June 17, 2024

Collaboration puts RFK Racing on the path to the playoffs

Last year was an inconsistent season for RFK Racing, but the continued collaboration between Brad Keselowski and Chris Buescher has kept the organization on the upswing.

Buescher won at Bristol in 2022, but he and Keselowski missed the playoffs after struggling with consistency. Team No. 6 too received a L2 penalty after Atlanta, which took out 100 driver and owner points.

RFK Racing is in its second year of this new era, and both drivers are over the short line with six races remaining before the playoffs. Buescher is 12th in the standings; Keselowski is 11th.

Both drivers are still looking for their first win of the season, but they are able to put themselves in danger much more often.

“I think a lot of that has to do with the fact … what Brad came here and really instilled within the walls,” Buescher said before Pocono weekend. “It’s been neat to see the people who have been at RFK a decade longer than I have at this point, excited and refreshed and also enjoying the progress we’ve made in the last 18 months.

“So, you take all of that into account, we’re progressing well. We’re in a good place, and I think we’ve got to do that because of a lot of different things, but Brad was definitely a big part of it coming up.”

Keselowski had just six top-10 finishes and one best last season, his first in the No. 6 Ford. He has eight top-10 finishes and four top-10 finishes in the first 20 races of this season. He is averaging 14.9 after finishing last year with a 19.2 average.

Buescher had 10 top-10 finishes, three top fives and one win last year. He is winless this year, but has eight top 10 wins and three in the first 20 races. Like Keselowski, he improved his finishing average, going from 17.9 to 14.0.

“Right now, it feels really good because you have a little bit of a warm, fuzzy feeling on that side of things,” Buescher said, “but take the cut and everything that’s coming up in the next few weeks and take the season as a whole, we’ve been a lot more competitive this season every week.

“It doesn’t matter what kind of racetrack we have and, to me, that’s a success story for us internally. It’s not quite there yet, but we’re not talking RFK at superspeedways.

“We’re able to go to short tracks. We are able to go to highways, road courses, our cars have come a long way. We are competitive at many different styles of race tracks right now, looking for a small step to be even more competitive.”

RFK Racing – formerly Roush Fenway Racing – has won championships throughout the national NASCAR series. The team has also had multiple winless droughts, the most recent of which lasted from the middle of the 2017 season until Buescher’s win over Bristol last September in the playoffs.

RFK Racing no longer has a presence in the Truck Series or the Xfinity Series. The team focused entirely on the Cup Series from the start of the 2019 season as they reinstated Ryan Newman, Buescher and Keselowski as key drivers.

Focusing on one set is one way to improve performance. Bringing in a champion with a fresh perspective is another, and it can pay significant dividends.

Keselowski has a business mind for his running Keselowski advanced manufacturing, and he knows how to handle most of the tracks on the NASCAR schedule. He was able to share this information with Buescher during their time together.

The building process has not been smooth since Keselowski left Team Penske to take a new role at RFK Racing. His streak of winning seasons ended at 11 last year.

The 2012 champion knew going without a win was a possibility, but he explained last November that he wasn’t worried because “If I can do what I want to do with this company – and we’re on track to do it – that won’t mean anything to me.”

“Part of the risk of taking the opportunity and making the move I did is giving up some of those statistics, which probably feel good right now, but 10-20 years from now, I don’t care about those things. What I remember is being 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. That’s really what it’s going to be about.”

Keselowski has helped RFK Racing make positive progress this season, putting him and Buescher well above the playoff spot. They could still miss the playoffs, but they would have to struggle significantly even though multiple drivers would be below the cut line to win in the next six weeks.

This is less likely to be the case based on RFK Racing’s consistency this year, but it’s something both drivers have in mind going into a crucial stretch of the season.

“My kind of owner hat, I want both cars to compete for wins,” Keselowski told NBC Sports’ Dustin Long after New Hampshire. “That’s not where we are. It’s frustrating. We must gain more speed; we have to get better to be the team we want to be – to fight for play-off spots and win the race and do that every week.”

“You can’t slow down now. Everyone has to keep going,” Buescher said. “Nobody else we’re racing in this garage is sitting still. Even the winners aren’t happy with where they are, so we have to keep working hard.”

Buescher and Keselowski will continue to chase playoff spots with the July 23 race at Pocono (2:30 p.m. ET on USA Network).

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