RACING

Brad Keselowski on rebuilding RFK: ‘I’m here for the long haul’

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Jacques Gilbert | Getty Images

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Reunion week for Brad Keselowski comes with some recent signs of encouragement — “a bit of recovery,” as he puts it. His first year on the driver-slash-owner side with RFK Racing had its share of wild swings with a few hits and misses mixed in.

Back in his home state for Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 (3 p.m. ET, US, NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM) at Michigan International Speedway, Keselowski says he hopes to give the local crowd a reason to cheer — for both his #6 Ford and teammate Chris Buescher’s #17 Mustang. On Tuesday, he indicated he was making progress in re-establishing the organization’s place as a perennial powerhouse in the NASCAR Cup Series, but also had personal goals to add to his own driving legacy.

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“We seem to be getting better every week, and the team is starting to click and we’re starting to figure out some of the missing pieces,” Keselowski said, noting the speed he and Buescher had last weekend at the Indianapolis road course. Motor Speedway. . “Michigan is probably going to be a tough race for us, but I’m looking at Richmond, Watkins Glen, Daytona, and I think we have reason to be very optimistic and hopeful. So we’re going to give it our all, and I’m here for the long haul I’m 38, and statistically I’m still a few years away from my peak, and I want to keep pushing as hard as I can to get this company to where RFK – the two cars, the 6 and 17 – can win races and fight for championships.

“So we are heading in the right direction and I think it will pay off with a little patience. So I appreciate the fans sticking with me as we turn a new page.

The novelty remains, just over a year after it was announced in July 2021 that Keselowski would be teaming up with Hall of Famer Jack Roush’s band. The organization’s name change came later, and RFK Racing made its first on-track splash with a sweep of that year’s Daytona 500 qualifying races.

The splashes have had fewer ripples since, and both drivers need wins to work their way into the Cup Series playoffs. Buescher managed to clinch his first career pole position earlier this season, but has only finished six top 10s so far. Keselowski’s total is half that, and his place in the Cup Series standings has was shaken in March with a 100-point penalty for modifications to a single-source part for the Next Gen car model that debuted this year.

That punishment stood alone until a recent spate of infractions surfaced after last month’s race at Pocono Raceway, where top Joe Gibbs Racing entries of Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch were disqualified. A few days later, Michael McDowell’s No. 34 team, Front Row Motorsports, was added to the list of offenders with its own 100 point deduction.

Keselowski said he was “a bit relieved” that the penalties imposed on those teams were treated with the same severity as his team’s case. While he said he has a general understanding of NASCAR’s stance on rule enforcement, he advocated for broader and more sweeping penalties for teams that play outside of rule bounds.

“The reality is that the garage is going through a reset in terms of the type of deletion of games, and that’s a good thing for us as a sport,” Keselowski said. “Personally, I think the sport needs more penalties and NASCAR needs to hand them out like candy right now to take control of the garage. Because, you know, we’ve been playing a lot of games for a lot of years, and the games have to stop. Games are very expensive. … And so looking at that, the easiest way for NASCAR to stop that spending is to stop the games.

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After his team came into contact with the long arm of NASCAR law, Keselowski said he cracked down. Extensive local parts engineering was complete.

“I know after our problems in Atlanta, we went through our whole business and said more games,” Keselowski said. “Nothing happens in these cars, period. And it’s a rapid culture change and there are a lot of people within our own company who didn’t like it, but the reality is that NASCAR is setting precedents that needed to be set, that we support, that are important for the future of our industry and its viability.

As for the more immediate outlook, this weekend’s event in Michigan holds added significance for the sport’s makers, but also for Keselowski, who grew up in Rochester Hills. The driver-owner is 0 for 24 in Cup Series races held at the 2-mile track, and the prospects of finally scratching the win column there are marked by variables.

Sunday’s 400 miles is Michigan’s first race for the Next Gen model, and a Goodyear test there earlier this year prompted a change in approach from the tire supplier. Mix those factors with limited track time in Saturday’s preliminaries and there is a lot of uncertainty.

“I would say that’s about the wild card a wild card can get this weekend,” Keselowski said. “I don’t know what to tell you to expect with the new car, different tyres, very little practice. The only practice session with a limited number of cars didn’t go smoothly, we’ll have to see. I don’t know what to expect. It could be complete and utter chaos. It might be the best race ever. It could be somewhere in between. I do not know. I think in some ways part of the fun of Next Gen is the complete uncertainty each week of what’s going to happen.

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