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Chris Buescher 2022 season in review

Editor‘s note: This begins the series of season reviews for select 2022 NASCAR Cup Series drivers.

Driver: Chris BuescherCar: No. 17 RFK Racing Ford MustangCrew chief: Scott GravesFinal 2022 ranking: 21stKey stats: 1 win, 3 top fives, 10 top 10s, 1 pole, 194 laps led

How 2022 ended: Buescher was eliminated from playoff contention after the regular-season finale at Daytona International Speedway, but the best moments of his 2022 campaign were still yet to come. The No. 17 driver finished Daytona in 21st place in the standings and stayed there through the end of the season. The result is tied for his worst standings finish since placing 24th in 2018 and is a drop-off from finishing 19th in 2021. Still, there’s more optimism here than you might think.

Best race: Bristol Night Race. Buescher’s moment in the sun came after he was eliminated from championship contention, flat-out beating the field in the Round of 16 finale at Bristol Motor Speedway for his first non-rain-impacted Cup Series victory. The native Texan led a career-high 169 laps — eclipsing his career total laps led of 157 entering 2022 — to win one of NASCAR’s biggest races.

RELATED: Buescher wins Bristol, champs eliminated

Other season highlights: Bristol wasn’t his only strong playoff performance, however, as Buescher also turned in a P6 effort at the Charlotte Road Course. It continued a 2022 trend of the RFK Racing driver being a top competitor on road courses all season long as it followed other strong showings at Sonoma (second), Road America (sixth), Indianapolis (10th), Watkins Glen (ninth). Buescher also added solid runs at Richmond in the summer (third) and led 18 laps from the pole in an eighth-place showing at Dover in the spring.

Stat to know: 6.6 average finish in the final five road-course races of 2022. We’ll let COTA (21st) slide as it was just the sixth-ever race in the Next Gen era, but it’s clear Buescher and the No. 17 camp had road courses figured out in 2022, even if it didn’t result in any trophies. There’s plenty of opportunity in 2023 for this team on the rise to snag a potential playoff spot next year, and that’s before you factor in any gains made on ovals as well.

Quotable: “This is No. 1 on the list right here. This is it. Thank you all for coming. That was a great crowd, great weather. We appreciate it. Hope you enjoyed the race. Come back and do it again.” — Buescher to the Bristol crowd on the significance of winning at the Tennessee track.

RELATED: Keselowski, RFK Racing hope to continue rise in 2023: ‘We‘re constantly evolving‘

Looking ahead: The past decade-plus hasn’t been the most decorated one for RFK Racing, but the future at the moment feels like the brightest it’s been in some time. Brad Keselowski’s first year as a driver/owner wasn’t without its hiccups, but he’s talked at length about how much support and belief he has in Buescher as a driver, so it’s likely resources will continue to flow heavily toward the No. 17 team to give him every opportunity to compete. We haven’t quite seen Buescher in a top-tier car since his Xfinity Series days, and he proved to be championship material there. Taking a leap that far in the Cup Series in 2023 might be a stretch, but we’ve obviously seen over the past year how quickly teams — specifically Trackhouse Racing — can maximize short-term gains and make a Championship 4 run. RFK is an organization with a championship pedigree, and it might only be a matter of time before it works its way back into the sport’s prominence — with Buescher perhaps leading the charge.