Friday 5: Brad Keselowski building a ‘culture of high expectations’ at RFK Racing


Brad Keselowski doesn’t shy from using the world fail as he discusses the culture he seeks to create as owner/driver of the rebranded Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing team.

There’s a purpose in using the word fail. Just as there is purpose in all that Keselowski does, even if it doesn’t seem apparent at first.

Ultimately, Keselowski’s goal is to do something that hasn’t been achieved in NASCAR in more than a decade: Turn a struggling organization into a winner.

While RFK Racing’s history features tales of success, it is winless in its last 163 Cup races — dating to July 2017. The organization last had a team finish in the top 10 in points in 2014.

“I’m not coming into the building trying to fire everybody,” Keselowski said. “That said, we are going to demand a higher level of performance.”

And a culture that matches.

“A culture of high expectations,” Keselowski calls it. “A culture that is not afraid to fail forward. Those are things that are really important to me. We’ve had some big discussions on it. A culture of accountability is super critical to me.

“Fail forward means not being afraid to fail but learning from it and getting better. I told the team in one my speeches, ‘I’m not afraid of failing. I’m afraid of not trying.’

“That doesn’t mean you can be reckless and fail in everything you do. It does give you permission to try things and learn from it. I think that’s really important for us.”

NASCAR Cup Series Test
Brad Keselowski during this week’s Next Gen test at Charlotte Motor Speedway. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Keselowski, who once owned a Truck Series team, says running his company, Keselowski Advanced Manufacturing, has helped shape his ideas of running an operation.

“It served as a petri dish for me to basically try new things,” he said. “I could learn from some tough mistakes … and become, overall, a more rounded person. With that came also some understanding of some other technologies that I really was not in a good place with before.”

Keselowski talks often about understanding new technologies and how the inability to do so could have a played a factor in the failure of others to excel in the sport.

It’s not just that area that Keselowski is examining. He talks about the process of turning RFK Racing into a consistent winner. Few things have been overlooked by Keselowski.

“We are investing pretty heavily in upfitting and upgrading our facilities within the current footprint,” said Steve Newmark, president of RFK Racing. “A lot of that may seem trite and cosmetic with paint and new floors and all that, and others more structured like where we’re going to put the human performance center.

“But these are things that Brad came in and said ‘I know you guys have been doing this for a while, but I don’t think this is the optimal way to do this.’ … He’s struck that right balance between coming in and trying to listen and understand how or why we do things, but, at the same time, saying ‘Hey I feel passionate that we can do better in this area if we change this.’ That’s the spark.”

Kevin Kidd, technical director at RFK Racing, said that “there are no sacred cows in the building as far as what our process is and what it should be.”

Ford 400
Tony Stewart is the last driver/owner to win a Cup title, claiming the 2011 crown. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

What Keselowski is trying to do was last done by Tony Stewart. He joined Haas-CNC Racing to form Stewart-Haas Racing in 2009.

Haas-CNC Racing was winless in 284 Cup starts before Stewart arrived. He won four times in 2009 and the championship in 2011.

So, there’s a possible roadmap, but that doesn’t mean the same path can be taken, or the same results can occur in the same manner.

Other organizations that once were pillars of the sport, including what was known as Roush Fenway Racing, have fallen from the top tier. Roush’s two wins since 2014 equals Front Row Motorsports’ victory total in the same span.

It’s quite a change for Roush, which was was among the dominant teams from 2002-08, winning two championships and an average of nine races a season.

The organization’s steady decline saw Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards leave for Joe Gibbs Racing. Roush could not continue their success after they left.

Rising to the sport’s elites will be challenging. Joe Gibbs Racing, Hendrick Motorsports and Team Penske combined to take 80% of the top-10 positions in points the past three seasons.

Stewart-Haas Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing were the only other organizations to have drivers finish in the top 10 in points during those years.

So, how can a team that was among the sport’s pillars return after such a long time away from the top pedestal?

Steve Newmark, team president, says the Next Gen car will help balance the power in the sport since teams no longer build their own cars. All teams are learning the fundamentals — and nuances — of the car and what it will take to make it faster.

“Now, the best teams are going to be the best teams … but we think that Next Gen presents a fairly unique opportunity in the history of this sport to rise back on top,” he said.

Newmark also preaches patience in this journey.

