By Bob Pockras
FOX Sports Writer NASCAR
HAMPTON, Ga. — Brad Keselowski says the culture has improved at Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing since he became part-owner of the organization during the offseason.
What about the results? When will they come? When will a season with a 20th place finish become unacceptable? After all, Keselowski’s 20th average finish this year is his worst since his first full-time Cup season in 2010.
“I don’t have a crystal ball for that,” said the 2012 Cup champion. “What I want to see is growth and progress.
“And I’m more concerned with growth and progress than a statistic.”
Brad Keselowski on RFK’s team culture
Brad Keselowski believes the culture at RFK Racing is changing as he looks to improve the team going forward.
Keselowski has generally been pretty straightforward in his performance reviews, whether it’s a car he’s been driving or the production team of trucks he’s owned. He left Team Penske after last season in part because he wanted more control over how the team he drives for operates on the competitive side. He gained this control when he purchased Roush Fenway Racing, with which his investment grows over time.
He knew from the moment he arrived that the organization desperately needed 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 have had high expectations for a quick boost from Keselowski, who won 35 races during his Cup career. But there has been little cause for celebration since Daytona, where Keselowski and Buescher won their qualifying races.
Keselowski would be 23rd in the standings if he hadn’t picked up a 100-point penalty for a technical foul that puts him 33rd overall. Buescher is 23rd in the standings and would likely be 22nd had he not missed a race due to COVID-19.
“I see a lot of progress being made behind the scenes that hasn’t hit the runway,” Keselowski said. “And so I’m proud and excited about things to come. But certainly, I want it all to happen right away.
“There’s a will and a push to not accept that it’s not there right now. And that’s probably in stark contrast to a level of realism that says it’s not a tipping point of a switch.”
While that’s true, Keselowski can’t ignore that two organizations that many would have considered mid-range a year ago have made progress with the launch of the Next Gen car.
Trackhouse Racing bought Chip Ganassi Racing and became a championship contender, with both of its drivers having already won victories this year. Richard Childress Racing also showed improvement, including a win with Tyler Reddick earlier this month at Road America.
Due to their struggles, RFK was last on the list of Ford teams when it came to tire testing, and Keselowski thinks once they get more that might change.
“We have made great progress on the road racing programme, without a doubt, [and] looking that way, we did our test at Watkins Glen… [and] it’s really energized our road racing program,” Keselowski said. “And I would say we’re among the best cars at those tracks – definitely among the top five cars there.”
The other gains came off the track, Keselowski said.
“I think the team dynamic, the communication within the company is making significant progress,” Keselowski said. “Our corporate culture is improving significantly.”
Buescher said in some ways they have to ignore what other teams are doing and how fast others are improving.
“At the end of the day, no, you’re not frustrated with other people’s successes,” he said. “It’s more how to do [we] make us more efficient?
“How can we get into that conversation faster, and I would say that’s more important is that we just have to keep doing a better job of getting there.”
Chris Buescher on the team’s performance so far
Chris Buescher says the RFK team is focused on themselves and improving themselves regardless of the progress of other teams.
The reason for the difficulties, according to Buescher, is how the team approached the Next Gen car to begin with and the areas the team focused on trying to find speed. As with any new car, some teams find something that works, and others need more time.
“We didn’t get where we thought we were going in the offseason, where we thought we would,” Buescher said. “It wasn’t due to a lack of work or effort. We just didn’t achieve the right things, so it took races throughout the season for us to come together and continue to understand some things, and we get there.
“We definitely found speed in race cars.”
Keselowski still aims to get him and Buescher into winning ways by the end of the season.
“Almost everything we’ve talked about is what it will take to win,” he said. “And it’s hard because it’s hard to build a program trying to do nothing but win. There’s always a balance to be found and trying to know when to take risks and when not to take risks. .
“It’s a challenge. It’s really where our head is. I’d rather finish 20th and try to win 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 to where we want to be.”
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Thinking out loud
Ross Chastain learns that once you make a mistake, once you find yourself in the wrath of the pilots, you can no longer benefit from the doubt.
Chastain was involved in two incidents in Atlanta, one with Martin Truex Jr. and another with Denny Hamlin. The incidents ruined a few drivers’ day, as Austin Dillon was picked up during the incident with Truex and Hamlin’s day was ruined.
Truex and Chastain trigger major crash in Atlanta
Martin Truex Jr. and Ross Chastain caused a major crash during Sunday’s Stage 2 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Dillon blamed Chastain, despite Truex sounding him on the radio as if taking the blame. Hamlin was furious with Chastain because of their contact, and Chastain took the blame but characterized him as having damage to his car and walking away from him.
Those crashes weren’t terrible in racing per Chastain, but once a driver is involved in incidents like the one last month at Gateway, where he made a few bad moves, that driver needs more than a handful trouble-free races to not win the blame.
When a rider is racing in the lead as often as Chastain, contact with other riders is inevitable. And for Chastain, his current position is unenviable when it comes to his dealings with other drivers, but enviable insofar as he’s in contention week in and week out.
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Statistics of the day
Chase Elliott swept both stages and won the race in Atlanta, marking the second time in his career he has done this 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’s up there for sure, man. Winning on his home track is a really big deal, I think, for any race car driver.” —Chase Elliott
Bob Pockrass has spent decades covering motorsports, including the last 30 Daytona 500s. He joined FOX Sports in 2019 after 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!
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