End of West Coast swing gives RFK Racing moment to reflect, look ahead

1 Comment

AVONDALE, Ariz. — As Chase Briscoe celebrated his first Cup victory Sunday at Phoenix Raceway, and Ross Chastain and Tyler Reddick relished strong finishes, RFK Racing pondered a challenging weekend.

Brad Keselowski’s move from Team Penske to be an owner/driver of RFK Racing was among the biggest storylines heading into this season. Leaving a team where he routinely won races for an organization now winless in 167 Cup events would provide a good case study on what it takes to rebuild a once strong team.

NASCAR’s West Coast swing proved taxing for RFK. Uneven performances and some misfortune led to both Keselowski and Chris Buescher finishing outside the top 10 at Auto Club Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway. 

Sunday, Buescher placed 10th at Phoenix for his first top-10 finish of the season. Buescher, who had never finished better than 16th in a Cup race there, called his top 10 a “small win.” Keselowski, though, struggled to be competitive and was 23rd, a lap down.

“It’s been up and down,” RFK Racing Team Director Jeremy Thompson told NBC Sports about the start of the season. “We’ve had speed at times. We’ve led laps at times, and then we’ve been the last car on the lead lap and a lap down at times. It really, to me, it feels very familiar to a new team.”

With the swing of races out West complete, Thompson said it will help RFK.

“Getting back on the East Coast and regrouping, I think, will help us tremendously,” he said. “Our guys back home have done a tremendous job getting the cars built, but when you’re growing, the strain of this West Coast deal probably hurts you a little more than an established team.”

Ruoff Mortgage 500
Chris Buescher’s 10th-place finish was a bright spot for RFK Racing at Phoenix. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

The Phoenix performance showed signs of some of the struggles the team had in the Clash at the Coliseum exhibition race last month when both Keselowski and Buescher failed to make the feature event.

“It’s a holdover from that,” Thompson said. “It’s fair to say we’ve made gains in some areas, and we really didn’t close the gap in others. 

“Even though the Clash was a unique quarter-mile track, it’s still a short track. Even though (Phoenix) is a 1-mile-track, it has all the characteristics of a short track and then throw in some aero stuff, too. 

“I think what we fought was similar. We have not accomplished  all that we thought we did with some of our work between those events. But then we scratch and claw and get a good finish with (Buescher). Execution matters. That’s what we’re really, really trying to hone in on as our processes to build speed in these cars try to catch up.”

The bright spot for the organization so far has been Daytona. Keselowski and Buescher each won their qualifying race. Keselowski led a race-high 67 laps before finishing ninth in the Daytona 500. Buescher placed 16th after being involved in a late crash. 

After winning his qualifying race at Daytona, Keselowski reaffirmed his idea of building a “culture of high expectations” and how those victories meant so much for the organization.

“It’s setting the bar really high,” Keselowski said. “It’s having people that hold those same beliefs, surrounded by them, and then executing around them. It’s pushing in every way and every day, and not accepting less than our maximum potential, and I think that’s what we saw (with the Duel wins) was our maximum potential.

“There’s a really good group of people here. We’ve assembled a great team kind of in the dark, and now we get to show it.”

The good thing for RFK Racing is there is another race, another chance to do this, starting this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway.


It likely is just a coincidence, but the winner of three of the first four Cup points races this season has experience dirt racing.

Chase Briscoe, who came up dirt racing, was the latest such driver. Kyle Larson, who won a World of Outlaws race last weekend, claimed the Cup victory at Auto Club Speedway. Alex Bowman, who came up in dirt racing and has run midget and sprint cars more often in the last year, won at Las Vegas.

Briscoe suggests there’s a connection between those with dirt backgrounds having success and the new format of limited practice before most events.

“I think you see the dirt guys … a lot of the dirt guys, when we go to a racetrack, you get three laps, three hot laps and you better figure it out quickly,” he said.

I think this car, being new, not a lot of practice, the dirt guys have always had to figure that out quickly. The guys that grew up late model or pavement racing, they don’t necessarily have that. They go and test and run hours of practice. The dirt guys, you got to figure it out quickly, adapt.”

Of course, had circumstances gone differently at Las Vegas, then Kyle Busch likely would have won. Or had things gone a little differently, it could have been Ross Chastain. 

Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Cup teams will have a 50-minute practice session since the track has been repaved and reconfigured. That will be the longest practice session for the series since Daytona.

—————————————————————————————————————————————————————With Chase Briscoe scoring his first Cup win Sunday at Briscoe, it means 25 of the 36 drivers who competed in that event have won a Cup race. 

Eight of the drivers — nearly a quarter of the field — have one Cup win. Many of those scored that win since 2020.

