Big night for RFK Racing in Bristol

BRISTOL, Tenn — This is the night that Brad Keselowski envisioned when he decided to leave a stable situation with Team Penske last year and to not only join an existing team in Roush Fenway, but to become a part owner as well. Some thought Keselowski was crazy for this.

At Penske, you have the resources to win races weekly and championships annually. Going to Roush Fenway (formerly), an organization that’s last win came in July 2017 at Daytona, it was going to be a challenge.

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 252 races (since 2015)? Entering 2022, RFR had just 29 top five finishes, 86 top 10’s and 620 laps led since the start of the 2015 season. In that same span, Keselowski had 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 he was thinking of his future post driving career. He wanted an ownership stake and there wasn’t that option with Penske. Plus, with a new Next Gen coming out this season, one that should shorten the gap in the competition department, the timing was better now than ever before.

So off he went. RFK Racing swept the two Duels in Daytona back in February. A month later, they were hit with the first major penalty with this new car. A massive fine and being docked 100 points put this team back.

BRISTOL, TENNESSEE – SEPTEMBER 17: Chris Buescher, driver of the #17 Fastenal Ford, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on September 17, 2022 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

But as the year went on, the speed started to come. It hit its high point in Saturday night’s Bass Pro Shops Night Race. Keselowski led 109 laps including scoring his first stage win of the season. He passed Kyle Larson for the lead on Lap 387 and had the car to beat.

Unfortunately he was plagued by a cut tire like most of the Fords had endured during the 500 lap event. It dropped him to a 13th place finish.

His teammate Chris Buescher picked him up. He was also having a strong night and lead a race-high 169 of the 500 laps. Buescher took two tires on his final stop and was able to hold the field off in scoring his first win since 2016 (222 races ago). Even better, it was RFK’s first win together and Roush’s first win in the last 191 races.

“This is so great. This team does such a great job.” Buescher said. “That’s just — the first Cup win for Fastenal for a points-based race, so that’s awesome. Glad to have Fastenal on board tonight. Just so special here, Bristol. I love this racetrack. I love the fans. I love every time we come here. It’s so special to me.

“Lost one that really broke our heart back in 2015 on the Xfinity side with Graves on top of the box, so this makes up for that. That’s pretty awesome.

“This is No. 1 on the list right here. This is it. Just so proud of everybody. We knew we had a good race car after practice and didn’t quite get the job done in qualifying, but what a race car.

“It’s just special. Get RFK in Victory Lane for the first time, and we had great race cars. Brad had really good speed, too.

“I don’t know what else to say right now. I’m out of breath. This place will wear you flat out, and I love that about it, but such a special night.”

This is the type of night that can propel RFK Racing back. They had to watch 23XI Racing, Trackhouse and even Petty GMS Racing all become new teams and all win this season. Now, they join that list.

“Oh yeah, I’m proud as hell (as a team owner),” Keselowski said. “Everybody has some level of ego and I’m not going to say I don’t have any ego, but it’s easy to get over ego when you see that.”

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