NASCAR: The case for — and against — all 16 playoff drivers

NASCAR Cup Series Championship Trophy - Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports
NASCAR Cup Series Championship Trophy - Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports /
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Chris Buescher, RFK Racing, NASCAR
Chris Buescher, RFK Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) /

NASCAR playoff contenders: No. 6 – Chris Buescher

Much like RFK Racing teammate Brad Keselowski, Chris Buescher has taken a big step forward this year with three wins, including one in last weekend’s regular season finale at Daytona International Speedway. His playoff appearance is his first since 2016, when he drove for Front Row Motorsports.

The case for Chris Buescher

Buescher enters the playoffs with quite possibly the most momentum of anyone. Despite spending almost the whole season well inside the playoff picture, he was still searching for that elusive win to lock himself into the playoffs.

Then at Richmond Raceway in July, he finally picked up his first win of the year, leading 88 of 400 laps. The following week at Michigan International Speedway, he added another victory, this time after holding off Martin Truex Jr., who had dominated much of the race.

But that wasn’t all Buescher had in store as the regular season wound down. He picked up his third win in five races at Daytona after passing Kevin Harvick on a restart and holding off the field in overtime. To this day, his most recent non-win on an oval came all the way back on July 23.

Having momentum entering the playoffs is one of the biggest factors when it comes to which drivers make a deep playoff run and which don’t. Buescher’s summer power run has helped him clinch the number four seed, giving him a significant advantage for the first three rounds.

With everything seemingly clicking on the No. 17 team, Buescher appears ready to make a deep playoff run that could very well end up with a championship at Phoenix Raceway.

The case against Chris Buescher

On top of this being Buescher’s first playoff appearance since 2016, the 2023 postseason marks the first playoff appearance for the RFK Racing’s No. 17 team since 2017. With the extra pressure that comes with the playoffs each year, teams with less experience can sometimes buckle under pressure.

While Buescher has had consistent winning speed over the last few weeks, that was generally not the case in the first 21 races of the season, even amid RFK Racing’s improvement.

Though he wasn’t slow or uncompetitive in the first 21 races, he was much more of a consistency robot piling up top 10 finishes rather than wins. Should he and the No. 17 team start to revert back to the speed they had through the majority of the regular season, it’s unlikely that consistency alone will carry Buescher all the way to the Championship 4.