Former App State running back assists NASCAR team to Chase

Kevin Richardson, Chris Buescher discuss making the Chase for Front Row Motorsports.

Blaine Ohigashi/NASCAR—NASCAR

Kevin Richardson knows a thing or two about overcoming massive obstacles. In 2007, Richardson led Appalachian State in rushing (88 yards) in a stop-the-presses 34-32 triumph over No. 5 Michigan in The Big House.He’s still in the sports world, but now facing much different obstacles. Because starting last weekend, Richardson was a part of a pit crew that made the Chase for the Sprint Cup. As a tire changer, he helped repair huge damage to Chris Buescher’s car at Richmond to clinch a spot in NASCAR’s playoffs after a late wreck.Buescher, a rookie Sprint Cup driver for Front Row Motorsports, is in the Chase thanks to his pit crew helping him secure a rain-shortened win at Pocono. The North State Journal spoke to both about beating the odds at multiple levels along with putting App State and Front Row Motorsports on the map.Kevin RichardsonWhat has it been like to make the jump from Xfinity last year to Sprint Cup?It’s kind of the same, but you know that every Sunday you’re going against the best of the best. It’s like comparing college football to the NFL. On Saturdays, there’s really only 12 cars that might be competitive. On Sundays, you have way more and the margin for error is so small. It’s crazy how different it is.What has the transition from football to NASCAR been like for you?The hardest thing for anyone who gets involved with this sport that came from a football, baseball or basketball background is knowing that you’re not going against anyone. It’s just you and the car. You’re pretty much in defensive mode all the time, just waiting for your moment. You basically have to be a machine. [Laughs] Going against 39 other teams is no joke. In other sports, you can make a miscue and your team can recover from it. If you make a mistake here, you lose tenths of a second and it can cost your team a win.Who got you into NASCAR after playing football?After my last year at App State, I went up to Canada to play for the Montreal Allouettes and got injured. They sent me back and I was trying to figure out what I was going to do next. Coach [Mark] Spier, who was my first running backs coach at App State, mentioned to me that Hendrick was holding a tryout for athletes looking to become pit crew members. I said, “Why not?” and me and him hopped in the truck and headed out there. I was luckily one of the guys chosen and that’s how I got involved. I knew nothing about it, but now, thanks to Coach Spier, it’s my career.Can you describe the emotions and strategy during the win at Pocono?It was awesome, man. I had never been through a deal like that, so it was great to be a part of a winning team at the top level. That was a long week because it rained out for like two straight days and we barely got any time on the track. We knew there was more weather on the way, but we just had the perfect plan. Everything fell in the right place and the rain hit right when we got up front. We could have done one thing wrong and fell behind — but we didn’t. [Crew chief] Bob Osborne made the right call and we’re in the Chase because of it.How much did Richmond prepare this team for the Chase?Oh man, it was like everything that you didn’t need to go wrong went wrong all at the same time. [Laughs] But we overcame it. Bob [Osborne] was calm and led us through it. He’s been in that situation before, so he knew how to handle it. It was even more pressure, but I knew how to show up in big times. In a lot of ways, football prepared me for that.What are your thoughts on this year’s Appalachian State team?They have a really good team. I would compare them to our national championship teams in terms of the talent they have. Obviously they played some tough opponents, but they are one unit. That’s what we were when I was at App State. Although it’s a bunch of separate individuals trying to do one job, we were successful because we were united. This year’s team has a great senior class and I feel they can keep moving this program forward in the right direction.How did your teams change the future for App State?It’s tough to put into words, but I kind of think of our team back then as Kyle Busch in the Xfinity Series. Almost every time he straps in on Saturdays, he wins. It’s a little tougher for him in the Sprint Cup. We did it the best you could do it and changed the way our school was viewed to the public. Now the most recent teams are showing what they can do against the best of the best.Being with a smaller team in NASCAR, does it feel like a similar situation to playing at App State?Yeah, I had never thought of it that way, really. It feels almost exactly the same. Nobody knew App State when I was there. They used to call us “App-a-lay-chan” and all kind of crazy stuff. They pronounce it correctly now. I’m sure there were probably not a lot of NASCAR fans that knew a lot about Front Row before this season, but now they do. With us being in the Chase, that gives us the exposure and the opportunity to prove what we’re made of.Chris BuescherYou were faced with a tough situation at Richmond after being involved in a wreck. How crucial was your pit crew in getting you into the Chase?They did an excellent job like they have all year. Fixed the damage really quick, which was extremely important at that time. For them to be able to hit pit road after we ran only two laps under caution before we went back to green, my amount of time on pit road was limited and they made the most of it. They had a gameplan and executed it to perfection. They’re the reason why I’m in this position in the Chase.Being with a team associated with Roush Fenway in Front Row Motorsports, how important was it to get that program back into the Chase after missing out last season?It’s huge for Roush and Front Row, especially Bob Jenkins [FRM owner] to pull this off as a small team. The assistance and alliance has been very beneficial, so it’s just great for everyone to be in the Chase at this point. Winning at Pocono was huge, but we needed [Roush’s] help to be able to run competitively and get us to this point. It’s been a team effort, but we couldn’t have done it without everyone being involved.How much did things change after Pocono?From Pocono on, it changed to simply just being consistent. We knew we couldn’t afford another DNF or we would fall too far behind. We were to the point where we were really close on points and needed some consistently good days to race our way in. That’s exactly what we did. I’m just happy we made the Chase so now we can go back to racing aggressively to advance.You went from being overlooked in the Xfinity Series before last year to a champion at that level and Chase contender this year. What have the last two years been like for you?It’s been a rollercoaster ride, for sure. It’s really been the last five years for me that have been pretty wild. We weren’t even competing for championships at the ARCA level at that point. A lot has changed in a very short period of time and it’s great to look back on what my teams have done. We’ve been able to win championships at every level that I’ve been at, so you can’t ask for much more than that. Now we just need to go win a championship here. If history is destined to repeat itself, we should be there in the next couple of years.How much does making the Chase change things for Front Row Motorsports?This is a pretty awesome accomplishment for everyone in that garage. To be even considered in Chase talks at Richmond was special. To pull that off? That was a massive feat for a small team. We know we had a little luck to get here, but who hasn’t? To have two cars and be racing against the super teams of NASCAR that have four and sometimes five or six cars with affiliations is not an easy feat. We’ve been able to do just that. I see big things in the future for this team after 2016.