“It’s not going to happen with a snap of a finger,” he said of becoming one the elite organizations again. “You have to have realistic expectations that it’s going to be gradual.”

NASCAR Cup Series Test
The team logos on the rear quarter panel and bumper of Brad Keselowski’s car. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Newmark also notes the organization expects to show improvement in 2022.

“If you talk to Brad, he’s going to tell you he’s going to win races next year and compete for the championship,” Newmark said.

“From my perspective, we just need to be climbing that ladder and becoming more competitive on a day-by-day basis.”

That also means playoffs.

“Our expectations are both teams in the playoffs next year,” Newmark said. “(Keselowski’s goals) will be higher than that, which I want. I want him to be pushing.”

Keselowski is.

“I challenged the team to expand into areas that are outside of their comfort zone,” he said. “I prefaced it by saying that I’m way outside my comfort zone. … I left a team that had won or been playoff eligible for the last 10 years for one that hasn’t won a race in three or four years.

“I’m outside my comfort zone. I left Roger Penske, whose got this golden legacy, to come here. I left that comfort zone because I believe what we can do here. I still believe it. I’m more confident than ever that we can do it.

“That said, I think I’m asking the entire company, every employee to push their limits as well and to get outside of their comfort zone. That’s what is going to be required to turn this thing around.”

2. Closer ties

The Next Gen era already is dramatically different for Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and JTG Daugherty Racing.

While the organization downsized from two cars to one after this year, Stenhouse says the team’s relationship with Chevrolet has grown. That’s allowed Stenhouse to go to the simulator, something he hadn’t done since 2019 when he was with Roush Fenway Racing and Ford.

Stenhouse was in the Chevy simulator after the Next Gen test on the Charlotte Roval and before this week’s test on the Charlotte oval. He’s scheduled to be back in the simulator today to add changes that worked in the test to the simulation program.

NASCAR Cup Series Test
As JTG Daugherty Racing’s only driver for 2022, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has been busy doing all the team’s Next Gen tests. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

“We’ll make sure those things keep correlating, so that we continue to make better adjustments and more calculated adjustments, especially if our practices are short practices,” Stenhouse said.

NASCAR is expected to have practice sessions at most Cup events in 2022, but many of those sessions will be brief.

“You’re not going to have a lot of time to make adjustments,” Stenhouse said of those practices. “It’s going to be really important to use the simulator correctly and make sure we unload the way we need to be.”

That will be key for a driver who showed significant progress in restarts and passing ability throughout the playoffs. More sim time could help him improve upon his 22nd-place finish in the points this past season.

Stenhouse admits that he wasn’t always keen to go to the simulator in the past.

“Back when I would do the sim, I didn’t feel a huge correlation from what we were doing there to the racetrack,” he said. “I was anxious to kind of see (now). We did a post-Roval test, and I felt like some of the things we did at the Roval correlated on the simulator.”

Another key for him this offseason is that he’ll do all the testing for JTG Daugherty Racing as its only driver. He said that is key in learning the new car at different tracks.

“I think (at Charlotte), the brake packages are so big now that we have with our race cars that any little touch of the brake really kills your speed,” he said. “We don’t have enough horsepower right now with the drag package. It takes two or three laps to get that speed back. I feel like that’s one thing that is noticeable here at Charlotte.

“But at the road course, we can stop so much better than we ever have. Your braking points aren’t even close. I don’t know if when we go to Phoenix (in December to test), is carrying momentum into the corner, lifting early and not using brake going to be beneficial, or is it going to be beneficial driving really far into the corner, using the brake package to slow it down a lot quicker?

“Just trying to find where that speed is going to be. It’s one reason why I feel it’s a benefit that we’re a one-car team, and I get to do every single test we do. I’ll be able to hit all these racetracks and have a lot of laps, two days, on each track.”

3. Offseason weight program

The Next Gen car is impacting the sport in ways drivers could not have imagined.

Take Ross Chastain, for instance.

He works with Josh Wise, a former driver who focuses on performance training with 15 Chevy drivers throughout Cup, Xfinity and the Camping World Truck Series.

Chastain, who weighs 150 pounds, says that Wise has set a goal for Chastain to gain 15 pounds in the offseason … because of the Next Gen car.

“We know these cars are hotter,” Chastain said. “We’re doing things to cool them down, but their plan for me is to put weight on to be ready to probably have to sweat it out in these races.”