Those with one Cup win who competed at Phoenix were:

Chase Briscoe (2022 Phoenix)

Austin Cindric (2022 Daytona 500)

Bubba Wallace (2021 Talladega playoff race) 

Christopher Bell (2021 Daytona road course)

Michael McDowell (2021 Daytona 500)

Cole Custer (2020 Kentucky)

Justin Haley (2019 Daytona II)

Chris Buescher (2016 Pocono II)

COTA Xfinity starting lineup: AJ Allmendinger takes pole


AJ Allmendinger, who won this race a year ago, will start on the pole for Saturday’s Xfinity race at Circuit of the Americas.

Allmendinger earned the pole with a lap of 92.173 mph Friday on the 20-turn, 3.41-mile road course.

MORE: COTA Xfinity starting lineup

He will be joined on the front row Sammy Smith (91.827 mph).
Ty Gibbs (91.665) will start third. Sheldon Creed (91.652) qualified fourth. Parker Kligerman (91.195) will start fifth.

Cup driver William Byron will start ninth. Byron’s time was disallowed for cutting the esses. Cole Custer, who will start 10th, didn’t make a lap in the final round of qualifying.

Cup driver Aric Almirola (91.269) qualified 13th. Truck Series racer Carson Hocevar (90.669) will start 17th. Alex Labbe (90.476) will start 23rd. He’s filling in for Josh Williams, who is serving a one-race suspension for parking his car at the start/finish line of last weekend’s race at Atlanta.

COTA Truck starting lineup: Ross Chastain wins pole


Ross Chastain will start on the pole for Saturday’s Craftsman Truck Series race at Circuit of the Americas.

Chastain earned the top starting spot in Friday’s qualifying with a lap of 91.877 mph. He’ll be joined on the front row by Kyle Busch (91.490 mph).

More: COTA Truck starting lineup

Ty Majeski qualified third with a lap of 91.225 mph. Rookie Nick Sanchez (90.993) will start fourth, and Christian Eckes (90.937) will complete the top five.

Alex Bowman failed to make the race. Bowman had a flat right front on his qualifying lap.

Tyler Reddick leads Cup practice at COTA


Tyler Reddick posted the fastest lap in Friday’s Cup practice at Circuit of the Americas.

Reddick, who won two road course races last season, topped the field in his 23XI Racing Toyota with a lap of 92.989 mph. Kyle Larson was next, posting a lap of 92.618 mph around the 3.41-mile road course.

MORE: COTA Cup practice results

Ross Chastain, who won this race a year ago, was third on the speed chart in practice with a lap of 92.520 mph. He was followed by Kyle Busch (92.498 mph) and Daniel Suarez (92.461 mph).

Jordan Taylor, subbing for the injured Chase Elliott in the No. 9 car for Hendrick Motorsports, was 10th on the speed chart in practice after a lap of 92.404 mph.

Former world champion Jenson Button, driving for Rick Ware Racing, was 28th in practice with a lap of 91.759 mph. Former world champion Kimi Raikkonen, driving the Project 91 car for Trackhouse Racing, was 32nd in practice after a lap of 91.413 mph.

Seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, driving in his first race for Legacy Motor Club since the Daytona 500, was 36th in practice after a lap of 91.072 mph. IndyCar driver Conor Daly was last among the 39 cars in practice with a lap of 90.095 mph.

Cup qualifying is Saturday. The series races Sunday.


Saturday COTA Xfinity race: Start time, TV info, weather


Austin Hill, the dominant driver in the NASCAR Xfinity Series through the early weeks of the season, will be looking for his first Xfinity road course win Saturday.

Hill has won three of the season’s first five races, scoring victories at Daytona, Las Vegas and Atlanta.

Hill has been close in previous road course runs. He has a second at COTA, a third at Portland, a fourth at Road America and a ninth at Indianapolis.

MORE: Dr. Diandra takes a look at top Cup road course drivers

Kyle Busch and AJ Allmendinger own wins in the previous Xfinity races at COTA.

Allmendinger and three other Cup Series regulars — Aric Almirola, William Byron and Ty Gibbs — are scheduled to race in the Xfinity event.

Details for Saturday’s Xfinity race at Circuit of the Americas

(All times Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given at 5:08 p.m. … The green flag is scheduled at 5:19 p.m.

PRERACE: Xfinity garage opens at 2 p.m. … The invocation will be given by Jordan Thiessen of Pit Boss Grills at 5 p.m. … The national anthem will be performed by recording artist Payton Keller at 5:01 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 46 laps (156 miles) on the 3.41-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 14. Stage 2 ends at Lap 30.

TV/RADIO: FS1 will broadcast the race at 5 p.m. … NASCAR RaceDay airs at 4 p.m. on FS1. … Performance Racing Network coverage begins at 4:30 p.m. and can be heard at goprn.com. …SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the PRN broadcast.

FORECAST: Weather Underground — Mainly sunny. Temperature of 82 at race time. No chance of rain.

LAST TIME: AJ Allmendinger won last March’s Xfinity race at COTA. Austin Hill was two seconds behind in second place. Cole Custer finished third.