Friday 5: Brad Keselowski pushing RFK Racing toward excellence


Brad Keselowski warned RFK Racing before this year, his first with the team as a driver/owner, what might come. 

“I’m probably going to wreck out of a number of races this year,” Keselowski said he told his team and the company. “It’s going to be for good reason. Every time, I’m going to push the car as hard as I can push it and probably overstep it. Something is going to happen and then we’re going to come back and we’re going to make it better.

“I understand that that’s part of the role that I have. As long as those failures are coming from a push and not a silly mistake, I’m OK with that, whether it’s me or anyone else in the company. We’ve got to push really hard if we’re going to get where we want to get. We’ve got room to go.”

A quarter of the way through the season, Keselowski sees progress. He’s not wrecked out of any of the first nine races and ranks fourth in the series in laps run, having completed all but four laps this season. 

While Keselowski and teammate Chris Buescher each won their qualifying events at Daytona in February, RFK Racing seeks its first Cup win since 2017 when it was known as Roush Fenway Racing. Both victories that season came on a superspeedway — Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won at Daytona and Talladega. The last time the organization won on any other type of track was 2014 at Sonoma with Carl Edwards.

It’s that history Keselowski seeks to change. As he enters Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway (3 p.m. ET on Fox), it’s easy to view this as a must-win event for him. 

Keselowski climbed into the top 30 in points and became playoff eligible after last weekend’s race at Bristol. That marked the first time since he and his team were hit with severe penalties, which included 100-point deductions for modifying a tail panel, that he was back in the top 30.

NASCAR Cup Series Bluegreen Vacations Duel #2 at Daytona
Jack Roush, Chris Buescher, Brad Keselowski and Buescher’s team after RFK Racing swept the qualifying races at Daytona in February. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Even with the uncertainty of speedway racing, Keselowski is viewed as one of the favorites. He is the winningest active driver with six Cup victories at Talladega.

With the way the team has run, the speedway style of racing at Talladega, Atlanta (July 10) and Daytona (Aug. 27) seems to provide the best chance for Keselowski and Buescher to win to reach the playoffs.

“I think there’s probably a little bit of truth to that, but honestly I’m looking at the next month and I’m really excited about the races we have,” Keselowski said. “I think we can win any one of them.

“We’ve got a lot of good stuff coming down the pipeline. We’re starting to figure some things out and find some of the missing puzzle pieces, so I’m not ready to say that we have to win on a plate track to advance to the playoffs. 

“I feel like we’re starting to find our game at other tracks, too. We have lot more confidence in the cars, and the team is learning a lot. I’m not ready to concede that, but certainly I’m going to still try to win those races, Talladega, Daytona and Atlanta. We’ve got a great shot this weekend. If we’re anywhere close, I’m going to leave it all out on the line.”

Since the Daytona 500 — Keselowski finished ninth — the team has had two top-10 finishes. Both were by Buescher. He was 10th at Phoenix and seventh at Atlanta. Keselowski has four finishes between 11th and 15th in the last five races.

“There’s still a lot of opportunities on the table for us,” Buescher said. “Definitely look at (Talladega) as a good one, a lot of confidence coming off Daytona and the amount of speed and maneuverability we had in our race cars.”

The Daytona 500 saw Keselowski trigger two accidents pushing cars. Keselowski pushed rookie Harrison Burton toward the front late in the first stage when Burton’s car got sideways and went upside down. A push by Keselowski six laps from the scheduled distance turned Stenhouse as they ran near the front. 

“I hate the fact that Daytona we were a part of two wrecks,” Keselowski said this week. “Honestly, it was time to go and my car could have took the same push that I gave those cars. … I was surprised in both instances that it didn’t work out better than it did, but I also know that the two drivers I had to crash with would have been mad with me if I didn’t push them. 

“It’s easy to get out of the car after a wreck and say, ‘Man, you shouldn’t have pushed so hard.’ I can tell you how the conversation goes if you don’t push, they come to your bus after the race and go ‘Why the hell didn’t you push me? Could have won the race.’ That’s just part of it. 

