RFK Racing faced a mini-revolution of sorts in 2022.
The year was bound to be a reset as the NASCAR Cup Series transitioned to the Next Gen car anyway. But the addition of former Team Penske driver Brad Keselowski as both a part-owner and full-time driver of the No. 6 Ford brought a revamped rebranding to RFK — known from 1988 to 2006 as Roush Racing and from 2007 through 2021 as Roush Fenway Racing.
Jack Roush, who founded his historic NASCAR operation in 1988, was still involved at 80 years old. But the mechanical genius known both for his engineering prowess and preference for doing things his way allowed Keselowski into the fold this year.
One of the many witnesses throughout the entire process was Chris Buescher, driver of the No. 17 Ford since 2020 but with ties to the company since 2010.
With a new teammate — who happens to be his co-owner, too — Buescher acknowledged that while much has changed, there was a surprising similarity in how Roush and Keselowski operated.
“It’s been really good,” Buescher said. “I think that, you know, both of them coming from Michigan, both being very ingrained Ford people trying to come in from both having their manufacturing side of their businesses, I think that it’s been a great fit.
“I think that Brad’s very, very knowledgeable and has been very sharp and has been able to take a lot of his practices through the years and figure out how to help it apply to us and help us and I think that’s been very, very good for us in general as well.”
That was another plus for Keselowski: While this was his biggest leap into ownership in NASCAR, it was not his first. That came in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series with Brad Keselowski Racing, which operated between 2008-2017 usually as a two-truck program, providing opportunities for some of today’s Cup stars like Ross Chastain, Ryan Blaney, Tyler Reddick, Chase Briscoe and Austin Cindric.
“It’s really, really similar,” Keselowski said of his experiences at BKR and RFK. “It’s just every check has another zero on it. You know, that’s the reality. The things that cost $50,000 cost $500,000. Things that cost $500,000 cost $5 million. It’s just more expensive, probably the biggest thing. But all the same values and principles hold true of how you treat your people and how you develop your car and how you interact on a daily basis with your company and your team and sponsors and all the people that are kind of stakeholders.
“So I think the fundamentals are all the same. It’s just a little more expensive and a little better competition.”
The years leading up to 2022 were lean for RFK. Carl Edwards’ wins in 2014 at Bristol and Sonoma served as the company’s only victories on non-superspeedway tracks for the next seven years. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s triumphs in 2017 at Talladega and Daytona were the only exceptions.
That changed this past season thanks to Buescher’s victory in September at Bristol, his second career win and first since winning a fog-shortened race in 2016 at Pocono for Front Row Motorsports. Keselowski, meanwhile, went winless for the first time since 2010, snapping an 11-year streak of consecutive seasons with victories. While disappointing for the 2012 Cup Series champion, numbers from one year alone aren’t bothering him much.
“You know, if I’m able to do what I want to do with this company — and we’re on the track to do it — then it’s not gonna mean a damn thing to me,” Keselowski said. “Part of the risk of taking the opportunity and making the move I did is giving up some of those stats, which probably feel good in the moment, but you know, 10, 20 years from now, I’m not going to remember or care about those things. What I’m going to remember or care about is what I was able to take this company from where it was a year ago to where I want it to be in the next year or so.”
The numbers don’t lie. Buescher scored a career-high three top-five finishes and 10 top 10s in addition to his Bristol win while Keselowski contributed one top five and six top 10s. The quick math says that counts for four combined top fives and 16 top 10s — an immediate improvement from 2021, when Buescher and Ryan Newman combined for three top fives and 13 top 10s.
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Keselowski is optimistic more good lies ahead despite him and Buescher finishing outside the top 20 in driver points this season, with Buescher 21st and Keselowski 24th.
“Definitely didn’t accomplish as much as I wanted to, but you know, looking realistically at the challenge, it’s probably somewhat on schedule,” he explained. “You know, I think we’ve got a lot of things coming over the offseason. … But we’ve got a lot of things that we’re doing to progress that have come over the last, you know, six to 12 months of understanding where the company is at and making the moves accordingly to get both race teams where they can compete for wins.”
The question remains, though, whether any baseline knowledge from 2022 can propel RFK toward an upward trajectory in 2023.
“I would like to say that we have a hold on this car and we got it all figured out and it’s gonna be much easier next year, but I’m not sure that would be truthful,” Buescher said. “We have ideas. We have baselines to start, but we are constantly learning. We’re constantly evolving even more. And I think that’s what we’re going to be looking at through the offseason, right, is how do we take our best days and figure out how to make that our every day.”