Keselowski clicking with new crew chief Matt McCall, aims for strong opening kick at RFK


2022 Feb14 Keselowski Matt Mccall Main Image
Zack Albert
NASCAR Digital Media

With the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum as a hulking backdrop, Brad Keselowski fielded questions about the next day’s looming Busch Light Clash and the NASCAR Cup Series season to come. He took extra time to tout the early chemistry he’d built with new crew chief Matt McCall, a central addition to the new-look Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing team.

As he wrapped up his response, fellow Ford driver Kevin Harvick — seated alongside him and flagging his own questions — interjected: “And you will never lose a fight.”

Keselowski laughed. “Yeah, that is right. The guy will karate kick some people, I tell you what. He has it going on. He knows moves I have never heard of before.”

The driver-owner of the No. 6 Ford enjoyed a good chuckle, but as is the case with most jokes, there’s a kernel of truth involved.

“Just before I attempted to be a race car driver and work for a living, I grew up in martial arts. My dad has a karate school, so a little background with trying to protect yourself,” McCall told NASCAR.com. “Obviously, I don’t get to play as much as I used to, but it’s just something I’ve grown up with. It’s all I knew in my household.”

So there’s that, should any roughhousing unfold on pit road or in the garage this year, but Keselowski didn’t hire McCall for his ability in hand-to-hand combat. In McCall, he now has a veteran crew chief who helped Kurt Busch reach the Cup Series Playoffs for three consecutive years.

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McCall became available when team owner Chip Ganassi announced midway through last year he would sell his organization to Trackhouse Racing after the 2021 season. Keselowski snapped him up, and several key crew members from Ganassi’s No. 1 group made the move with him.

“It is always nice to bring a team that had been in the playoffs and done a lot of great things over the last few years and has good experience,” Keselowski said. “There are some really smart people that come over from there and a few other places. Certainly the things we need to complement the other good people we had.

Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images
Jared C. Tilton | Getty Images

“He has been great to work with. He is a real racer and has raced himself as a race car driver and has a lot of similarities to me with Paul Wolfe, who I have worked with in the past and has been nothing but first class. I think the sky’s the limit for him.”

As Keselowski referenced, McCall’s racing chops haven’t been limited to the top of the pit box. Earlier in his career, McCall starred as a capable Late Model racer who advanced to make seven NASCAR national series starts (five in Xfinity, two in Camping World Trucks). He was also runner-up in the ARCA Menards Series’ prestigious opener at Daytona in 2006.

McCall’s racing background also has a long-ago connection to team co-owner and NASCAR Hall of Famer Jack Roush. His driving aspirations were on full display in the 2005 edition of “Roush Racing: Driver X,” a reality-show competition for a Truck Series seat.

Forward nearly 17 years and McCall has a new opportunity, but with a decidedly different Roush organization. Keselowski has transitioned into the role of team co-owner with a leadership position in the competition department, and the two-car organization has rebranded as RFK Racing. With all those moving parts, including the debut of the new Next Gen car for 2022, the assignment might seem daunting, but the 40-year-old crew chief embraced the chance to pair with Keselowski for the first time.

“One of the questions when I was interviewing with him was, ‘what makes you want to come do this?’ because obviously we know it’s going to be a challenge, new car, a lot of different stuff, new organization, new tools — all that stuff,” McCall said. “What it boils down to is, I know how good he is and that was enough for me to want to take a chance to build a team around him and push from there.”

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McCall scratched the win column with Busch in each of the last three seasons, and Keselowski has a victory streak of his own that’s 11 years running. Along with the No. 17 RFK team of driver Chris Buescher and crew chief Scott Graves, they are charged with ending a four-year drought for the organization, which last visited Victory Lane in 2017 with Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

“Head down, digging through a lot of things” is how Keselowski described the process of shaping the team’s new direction. McCall has taken notice as the two have developed a bond during preseason testing.

“It’s impressive how much work he puts in from all sides, obviously,” McCall says. “The different hats he wears, for sure, but I mean, he’s still dedicated to the driving part more than anything and then just trying to work around the ownership side as well. To work with him, everything’s going really well. It’s going to be really fun. We’ve got obviously a lot of work to do on everything, we have to get better each week, but he is what you want in a race car driver, so he’s going to be a joy to work with.”