“It would be different if it was some kind of silly mistake where there were three cars in front and I was pushing them and, clearly, they didn’t want a push. When it’s a push for the lead or for the win in the Daytona 500, I think you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do there.”

While most of the focus is what happens on the track, what takes place at the shop often is as important. 

That entails turning the organization back into one that was among the sport’s dominant operations.

“I keep remembering this is as much a challenge as it is an opportunity to leave my mark on not just the company but the sport,” Keselowski said. “I’m OK with that. I like the challenge, and I like what’s in front of me. I can tell you that the success we’ve had, although not as much as we would like to have had, it means all the world to me.”

2. Shift in balance of power?

One of the ideas with the Next Gen car, along with cutting future costs for owners, was that it would bring teams closer together, giving more organizations the opportunity to win races or have strong finishes. 

A quarter of the way through the season, the same teams are the strongest. 

Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske had eight wins in the first nine races last year. Those teams have combined to win seven races this year.

Hendrick, Gibbs and Penske combined for 58 top-10 finishes last year through the first nine races. Those teams have combined for 47 top-10 finishes this season. Much of the decline is related to Joe Gibbs Racing, which had 24 top 10s at this point last year compared to 15 this year.

Most organizations have seen no more than a difference of three in the number of top 10s from this year to last year through nine races. 

The exceptions are:

  • Joe Gibbs Racing: Nine fewer top 10s this year from last year
  • Trackhouse Racing: Team has eight top 10s this year after having one at this time last year
  • 23XI Racing: Team has five top 10s (four by Kurt Busch, who joined the team this year) compared to zero at this time last year.

While the balance of power still remains about the same as last year, what does it do for smaller teams that were supposed to have a better chance?

Ty Dillon, who scored his first top-10 finish of the season for Petty GMS Motorsports last week at Bristol, says things are different for smaller teams.

“Winning teams win races, and no matter what you put them in, winning drivers will do the same,” Dillon said. “I think it’s a little bit of a balance there, but I think you’re seeing within teams – week to week – you don’t know which driver within that team might win or might be two laps down. 

“It’s been quite fascinating. You see two Hendrick cars run really well and two run bad. You’ll see one RCR car run well and one RCR run bad. Same thing with us at Petty GMS. It seems like we haven’t had really one weekend where (Dillon and teammate Erik Jones) both been really, really strong. But we’ve both had our strong weeks.

“This car has a really fine line, and seemingly when the driver, crew chief, team combo hits the right setup at the right time, you take off and you can have a chance. I haven’t had a weekend where I’ve gone into it where I don’t believe that if we hit it right, we can win the race. I didn’t feel that way in the past, and I think this car provides that for everyone.

“I feel very confident that at Petty GMS, when we hit right, we’re going to have a chance to win a race. I think this past weekend was a real showing of that. We could have won that race if we were in the right spot at the right time at the end of the race; and if different things would have worked out in our favor in strategy and rain-wise. I think you’re never out of it with this car, which is a welcoming sign.”

Here is a look at top 10s per organization compared to at this time last year:

  • 19 — Hendrick Motorsports (21 top 10s last year)
  • 15 — Joe Gibbs Racing (24 top 10s last year)
  • 13 — Team Penske (same number last year)
  • 10 — Stewart-Haas Racing (7 top 10s last year)
  • 8 — Richard Childress Racing (6 top 10s last year)
  • 8 — Trackhouse Racing (1 top 10 last year as a single-car team)
  • 5 — 23XI Racing (0 top 10s last year as a single-car team)
  • 3 — RFK Racing (same number last year when known as Roush Fenway Racing)
  • 3 — Petty GMS Motorsports (2 top 10s last year as RPM Motorsports)
  • 2 — Front Row Motorsports (3 top 10s last year)
  • 1 — JTG Daugherty Racing (3 top 10s last year when two-car team)
  • 1 — Kaulig Racing (1 top 10 last year)
  • 1 — Rick Ware Racing (0 top 10s last year)
  • 1 — Spire Motorsports (2 top 10s last year)
  • 0 — Wood Brothers Racing (1 top 10 last year)

* Chip Ganassi Racing, which does not exist this season, had three top 10s at this point last year.

