Brad Keselowski seeing progress, intent on winning with RFK Racing
By Bob Pockrass
FOX Sports NASCAR Writer
HAMPTON, Ga. — Brad Keselowski says the culture has improved at Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing since he became a co-owner of the organization in the offseason.
What about the results? When will they come? When will a season with 20th-place finishes become unacceptable? After all, Keselowski's average finish of 20th this year is his worst since his first full-time Cup season in 2010.
"I don't have a crystal ball for that one," the 2012 Cup champion said. "What I want to see is growth and progress.
"And I'm more concerned with growth and progress than I am a stat."
Keselowski has typically been fairly blunt in assessments of his performance, whether that's a car he’s driving or the truck series team he owned. He left Team Penske after last season in part because he wanted more control of how the team he drives for operates on the competition side. He got that control when he bought into Roush Fenway Racing, with which his investment increases over time.
He knew when he joined that the organization was in dire need of a boost. Chris Buescher finished 19th in the standings last year; Ryan Newman was 28th. The organization has not won a race since 2017.
Some might've had high expectations for a quick boost from Keselowski, who has won 35 races in his Cup career. But there has been little to cheer about since Daytona, where both Keselowski and Buescher won their qualifying races.
Keselowski would be 23rd in the standings if not for a 100-point penalty for a technical violation that has him 33rd. Buescher is 23rd in the standings and probably would be 22nd if he hadn't missed a race due to COVID-19.
"I see a lot of progress being made behind the scenes that hasn't made it to the track," Keselowski said. "And so I'm proud and excited of things to come. But certainly, I want all of it to come right away.
While that is true, Keselowski can’t ignore that two organizations that many would've considered midpack a year ago have made strides with the debut of the Next Gen car.
Trackhouse Racing bought Chip Ganassi Racing and has become a championship contender, with both its drivers already posting wins this year. Richard Childress Racing also has shown improvement, including a win with Tyler Reddick earlier this month at Road America.
Because of their struggles, RFK was last on the Ford list of teams when it came to tire tests, and Keselowski believes that once they get more, that could change.
"We've made big gains on the road-course program, no doubt, [and] looking at that side of it, we had our test at Watkins Glen ... [and] that really picked up our road-course program," Keselowski said. "And I would say we’re some of the best cars at those tracks — certainly top-five cars there."
The other gains have come off the track, Keselowski said.
"I think the team dynamics, the communication inside the company is making major gains," Keselowski said. "Our company culture is improving significantly."
Buescher said that in some ways, they need to ignore what other teams are doing and how fast others are improving.
"In the end, no, you’re not frustrated about other people's successes," he said. "It’s more how do [we] make ourselves more successful?
"How do we get ourselves into that conversation quicker, and I’d say that’s more of it is we’ve just got to keep doing a better job in getting there."
The reason for the struggles, in Buescher’s view, is how the team approached the Next Gen car to begin with and the areas the team focused on to try to find speed. As with any new car, some teams hit on something that works, and others need more time.
"We did not get to where we thought we would through the offseason, where we believed we would," Buescher said. "It wasn’t due to a lack of work or effort. We just didn’t get to the right things, so it’s taken us races through the season to get closer and to keep figuring some things out, and we’re getting there.
"We’ve definitely found some speed in the race cars."
Keselowski still has a goal of getting both him and Buescher into victory lane by the end of the season.
"Pretty much all we’ve talked about is what it’s going to take to win," he said. "And it's difficult because it's hard to build a program trying to do nothing but win. There’s always a balancing act there and trying to know when to take risks and when not to take risks.
"That’s a challenge. It’s really where our head is at. I'd rather finish 20th and take a shot at winning than have five straight top-10s or whatever."
And where is Keselowski’s head? He says it’s in a good place.
"I'm very hungry to win. I’m very hungry to get us where we want to be."
Thinking out loud
Ross Chastain is learning that once you make a mistake, once you find yourself on the receiving end of the ire of drivers, there's no getting the benefit of the doubt.
Chastain was involved in two incidents at Atlanta, one with Martin Truex Jr. and another with Denny Hamlin. The incidents ruined the day for a couple drivers, as Austin Dillon was collected in the incident with Truex and Hamlin's day was ruined.
Dillon blamed Chastain, despite Truex's making it sound on the radio like he was taking blame. Hamlin was fuming at Chastain over their contact, and Chastain took the blame but characterized it as having damage on his car and it getting away from him.
Those accidents weren’t terrible racing by Chastain, but once a driver is involved in incidents like the one last month at Gateway, where he made a couple of bad moves, that driver needs more than a handful of races without issue to not earn the blame.
When a driver is running up front as often as Chastain, contact with other drivers is unavoidable. And for Chastain, his current position is unenviable as far as his relationships with other drivers but enviable in that he is in contention week in and week out.
Stat of the day
Chase Elliott swept both stages and won the race at Atlanta, marking the second time in his career that he has done that and the first since Watkins Glen in 2019. Elliott increased his regular-season points lead from 33 points to 47 points over Ryan Blaney.
They said it
"This one is up there for sure, man. To win at your home track is a really big deal, I think, to any race car driver." — Chase Elliott
Bob Pockrass has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s. He joined FOX Sports in 2019 following stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @bobpockrass. Looking for more NASCAR content? Sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass!