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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series


For Buck, a life of racing, a life of learning

RACE INFO: Starting lineup | Race-day rundown


AVONDALE, Ariz. -- The Buck stops here.


Here being the nondescript, out-of-the-way Mexican eatery Raul and Theresa's located just a few minutes up the road from Phoenix Raceway.


And Buck being Richard Buck, Phoenix native and managing director of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.


It's a roadside stop that caters to the denizens of the area, although on any given race weekend, race fans and crew men from various teams fill the dining rooms.


Buck rides the fence on this one as a former resident who now is deeply entrenched in the world of NASCAR.


Sunday brings the Camping World 500 (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) back to the 1-mile track and NASCAR's return has brought Buck back to his old stomping grounds.


The 55-year-old grew up north of the city, but his first memories of racing came from another area institution -- Manzanita Speedway, located slightly southwest of Phoenix proper, just across the Salt River.


"My dad worked at Motorola," Buck said. "One of the guys he worked with raced sprint cars. One night we went out to watch him at Manzanita Speedway. I don't remember how old I was. I was still in diapers; I was young."


The friend, local standout and Arizona Hall of Fame member Will Schmink, won the trophy dash for the race and the victory resulted in a trip to the winner's circle for the toddler.


"I remember going down through the mud and everything else, them setting me in the seat of the car in the Winner's Circle," Buck said. "And them telling me about the exhaust pipe, that it was hot, and me hanging on the steering wheel and that's when I was hooked."


• • •

Buck has a diverse racing background that includes success in sprint cars, IndyCar -- where he spent nearly 20 years -- and stints in NASCAR on the team side where he worked with Robby Gordon, Andy Petree and Doug Yates in various capacities.


Before he was named series managing director prior to the start of the 2014 season, he was vice president of racing operations for the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA), headed up NASCAR's K&N Pro Series East and West programs, and helped expand the sanctioning body's reach into Canada, Mexico and Europe.


That background and experience, he said, has been beneficial as he helps NASCAR transition through the implementation of new rules and regulations, new systems and processes.


"In my career and in my life … I've tried to guide myself with information," he said. "With data, with facts, as much as I can get. That probably lends itself to, rather than make a decision based on what I think, try to make a decision based on the information. Take my career and what I've learned throughout all kinds of disciplines and then try to make that decision based on that."


That experience can help guide gut decisions. For others, he can count on input from those around him.


"For the other decisions that have probably a little bit of time but not enough time to involve the whole garage, you look at the depth of our company," he said. "Every time I'm in the tower, there's 100 years of experience of running a race sitting there. So you've got that base to draw from.


"It's like the modern crew chief; he has all the engineers, all the resources behind him. He's the guy that's got to make the decision but they're well-supported and well-informed decisions."


That support comes from a variety of fellow officials, from the inspectors throughout the garage to people such as Gene Stefanyshyn, Vice President of Innovation and Racing Development, and Elton Sawyer, VP, Officiating and Technical Inspection.


"The sport has become more complex and within that we've adjusted and adapted to the needs of the sport," Buck said. "To my knowledge, there's no other motorsports in the world that has the resources or the depth of personnel that we have to be able to manage the sport."


• • •


It can be a tough position at times and a rewarding one at others. When dealing with 40 or more race teams, it's rare that everyone will be in agreement with decisions that are handed down.


"You can never be the good guy in that position," Alba Colon, program manager for General Motors in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, said of the series director.  " ... But everything, and I sincerely mean this, everything that I have had a question about, Richard has given me the time to answer my questions. And if he didn't know the answer, he went and found it and gave me the answer."


Fellow XFINITY Series director Wayne Auton said Buck "came in with a different look, a different perspective about the way things are in NASCAR, coming from another motorsports series. He's done a hell of a job being the head cop of our officiating team."


That he wasn't an "insider" likely led to his coming in with a different approach, said Travis Geisler, competition director for Team Penske. But he didn't change systems and policies just to put his stamp on the series.


"I think he took the approach of probably taking a step back and looking to see what all was going on before he really started to inject his thoughts and theories on how it should be," Geisler said. "I thought that was a pretty smart way to go about it, a way to build respect from everybody that's here. Don't come in and just change the game.


"Now you can tell he's comfortable in his role and he's starting to exert himself in some more places. I think his approach is probably a little bit more get out and talk to everybody about things. Ask questions, ask crew chiefs what they think they should be doing and then make a decision."


• • •


With a race schedule that begins in February and doesn't end until November, it's a wonder anyone involved in the series has time to look forward. Yet they all do. Teams work months in advance, auto manufacturers work years ahead and NASCAR has to keep pace with everyone. All while conducting races nearly every weekend.


"One of the challenges," Buck said, "is making sure we keep the sport healthy.


"The nature of the competitor is just that -- he's a competitor, No. 1, and will spend and will work until there's nothing left. I think that's probably the thing that concerns me the most.


"But I also feel that probably our biggest responsibility is to keep the sport headed in the right direction and in a healthy way and still not stifle progress and technology so that it's still relevant."


Buck acknowledges the challenges and accepts the seemingly never-ending change in the sport. "That's what I signed up for," he said.


The best part, he said, are "little victories" he manages to squeeze out every day.


"That's it. I'm one of those guys that believes there's always something to fix, always something to make better, but I get the joy out of the accomplishment of doing a good job," he said. "It's not easy by any stretch of the imagination. You've got 40 teams and 25 or 30 of them have huge resources and they're coming at you.


"My satisfaction comes from being able to look around at the end of the day and all my team players … all those folks that I'm arm in arm with, all feel like we did a good job that day for the sport. Those are the victories I get."

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