When it was announced in July of 2021 that 2012 NASCAR Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski would move to Roush Fenway Racing as a driver and co-owner, the team was at a low point.
The once five-car powerhouse team of the early 2000s had slimmed down to two teams in 2017, with its most recent victory coming that season when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.
However, on Saturday night, Chris Buescher brought the famed Roush name back to victory lane, with a triumphant performance at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.
For RFK Racing, it was the team’s first non-restrictor plate oval victory since Carl Edwards reigned at “The Last Great Colosseum” in 2014.
Driving the No. 6 RFK Racing Ford, Keselowski appeared to have a date with destiny, as he led 109 laps of the .533-mile concrete track. However, it wasn’t meant to be for the 38-year-old, after a right-front tire went down with 87 laps to go. Keselowski finished 13th.
After the checkered flag, Keselowski was candid about his emotions, as he balanced missing out on a victory as a driver with winning as an owner.
“It’s certainly a good feeling. I’ve got to try to clear my emotions and memory out of not winning the race as a driver and working your butt off to do that and coming short of it,” Keselowski said. “But also I’m trying to remember to be grateful because it’s super-hard to win races in this sport even as a car owner. In that sense, it’s a big moment for us.
“I know to you guys this is our first win,” Keselowski continued. “I would say the Duels (at Daytona) felt more like our first win, but you get in all these qualifications of points races and exhibition races. I’ll tell you, I felt like that was our first win.
“But with respect to that, this is a different type of win. This is a legacy type of win. There are some tracks that winning at is always great, don’t get me wrong, but there are some tracks that winning at is just not as special as others, and Bristol is right up there at the top of being special. Big moment for us.”
RFK Racing’s moment on Saturday was one the team had been searching for since the season began in February.
With a new regime and a fresh outlook with Keselowski joining the fray at RFK Racing, the driver of the No. 6 Ford has a clear goal set for the team as it continues its resurgence at NASCAR’s highest level.
“Yeah, I mean, we want to get back to being at least a four-car team. That’s been our goal all along,” Keselowski said. “Before you can get to a four-car team, you’ve got to get to a three-car team. Before you can get to a three-car team, you have to be relevant as a two-car team.
“For us, again, relevancy is winning races, multiple races a year with both of your cars and competing for playoffs.
“Obviously, we’re not in the playoffs with either of our cars, so we have more work to do,” Keselowski continued. “But our stated goal internally is to get back to being a four-car team. That’s not going to happen if you’re not winning races and you’re not relevant as a two-car team.
“This is a good step forward for us. We’ve got a long way still to go. We need to be able to win multiple races a year. But before you can do that, you’ve got to win a first race. Not to take anything away from today.”
Keselowski continues to see first-hand how much of a challenge rebuilding a team can be. Through the trials and growing pains, Keselowski remains optimistic as RFK Racing looks to the future.
“Yeah, I mean, it’s painful, but anything in life worth doing is painful,” Keselowski said. “It’s a little bit like working out. I moved up a weight class here and I’ve got to build a lot more muscle and get better off the track as much as I have to on the track.
“There was a lot of room for growth within the company. We’ve been making major investments to try to get to where we can get this thing to where it can win, and when you make those investments, you want to get a result out of it, and it’s really important that you get those results when you do them.
“There’s been a little bit of a lag, and some of that — one of our biggest problems is there was a ton of supply-chain issues that probably affected us as much as anyone else this year, or more, and we’re just now starting to realize some of those investments, and they’re paying off with results.”