Chastain noted the program is already underway.

“I’ve never taken protein powder and all this stuff,” he said. “I’m a water and beet juice guy. Watermelon juice.”

Chastain noted Thursday that he felt fine after a 35-lap run at the Next Gen test at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He cited the changes made to the car to allow more air to circulate inside it and reduce the extreme heat drivers have felt.

Another change for Chastain, who joins Trackhouse Racing, is that his beard his gone.

“Fresh start,” he said of the change.

4. Priorities

While much has been made about Kurt Busch joining 23XI Racing to be a mentor to Bubba Wallace, that overlooks a key role Busch has.

“I was hired as a driver,” he said. “My duties are to drive the 45 car with the best knowledge and smarts and swagger that I can, and to be consistent and find things that a veteran is supposed to find within a new car.

NASCAR Cup Series Test
Kurt Busch is encouraged by the energy level of his 23XI Racing team. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

“At the same time there are young engineers, young crew members that are eager to learn. All the knowledge that I have in certain areas I would love to transfer (to them).

“Then with Bubba, we know we want him to jump into the program with a mindset to win and to be there at another level next year. It’s already started to begin on that side of it.”

Busch admits it’s easier to count the number of people that he’s worked with before who are at 23XI Racing than count the ones he must learn.

“This new group, I can just feel the enthusiasm and the energy level,” he said.

One person Busch knows well is crew chief Billy Scott. They worked together in 2018 at Stewart-Haas Racing and won a race.

“I feel like our time at SHR was cut short a few years back,” Busch said. “So he was in my top three right away, and everybody at 23XI filtered through all the different candidates and we felt like Billy Scott would be the guy.”

5. Quick work

Justin Alexander, crew chief for Austin Dillon, detailed what the team did after Dillon wrecked early in Wednesday’s test session and had the car back on track that evening after going to Richard Childress Racing for repairs.

“The way this car is designed, with removable front and rear clips and body panels that bolt on and off, we were able to take the front clip off, pull the motor out. The motor was damaged, the front clip, obviously.

“Everything else was really intact. The rear bumper had a little bit of damage and the rear tail, so we had to replace the rear tail, the rear bumper, the left rear quarter panel and everything on the front — the hood, the fenders, the nose and then the front clip and engine.

“We had all of our guys back at the shop work on it and thrash on it for a few hours. … We did what this car was designed to do and that was to replace parts of the car that are damaged.”

Alexander said if this had happened during practice on a race weekend, he believes the team would have been able to have done all that work in the garage and have the car ready for the race the next day.

“Going though it (Wednesday), it certainly allowed us to see exactly what we needed, what we didn’t have, tools we didn’t have, things we could do differently. That way, when it does come time to do it at the racetrack in the future, we’ll certainly be more prepared for it. We’ll go back and study those things.”

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NASCAR Power Rankings: William Byron, Kyle Busch rank 1-2


Kyle Busch moved closer to the top spot after his win Sunday at WWT Raceway, but William Byron keeps hold of No. 1 after another top-10 run.

The series heads to Sonoma Raceway this weekend, the second race of the season on a road course.


(Previous ranking in parenthesis)

1. William Byron (1) — He goes into Sonoma with six consecutive top-10 finishes after his eighth-place result at WWT Raceway. Byron has led a series-high 717 laps this season.

2. Kyle Busch (4) — Recorded his third win of the season Sunday. He is tied with Byron for most wins this year. Busch scored 59 of a maximum 60 points and won his first stage of the year Sunday. He has 16 playoff points. Only Byron has more with 17 this season.

3. Kyle Larson (3) — His fourth-place finish continued his up-and-down season. In the last nine races, Larson has two wins, four top fives, a 20th-place result and four finishes of 30th or worse. He has led 588 laps this season, which ranks second this year to Byron.

4. Martin Truex Jr. (2) — His fifth-place finish is his sixth top 10 in the last eight races. He ranks third in laps led this year with 383.

5. Denny Hamlin (7) — Runner-up result at WWT Raceway is his fourth top 10 in the last seven races.

6. Ryan Blaney (10) — Followed Coca-Cola 600 win with a sixth-place run at WWT Raceway. He had an average running position of 2.6 on Sunday, second only to winner Kyle Busch’s average running position of 1.9.

