my career,” Buescher said.
It was never a question of whether he was ready and willing to move up to the Nationwide level, but of capitalizing on the right circumstance.
“James had a chance of a lifetime this year with a sponsor that’s come on board for three years for him,” Turner Motorsports owner Steve Turner said. “...The way everything happens, you sort of have to plan when you get to Sprint Cup. You can get there too soon and not last long, or you can get there with the right timing and the right experience and be there a long time like Jeff Gordon or Jimmie Johnson.”
Spend much time talking with Buescher, and one comes away feeling that it’s simple math, really, for the ebullient Texan.
“I’m only 22 years old,” Buescher said. “If I can stay in this sport like a Mark Martin and a Ron Hornaday and if I do everything right, I can have another 30 years in this sport. ... The way I look at it, you get one shot when you get to that level and you have to be able to succeed.”
Largely thanks to the Camping World Truck Series’ two most recent champions -- Dillon and Buescher -- the series has evolved into a bona fide training ground and national showcase for up-and-coming talent.
It’s a legitimate destination and proving ground as will again be evidenced this year by a grid starring Turner Motorsports trucks driven by Buescher, Miguel Paludo and rookie Jeb Burton -- son of Daytona 500 winner Ward Burton -- with a fourth driver announcement impending.
The competition across the board has never been better, race wins never harder to come by. There were 17 different winners in 22 races in 2012 -- a mixture that included Sprint Cup drivers who were dropping in for a weekend, wily NASCAR veteran part-timers and young drivers racing their way up the ranks.
“The series is a blast,” explained Buescher, who had a series-high four wins last year. “When I first came in, it was guys from Cup winning all the championships, getting the good sponsorships and the good rides. Now the young guys are making it happen. ... It’s pretty cool to say I was a part of that.”
And when you’re 22 years old and on top of the world, fun is important.
In the past year, Buescher has gotten married (to Turner’s daughter, Kris), won the biggest Nationwide race of the year, notched a career-best four Camping World Truck Series wins and celebrated his first major championship.
The chance for Buescher to top that with a historic second consecutive truck title is a compelling storyline for the series and a plus for NASCAR. And the decision presents Buescher a chance to connect with a new generation of fans, who will be watching him for the next 30 years if he has his way.
“It’s not everyday you get to (win a title), and we want to do it again,” Buescher said. "...The approach I’m kinda going with is go out there and win races and the championship and everything will fall into place where it’s supposed to.”