Keselowski’s risk paying off so far in Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla — Brad Keselowski had to make a difficult decision last spring. A decision that shakes the lives of humans. One that could drastically alter the course of the rest of his life. He did so knowing that the support of his father, who’s also been a racer himself for decades, wouldn’t be here for much longer to bounce ideas off of.

That risk?

Keselowski, 38, took a very huge risk by leaving an established power team in Team Penske and joining Roush Fenway Racing. The questions were immediately asked.

Why leave a storied organization that you’re the all-time wins leader at, the guy who brought home their first Xfinity as well as first Cup championship to. Why leave for a team that’s won just twice in the last 272 races (2015)? RFR has just under 30 top five finishes, 80 top 10’s and 620 laps led since the start of the 2015 season. In that same span, Keselowski has 19 wins, 88 top fives, 148 top 10’s and 5,584 laps led. He had almost as many top five finishes (26) between 2019 and 2020 than RFR has had in the last seven years.

Why leave an established championship contending team for one that’s struggled for much of the last decade?

Well, Penske didn’t have an ownership stake available and Keselowski wanted to focus on his career post racing. Combine all the factors above, why not? With all the new owners taking over and an opportunity to help a team rebound to where they used to be, especially one with such deep Michigan ties, as well as secure his future for the long term, there’s no better time than now to do so.

DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 17: Chris Buescher, driver of the #17 Fastenal Ford, celebrates with team owners Jack Roush (L) and Brad Keselowski, driver of the #6 Kohler Generators Ford, in the Ruoff Mortgage victory lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Bluegreen Vacations Duel #2 at Daytona at Daytona International Speedway on February 17, 2022 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

A new car. A new NASCAR. Never a better time than the present to make this move. 

2 races in if you count the Clash, he’s already a winner.

It’s not like RFR has been a down organization forever. They used to be among one of NASCAR’s powerhouses.

They’ve won two Cup championships to go along with 137 races. To go along with that, RFR has scored 758 top fives since their debut in 1988 with 1,790 top 10’s and 1,073,582 laps led.

They had a ton of success with Mark Martin who won 35 times, scored 234 top five finishes and 374 top 10’s along with leading 11,365 laps from 1988 through 2006 with the team.

Kurt Busch had 15 wins, 50 top fives, 91 top 10’s, 3,749 laps led to go along with championship in 2004 with them.

Matt Kenseth won a title for them in 2003 to go along with 24 wins, 126 top fives, 228 top 10’s and 7,143 laps led. Carl Edwards was a workhorse with having 23 wins, 108 top five finishes, 187 top 10’s and 4,842 laps led during his career as an RFR driver. Even Greg Biffle had a ton of success there. He won all 19 of his races with RFR. So was his 92 top fives, 175 top 10’s and all 5,844 of his laps led.

The problem is, once these drivers left, RFR was all downhill since.

Martin left after the 2006 season. Busch departed a year prior. That’s 50 combined wins, 284 top five finishes, 465 top 10’s and 15,114 laps led out once the 2007 Daytona 500 began. Edwards, Kenseth and Biffle kept it going but when Kenseth left for JGR following the 2012 season and Edwards doing the same two years later, RFR was never the same in wake of that.

Biffle was gone two years after Edwards.

Combined, that’s 66 wins, 326 top five finishes, 590 top 10’s and 17,829 laps led gone between Kenseth, Edwards and Biffle. Throw in Martin and Busch and that’s 116 of their 137 wins, 610 of their 758 top fives, 1,055 of their 1,390 top 10’s and 32,943 laps led out the door.

Having Keselowski bring with him a championship, 35 wins, 138 top five finishes, 227 top 10’s and 8,683 laps led is like bringing one of those past drivers back. Usually this has been a place where those drivers left but now they’re getting one as good if not better than all of them back in return.

With the proper resources and the proper talent, RFR has proven that they can be a consistent winner. I mean just look no further than what Tony Stewart did. He left a stable JGR organization after the 2008 season to do a similar role to Keselowski. Stewart, bought into Gene Haas’ team. Prior to Stewart, they had yet to win a race in 284 tries. They had just one combined top five finish, 14 top 10’s and 109 laps led.

Why would Stewart go there?

Well, he was 37 and also thinking about his future. Keselowski is also 37 now, has eerily the same amount of wins as Stewart when he made the move and helping own a better established team in Roush Fenway than Stewart was with Haas. Plus, in similar fashion, the Car of Tomorrow came out in 2008, one year before Stewart bought into Haas as well.

Stewart, won four times, had 15 top five finishes, 23 top 10’s and had led 414 laps in his first season as a driver/part owner in 2009. He also won 16 times in eight years as a driver for Stewart-Haas Racing including a championship in 2011.

Could this serve as a blueprint for Keselowski and a good measuring stick to look at for expectations? I’d say so.

Keselowski and his teammate Chris Buescher took the checkered flags in the Bluegreen Duels at Daytona on Thursday night. These were the first victories for the organization in nearly five years.

“It’s just really good,” Keselowski said of his win. “It’s just so important. There’s a lot of guys and gals on my team that have never won a race before. The company hasn’t won a race in five, six years now, five and a half, something like that. That’s any kind of race.

“It’s really important to get that winning habit built up, and the only way you can really do that is to go win. That builds confidence in each other and builds expectations. Not just the expectations, that’s probably not the right word, it builds a reality that those expectations can happen. We had a really poor showing at the Clash, and we needed something to offset that, and this is a great offset for that.”

This was also the first victory for RFK Racing in the Duels since 2012. Coincidentally enough, it’s their only other Duels win and Matt Kenseth took his car to victory lane in the Daytona 500 that year. Can Keselowski who’s 0-for-12 win his first Daytona 500 in his first try without Penske?

He’s off to a good start. He did so with a heavy heart due to his father passing away recently. With all that’s occurred in Keselowski’s life over the last few months, this win was emotionally what he needed.

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