7. Joey Logano (9) — Third-place finish is his second top 10 in the last four races.

8. Kevin Harvick (NR) — His 10th-place finish is his fourth consecutive finish of 11th or better.

9. Ross Chastain (6) — Lost the points lead after placing 22nd, his third consecutive finish outside the top 20.

10. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (NR) — Headed for his eighth top 15 in a row until he was collected in a crash after the contact between Austin Cindric and Austin Dillon late in Sunday’s race.

Dropped out: Chase Elliott (5th), Tyler Reddick (8th)

NASCAR will not penalize Austin Cindric for incident with Austin Dillon


Despite Richard Childress and Austin Dillon saying that Austin Cindric intentionally wrecked Dillon late in Sunday’s Cup race at WWT Raceway, NASCAR will not penalize Cindric.

Elton Sawyer, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, said Tuesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that there would be no penalty to Cindric after reviewing the contact.

Dillon and Childress were upset about the incident, which brought out the caution on Lap 220 of the 243-lap race. Dillon said NASCAR should suspend Cindric for the contact, just as NASCAR suspended Chase Elliott one race for hooking Denny Hamlin in the Coca-Cola 600.

Contact between the left front of Cindric’s car and the right rear of Dillon’s car sent Dillon up the track into Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Dillon finished 31st. Cindric continued and placed 13th.

Dillon told “I was wrecked intentionally by (Cindric), hooked right just like Chase and Denny and Bubba’s deal (in wrecking Kyle Larson at Las Vegas in 2022). He better be suspended next week.”

Childress said: “(Dillon) had drove up to about 10th until (Cindric) wrecked him in there on purpose, sort of a payback.”

Sawyer said a review of the incident included viewing video and data.

“We didn’t see anything — and haven’t seen anything — that really would rise to a level that would be a suspension or a penalty,” Sawyer said. “It looked like hard racing. One car coming up a little bit and another car going down.

“As we said last week, we take these incidents very serious when we see cars that are turned head-on into another car or head-on into the wall. I spent a lot of time (Monday) looking at that, looking at all the data, looking at TV footage and just deemed this one really hard racing.”

Sawyer said NASCAR plans to talk to both Cindric and Dillon “to make sure we’re all in a good place as we move forward to Sonoma.”



Seven Cup drivers entered in Xfinity race at Sonoma


Kyle Larson is among seven Cup drivers entered in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Sonoma Raceway.

The race marks the first time the Xfinity Series has competed at the California road course. Teams will get 50 minutes of practice Friday because this is a new event on the schedule. That additional time will give those Cup drivers more laps on the 1.99-mile road course.

MORE: Sonoma Xfinity entry list

Here is a look at what Xfinity rides the Cup drivers will pilot this weekend:

The race is scheduled to start at 8 p.m. ET Saturday.

The ARCA Menards Series West also is competing this weekend at Sonoma Raceway. Cup driver Ryan Preece is entered in that event. Xfinity drivers Cole Custer, Riley Herbst, Sammy Smith and Parker Retzlaff also are entered in that race, which will be held at 6:30 p.m. ET Friday.


Winners and losers at WWT Raceway


Winners and losers from Sunday’s Cup race at WWT Raceway:


Kyle BuschWins the pole, leads the most laps and holds the field off over the last five restarts to win the race. He scored six playoff points, giving him 16 on the season, second only to William Byron’s 17. Busch left Joe Gibbs Racing after last season for Richard Childress Racing. Busch’s three wins this year equals what JGR has done so far.

Ryan BlaneyHis sixth-place finish moved him into the points lead. He last led the points after the spring 2022 Richmond race. Blaney also won a stage Sunday to collect another playoff point. He has seven this season.

Kyle LarsonFourth-place finish was a big turnaround after struggles earlier in the race. It has not been easy for this team the last few weeks. He has three top-five finishes and four finishes of 20th or worse in the last seven races.

Daniel SuarezHis seventh-place finish moved him up two spots to 16th in the standings, the final playoff transfer spot at this time.


Ross ChastainHe finished 22nd for his third consecutive result outside the top 20. He entered the weekend leading the points and fell to fifth afterward. He is 29 points behind new series leader Ryan Blaney with 11 races left in the regular season.

Tyler ReddickRebounded from an early spin to lead but had his race end after a brake rotor failed. He was one of four drivers eliminated by brake rotor failures. The others were Carson Hocevar, Bubba Wallace and Noah Gragson.