RFK Racing searching for sustained success entering 2023 season

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Brad Keselowski sees things daily that make him feel good about the progress of Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing.

And he sees things daily that make him frustrated with Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing’s progress.

That’s the life of a race team co-owner, which Keselowski became after the 2021 season when he left Team Penske to join Roush Fenway as a co-owner and driver.

Now a year into the team’s ownership, Keselowski is conflicted about how to measure progress.

“I probably have some of those feelings every day at RFK, a little bit of a mix,” he said of feeling good and frustrated at the same time.

“I think that’s a healthy sign that at least we’re getting somewhere and we have the momentum to do it.”

Keselowski did not win for the first time since his first full season as a Cup driver in 2010. He indicated that he did not finish 2022 in hopes of starting 2023 as soon as possible so he could try to get back on track the victory

“I’m not in a big rush to start the season because we have a lot of really active projects going on over the winter and fall that build on key learnings from our first year together,” he said.

“And I want to see them mature.”

Keselowski discusses progress with RFK

Brad Keselowski describes the progress being made at Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing and what’s in the pipeline.

RFK won one race when Chris Buescher took the win at Bristol in an event where Keselowski appeared on his way to victory until he had a tire problem. The win was RFK’s first since July 2017 and first at a non-superspeedway since June 2014.

How different would the offseason have been had Buescher not won at Bristol?

“I don’t think it makes a big difference what our feelings are,” Buescher said. “But I sure wouldn’t take it back and try to find out some other way.”

Buescher admitted the mood would have changed slightly heading into the offseason without that trophy.

“That was obviously the highlight for us,” Buescher said. “But I would say we had speed and a chance to win a lot of times throughout the season on a lot of different styles of racetracks.”

Matt McCall, Keselowski’s crew chief, agreed.

“There were enough signs of improvement in some other tracks that it was a similar push and culture change that we’re getting back to where we need to be and want to be as a company,” McCall said.

It’s one thing to believe you can win. It’s another to have won to add that confidence.

Here’s what Bristol’s win brought to the organization.

“The overall mood, we would have felt very similar,” Buescher said. “But we have a trophy to say it, now. We have something to sit there and look out and say, ‘Look, it really worked.'”

Buescher shares excitement for RFK’s upcoming season

Buescher shares excitement for RFK's upcoming season

Chris Buescher says Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing is in a much better place than last year.

Buescher’s crew chief Scott Graves said he has finished second in enough races that getting this trophy was important.

“I know for me there would probably be a little less confidence if we didn’t have that,” Graves said. “But it wasn’t a one-off experience either… There were a lot of races we were on, just like [Keselowski] at the end of the year.

“Even without this win, we were on an upswing and felt like we were in a good place for this year.”

Neither driver winning during the regular season, neither made the playoffs. Buescher finished 21st in the standings, and Keselowski 24th.

Both showed speed in many races late in the year, but the results weren’t always there.

“We’ve had a very heavy fall on RFK,” Keselowski said. “We started to really show some results. We were able to mature a lot of our investments in our people and team.

“I [we] began to apply the lessons from earlier in the season.”

Buescher said the organization is in a much better place this year than it was a year ago, which took a while for a new group to get to know the new Next Gen car while also getting to know their new co-workers.

“It took a lot of energy to get everybody in place, to get that chemistry rolling,” Buescher said. “In the end, at the start of the season, I didn’t think we were underprepared, but we didn’t perform as well as we had hoped.

“Now we have notes and we have a very good idea why we got lost [it at] some of these races.”

It was no surprise to Buescher. I expected the first third of the season to be almost a toss-up.

“We had a really strong season,” Buescher said. “We had hoped for more. But realistically, it was a great start. We just have to keep going and keep building on it.”

McCall said it’s hard to judge the organization’s progress against what was expected a year after the transition. It took RFK longer than other teams to figure out how to increase speed with the Next Gen car.

Keselowski and Buescher talk about Bristol’s win

Keselowski and Buescher talk about Bristol's win

Brad Keselowski and Chris Buescher describe the impact of Buescher’s win at Bristol as a confidence builder during the offseason.

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So to answer the question Keselowski addressed about whether the team is where it should be after a year, McCall said it’s pretty much on par.

“I don’t think we knew how to start the season where we stacked up,” McCall said. “The first few races, it went well, and then it was miserable.

“We still have a lot of time, a lot of work to do to get to where we want to be.”

Thinking out loud

NASCAR knew there would be some fan angst just hearing the word “muffler.” But he also knows that for the potential of more stage races or races, the cars must have a muffler system.

Being at recent tests and listening to the cars with mufflers, I think most fans will be fine with the way they sound.

Not all fans. For some, the louder the cars, the better. And it’s a bit softer in noise. So for some, it won’t be good enough.

But for most fans, especially when there are 36 of these cars on the track, it will be loud enough for the sound to be part of what makes the fans enjoy the race experience.

For those who bring friends to the track, it may also provide an opportunity for a short chat or perhaps not be a huge surprise to those new to the race experience.

So using mufflers in the Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Sunday (heats start at 5 p.m. ET on FOX) is a good thing, as long as they don’t create an overly hot booth. Will definitely need to monitor this as it was a problem in testing.

Social reference point

Statistics of the day

The winner of the Clash has won the championship eight times, including Joey Logano in 2022.

They said it

“I visited Hendrick Motorsports, and I have to say I was blown away by the facility. I’ve raced for some of the best Formula 1 teams in the world, and I was still amazed at how good the facility was, the detail intrinsic that goes into everything they do within the team. I knew they would be developing and producing a fantastic car for us to race at Le Mans.” —Former F1 champion Jenson Button, who will be part of the Hendrick driver line-up at Le Mans this year.

Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including the last 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrassand register at FOX Sports NASCAR Newscast with Bob Pockrass.

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