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NASCAR Cup Series

A Season of Progress and Challenges for RFK Racing

Going into 2023, RFK Racing look to improve from a tumultuous 2022 campaign (Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish).

Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing was among the notable headlines of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series campaign. More so that the two-car organization went through mass changes.

For the first time since 2007, the team co-owned by Jack Roush welcomed aboard a new owner to his venture. This time around, it’s a former Cup champion by the name of Brad Keselowski, who wanted to take a gamble and oversee operations in anticipation of turning a once elite squad back to such status.

In his first season as a Cup owner, Keselowski endured several growing pains from start to finish. In spite of both he and Chris Buescher winning their Duel races at Daytona, each had its pitfalls.

Breaks hard to come by for Keselowski. Just as things looked promising for the No. 6 Ford Mustang, trouble beckoned.

Keselowski ahead of his former Cup ride at Team Penske in the Daytona 500 (Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish).

Among the issues was an L2 penalty which docked him 100 points and 10 playoff points for parts modification in Atlanta. Then at the penultimate race of the year at Martinsville, what would’ve been back-to-back top-fives turned into a disqualification. The outcome was a result of failing to meet minimum weight.

Prior to the season finale at Phoenix, Keselowski explained that his Mustang was roughly five pounds above the weight requirement. Additionally, he felt that had it not been for Ross Chastain turning him around in Turn 3, a fourth-place result (which would’ve been his best of the year) would’ve stayed intact.

“You are allowed to be 17 pounds lighter after the race to what they start the race. Our car was roughly 22. It’s pretty normal for the cars to lose weight through the race as they consume,” Keselowski explained.

“Then we had some damage on top of that, and we just didn’t give enough margin. So ultimately it’s on us. We needed to give a little more margin. We were taking it all and had we not got spun out and all those other things, we’d probably been okay. But the reality is we did, we needed to have margin built in for that.”

As part of the risk of undertaking such a commitment, Keselowski’s 11-year winning streak came to a fiery end at Phoenix and wound up with an agonizing 24th points finish. Even then, the biggest prize for him is making RFK Racing a race-winning program again like it once was. When the dust finally settles, the winning streak won’t be valuable in his eyes.

Keselowski finished 24th in points, only the second time he’s finished outside the top-20 as a full-time driver (Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish).

“If I’m able to do what I want to do with this company and we’re on the track to do it, it’s not gonna mean a damn thing to me. It was 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,” said Keselowski.

“You know, 10, 20 years from now, I’m not gonna remember or care about those things. What I’m gonna remember or care about is whether 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. That’s really what’s gonna matter.”

Although Keselowski and luck weren’t a consistent combination, teammate Chris Buescher also danced with those pitfalls. Sometimes a great run was apparent, but other times, he endured some frustrations. This was apparent when he had a violent tumble in the revered Coca-Cola 600. He then tested positive for COVID-19, keeping him out a week later as Zane Smith filled in and finished 17th at Gateway.

Once Buescher returned to the No. 17 Mustang at Sonoma, he wasted no time to deliver a superb performance. Although gutted to finish a spot behind race winner Daniel Suarez, it brought some momentum to the camp. Little did people know, it wouldn’t be his peak effort in 2022.

Buescher at Sonoma where he finished second (Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish).

His peak took place at the Bristol night race, where both RFK cars were poised of having their greatest weekend in years. However, Keseloski’s plans were dashed by a flat tire. But Buescher brought home the team’s first win since Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in the 2017 Coke Zero 400. The victory also marked the end of Buescher’s six-year winless streak, but it wasn’t so much the thrill of winning for him.

Instead, Buescher saw how team morale was boosted.

“I’ve been at Roush for 13 years. It’s a company that I came into professional auto sports. It was great coming in and we’ve had a blast through the years. I’ve been alongside a lot of people that are still there and that’s awesome to see. It’s been hard work,” said Buescher.

