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Interview

'Evolution' of RFK Racing well underway under Keselowski

Brad Keselowski’s addition as both driver and part owner at Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing last season was transformative for the organization, evident in everything from facility upgrades to performance on the track.

Brad Keselowski, RFK Racing, Kohler Generators Ford Mustang

Brad Keselowski, RFK Racing, Kohler Generators Ford Mustang

Nigel Kinrade / NKP / Motorsport Images

RFK Racing enjoyed some successes in 2022, including Keselowski and teammate Chris Buescher both claiming wins in the Daytona 500 qualifying races and Buescher winning the Bristol Night Race last fall.

Keselowski went the season without a points win and neither team qualified for the Cup Series playoffs but the seeds of change had been planted and much-noticed by those in and outside the organization.

Prior to Keselowski’s arrival following the 2021 season, team owner Jack Roush had a rich history in NASCAR competition with multiple championships across all three NASCAR national series – Cup, Xfinity and Trucks – and had amassed 325 wins.

Making Roush a contender again

However, the organization had struggled in recent seasons, with its most recent championship coming in 2015 (Buescher in Xfinity) and its most recent win in the Cup Series in 2017 (with Ricky Stenhouse Jr.).

Keselowski’s addition as a driver and part-owner was lauded as a ‘game-changer’ and with good reason.

“This organization has a tremendous history of winning races and championships but it had been dormant of late,” said Jeremy Thompson, the organization’s director of competition. “It had been a while since it had been relevant and in contention for that kind of stuff.

“Penske was gracious enough to allow Brad to come and speak to everyone at the facility before the big announcement was made and all I can say is – wow. When the team members here were able to hear directly from him about his emphasis on winning races and championships, his professionalism and proficiencies – all those things, there was a noticeable change.

“The excitement and anticipation level were through the roof.”

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Keselowski had to complete his contract with Penske Racing before he could officially begin duties at RFK – and there was a lot to do.

While Keselowski began to make an imprint on the organization, there were numerous personnel changes on both the Nos. 6 and 17 teams and a sport-wide transition to the Next Gen car, which provided its own challenges including multiple rule package changes and parts shortages.

“When he actually walked through the door and started to get all the things going that he wanted, the team was a sponge and bought in 100 percent. I was hoping for that but you’re always a little nervous on how a transition will go,” Thompson said.

“This group has been thirsty for performance success.”

Brad Keselowski, RFK Racing, Kohler Generators Ford Mustang

Brad Keselowski, RFK Racing, Kohler Generators Ford Mustang

Keselowski dove head-first into all aspects of competition, with his primary focus in ensuring RFK Racing’s employees had the tools necessary to produce the results they all crave.

“I think I would describe it as an evolution – the next step in the evolution of our organization,” said Steve Newmark, president of RFK Racing, when asked to describe how the team has changed in the last year. “There are a lot of things in which Brad and Jack are very similar – the way they approach things, the mindset, the engineering, the analytical perspective they both have.

“That said, Brad is of a different era and different generation. Brad brings a bunch of new ideas on how to take the company to the next step. Jack has been very open and willing to take that next step.

“The type of culture Brad wanted was to continue to refine and improve the facilities that everybody works in. The foundation is the same between the two of them; Brad has just brought some different ideas on execution.”

Race winner Chris Buescher, RFK Racing, Ford Mustang

Race winner Chris Buescher, RFK Racing, Ford Mustang

Photo by: Matthew T. Thacker / NKP / Motorsport Images

Buescher also sees many similarities between Keselowski and Roush.

“I used to think I was at the shop a lot but I’m not compared to ‘team owner’ Brad. He puts a ton of effort, a ton of time into this thing,” Buescher said. “He’s in all of the competition discussions. He has his fingerprints on everything.

“He reminds me a lot of Jack. Jack is from a little bit different era. It was always, ‘I’m going to be hard on you because I expect your best.’ But Jack was also always the first one to apologize after a bad weekend for not giving us what we need to have a successful weekend.

“Brad is maybe not quite as sharp and direct on the delivery but he’s over here doing the exact same thing, asking, ‘What do we need? What do you need from me to make us more successful?’ It’s a sign of strong leadership from both of them even though their delivery may be different.”

Looking ahead to 2023

The transformation of RFK Racing into an organization that competes regularly for race wins and championships is ongoing but Keselowski feels he and RFK are positioned much stronger entering the 2023 season.

“I think we have a lot more ‘knowns’ going into this year. Our people understand our resources and how to optimize them at a much higher level. This year is more about applying lessons learned specific to the people I’m working with,” Keselowski said.

“Last year there was a lot of transition just with the Next Gen car and getting to know people within the organization. I feel like this is still a transition for me and I’m still pretty early in it but at least I have some lessons learned and I know what I don’t know now.

“I’m happy and fortunate to be a part of leading a team and leading a company at the same time.”

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