James Buescher is one of the most unlikely Where Are They Now? candidates.
He’s still young (turned 30 last month). He can still wheel a race car with aplomb. He had a stretch from 2011-13 that saw him win a Truck Series championship in 2012 and never finish lower than third in the other two seasons.
Yet, faced with no sponsorship after three Truck starts in 2015, the Texas native needed to find job security and make a living to support his wife and young family.
So despite having immense talent and before getting into the prime of his driving career, Buescher walked away from NASCAR five years ago at the age of 25.
“I would have loved to continue racing but I had two infant children at home and it’s hard to run that travel schedule with two little ones, as a lot of drivers now,” Buescher told NBC Sports. “Traveling just made things pretty hard for us.
“As time went on, the phone wasn’t ringing to go drive a good race car. I had opportunities to go racing, but I had spent the previous season (2014 in the then-Nationwide Series) running 10th to 15th most of the year. You’re still driving a race car but it’s not fun, not for me anyways. I want to race and win.
“So it was like ‘Do I take one of these opportunities to go race in the Xfinity or Cup series and run around 20th because of the quality of the equipment or do I not travel and just stay home?’ I chose the latter.”
He has not been in a race car or truck since.
“It was time to do something else,” Buescher said of his former career. “My family has been home building and in real estate my entire life.
“I know cars and houses, and cars weren’t paying me so I figured I’d get my real estate license and make some money off houses. I got my real estate license by the fall of 2015 and it took off pretty quick as far as finding success in real estate.”
By 2017, Buescher and wife Kris formed their own real estate firm, as well as a charitable foundation. Last fall, the husband and wife realtors moved to Compass Realty, one of the largest independent real estate brokerages in the country.
Without question, 2012 was both the most grueling (competed in 20 Xfinity and 22 Truck Series races) yet most rewarding NASCAR season for Buescher. He started with what would be his only career Xfinity win in the season opener at Daytona International Speedway, driving for Turner Motorsports, owned by his late father-in-law, Steve Turner.
But the best was yet to come as Buescher would go on to win four Camping World Truck Series races in the same year, capping things off by winning the championship, also while driving for Turner Motorsports.
“2012 was definitely the highlight year,” Buescher said of his career. “We started that Truck team at the end of 2009. When we walked into the shop for the first time, it didn’t even have a single wrench in it. It’s not like we took over a team. We started from scratch and built a championship team in about 48 months.”
Buescher still recalls the day he won the championship. He entered the race leading Timothy Peters by 11 points.
“I was a nightmare to be around that day,” Buescher said. “I’m not very good at Homestead, it’s not my favorite track, not one of the top performing places for me. I just never really figured it out. We had a great 1 ½-mile program, but I just wasn’t great there.
“The race was a real nail-biter. I’ve never been more nervous for anything, really. You spend a couple years building that team and it’s not just like you just showed up with your helmet and started driving. You helped build what that organization meant at the time. There’s a lot of people that put their heart and soul into what we were doing. It wasn’t just about me, it was about the whole team.”
When the checkered flag fell, Peters finished eighth, while Buescher was five positions back. That was enough for him to win the Truck title by six points.
As important as that race was, the foundation that Buescher built his championship run upon began nearly four months earlier.
“We had been through a lot that year, but the Chicago race (in July) was kind of a statement race for us,” Buescher recalled. “I had gone down two laps down changing a carburetor.
“We were really good in practice, qualified 11th, but we didn’t know why the truck started slowing down at the start of the race. We dropped like we had a parachute hanging out the back. We didn’t have any horsepower.
“We changed the carburetor and basically drove past the field three times to go win the race. It was kind of a never-give-up attitude that just stuck with the whole team from that point on. There’s nothing going to stop us, we’re not going to give up and reach our goal of winning the championship.”
While Buescher counts his Xfinity win at Daytona as a key part of his career, he ranked another of his six Truck wins as No. 2 on his all-time list of career highlights.
“It was obviously a big deal and it was great to say I won Daytona, but I would say one of my favorite racing moments was in 2013,” Buescher said. “We didn’t start off the season very strong, didn’t carry our championship momentum into Daytona and we had a struggle for the first part of the season.
“My son (named Stetson) was born in July and he came to Michigan at 3 weeks old. I won that race, our first win of the year. We passed Kyle Busch for the win with like four (laps) to go.”
That wouldn’t be the only time Buescher would go head-to-head with some of the best in NASCAR and come out ahead.
“We did a lot of cool things in that couple-years span (2012 and 2013). Either Kyle Busch or Brad Keselowski finished second or third to us in four of those (seven career) wins.”
But even for all the success he had, Buescher never got the call-up to the Cup Series.
“We were winning some races and we were winning against some of the best in the sport,” said Buescher, whose cousin Chris drives in the Cup Series for Roush Fenway Racing. “But I never got an opportunity to go show what I could do at the top level.
“That’s something that kind of lingers as a regret, like ‘What if?’ What if I would have taken one of those (secondary Cup) rides to hang around in the back of the pack and then a couple years after I got out of the sport, you started to see a lot of guys retiring and guys my age were taking their spots.
“While it definitely feels good to be known as a NASCAR champion, it’s kind of shocking that you win a championship and two years later you can’t even get a ride in the sport with a decent team. It doesn’t make any sense, really.”
Since he left NASCAR in his rearview mirror more than five years ago, Buescher has attended just two races, both at Texas Motor Speedway, 4 ½ hours away from his suburban Houston home.
It was hard to walk away from racing, something he had been doing since he first started competing at the age of 12. Two years later, he won the 2004 national championship in the Young Gun division of Bandolero Racing, won the Texas Legends championship the following year and was the ASA Late Model Series South champ in 2006.
Racing had been his life for more than a decade until it abruptly hit the brakes due to lack of sponsorship. Still, Buescher admits he’d consider going back if it was the right situation.
“I’ve kicked around the idea of going Truck or Xfinity racing again,” he said. “I know there are teams that have the ‘all-star’ teams that get put together by some organizations to rotate through some Cup drivers and have other some drivers fill out other races.
“I’ve looked into that, it started to gain some momentum on it last year, was talking with some really great teams and I have a ton of connections to some great organizations.
“Honestly, I spent so much time trying to put together maybe a 7- or 10-race type of deal but still run my business that I was affecting my business.
“So there’s a balance there: I love to race but I’ve got a great thing going on in real estate. I have to be sure I don’t let my real estate business fall apart with the amount I’d like to race. I don’t know if I’d want to do a full-time Xfinity schedule. I enjoyed it while I did it, but I don’t know if it’s in the cards to go do right now. But given the right opportunity, I’d figure something out.
“I like to do things 100 percent and if you’re not capable of winning at what you’re doing, you need to refocus and figure out how to put yourself in position to be winning at what you’re doing, and we’ve done that in real estate like we did in racing.
“I don’t have a doubt in my mind that I could go race a truck right now and be competitive and compete for wins, if not another championship,” he said. “I’m not old and in way better shape than I was eight, 10 years ago. And I’m much more mature than I was back then.”