“A lot of the same people that have been the trenches from the heyday through the rough times and we’re getting it back going. Worked in the shop for several years when I was just part-time Xfinity racing. I have a lot of friends through the shop where that Bristol win really meant as much to them as it did to me.

“That was really cool to be able to celebrate with people that I’ve been friends with for more than 10 years at this point and be able to see it really start bringing everybody back up. We’re not done yet and we’re not satisfied where we’re at. It needs more and we’re gonna keep after it.

“But it’s been great to see a turn in finally. It’s just hard to keep everybody’s heads up when you go into each year and you keep thinking this is gonna be the one it’s gonna turn around. We finally had one of those seasons.”

The joyful vibes of being a race-winning team at Bristol (Photo: Kevin Ritchie | The Podium Finish).

At season’s end, Buescher finished 21st in points, which was a down year compared to finishing 19th the year before. But in essence, it was a career campaign for the Bristol winner as he had career highs in top fives and top-10s.

Plus, Buescher captured his maiden Cup pole when he led the field to green at Dover. He knows how huge the victory was for Roush as their goal is to improve across the board as the 75th season of NASCAR draws closer. One thing is certain: Jack Roush has found some rejuvenation that hasn’t been seen in a long time.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Jack really cutting up like he is. It’s exciting to see because it’s obviously well-documented that there’s been some struggles in the RFK camp through the years. I’ve been there in the heyday and came in right on the tail end of it,” said Buescher.

“As I was going through the development program and sitting there thinking, ‘How can you go wrong here?’ Trying to come up through the ranks and find your way into one of those Cup cars, right? And then seeing the struggles as we went Xfinity racing and, watched the Cup side really start to have its slump.”

Buescher advanced into the NASCAR All-Star Race after winning Segment 2 of the Open (Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish).

Buescher added that some of the credit goes to Keselowski for seeing an up-swing in spite of the challenges endured all season.

“Fortunately, we were able to still win races and a championship, and it’s been hard to see it not recover as quick as anybody would. It’s been great to see that big turn this year and I think a lot of that is owed to Brad. A lot of its strong leadership from everybody and I think it’s also still the same people that have never given up at Roush,” Buescher commented.

“They’ve always continued to work hard and we’re waiting for the moment where it could swing back in our favor. That’s where, we feel like we’re at right now. We’re at the bottom of the swing so that we’re definitely showing more speed.”

As part of wearing many hats in the sport, Keselowski explained that expenses are scary and no fun, but amazing partners and stakeholders come a long way. More so to continue reshaping RFK Racing if they want to compete for stronger results on a weekly basis.

“We need to continue to keep the partners we have and then grow the partners,” said Keselowski. “We have for years to come to get us to a spot to where we can make the investments and catch up to the companies that are a little bit ahead of us.”

Keselowski led 109 laps at Bristol in September (Photo: Kevin Ritchie | The Podium Finish).

Going forward, the grand takeaway for Keselowski is understanding the strengths and weaknesses, and attacking those.

“I definitely didn’t accomplish as much as I wanted to. But looking realistically at the challenge, it’s probably somewhat on schedule. I think we’ve got a lot of things coming over the off-season,” said Keselowski.

“We’ve got a lot of things that we’re doing to progress that have come over the last six to 12 months of understanding where the company’s at and making the moves accordingly to get both race teams and where they can compete for wins.”

Throughout my young motorsports media career, my number-one goal is to be a personnel that can be flexible with my writing and photography in the world of NASCAR, INDYCAR and ARCA. Content delivery is vital because this is my main passion and what keeps me going. I've dealt with several challenges in my life, such as autism and making most out of trips despite relying on transportation. Even my quest of finding acceptance in my profession which has been my biggest challenge since graduating from college in 2016. Despite those hurdles with Motorsports Tribune and now The Podium Finish, I promise that you'll see excellence with my content. With two National Motorsports Press Association photography awards, I'm not slowing down anytime soon. Outside of media, I'm super vocal about my musical tastes that goes from Metallica to HAIM. Not only that, expect my social media filled with references nobody will understand, especially Licorice Pizza.

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