3. Study guide 

Among the many tools for drivers to prepare for races is video. 

For Daytona 500 champion Austin Cindric, preparing for this weekend’s race at Talladega was a bit more difficult while watching video of Daytona, the first superspeedway race with the new car. 

“The hardest part for me when I’m watching film, especially when it’s races that I’m in is it’s hard to not just watch yourself,” the Cup rookie said. “You watch the race and you’re like, ‘Oh, I remember this. I remember that. This guy was an idiot.’

“You try and remember the race that you were in, but the bigger picture of doing the film study is to watch other moves other people make and different trends.  

Kyle Busch was leading a lane, for example, and understanding and looking at the data and looking at the film. ‘OK, what’s he doing to try and keep the lead? What are the other guys playing with? How does that evolve throughout the race as people learn things?’

“Those are the things that you pause the video and look at and understand. It’s a lot of information and trying to figure out what the things that are most important to look at and think about, but also at the same time … keeping an open mind is important because I think with this car, I feel like there was a pretty good science to it with the Xfinity car, if I’m being honest, where as I feel like with this car it’s much more dependent on what’s happening in the pack versus what’s happening with the air.”

4. Impact of penalties

Ryan Sparks was back as Corey LaJoie’s crew chief last weekend at Bristol after having sat out the previous four races because a wheel came off LaJoie’s car during a race at Phoenix.

One of the challenges for NASCAR is create penalties that are equal for all teams. Fans often complain of seemingly small penalties to big teams, saying they should be fined more than a smaller team that incurs the same penalty. NASCAR looks to craft penalties that equally penalize a team.

But having a crew chief out for four races likely isn’t going to impact a bigger team more than a smaller team.

LaJoie explained how losing Sparks impacted his team.

“We didn’t have the greatest setup of communication, live time with (Sparks), like a lot of (teams) have war rooms set up,” LaJoie said, referencing rooms back at race shops with engineers and other team personnel developing strategy and monitoring various items with their cars and others in the field.

“(Sparks had) Slack and he’s got his laptop and he’s got his NASCAR app with our scanner up. That’s really and truly what we did. He’s always a couple of laps behind in the way the race was played out. We were truly crippled by our crew chief (not) being there. We’ve got him back now, and hopefully keep all the wheels on it and have him for the rest of the year.”

5. Odd numbers

A few odd stats heading into this weekend’s race at Talladega:

Former champion Martin Truex Jr. has never won at Talladega or Daytona in 68 Cup starts. His best finish at either track is second in the 2016 Daytona 500 and the 2018 summer Daytona race. His best finish at Talladega is fifth in the spring 2015 race. He’s finished outside the top 10 in the last 12 Talladega Cup races.

Reigning Cup champion Kyle Larson has never finished in the top five in a Cup race at either Daytona or Talladega. His best Daytona finish is sixth in the summer 2016 race. Larson’s best Talladega finish is sixth in the 2016 playoff race. He has finished outside the top 10 in the last eight Talladega races. Larson has been 37th or worse in four of the last eight Talladega races.

Four of the last seven races at Daytona and Talladega were won by a driver scoring their first career victory. They were:

Drivers to watch in NASCAR Cup Series race at Richmond Raceway


The NASCAR Cup Series’ first short track points race of the season is scheduled Sunday at Richmond Raceway, a presence on the NASCAR schedule since 1953.

Tyler Reddick is coming off his first win of the season last Sunday at Circuit of the Americas. He gave Toyota its first victory of the year.

MORE: William Byron is No. 1 in NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

The Richmond race is the first of three consecutive events on short tracks. The series will race on the dirt surface at Bristol Motor Speedway April 9 and the Martinsville Speedway half-mile April 16.

A look at drivers to watch Sunday at Richmond:


Tyler Reddick

  • Points position: 10th
  • Best seasonal finish: 1st (COTA)
  • Past at Richmond: No finish better than 11th in five career starts

Reddick showed the promise of what could be a strong season by dominating Sunday’s race at COTA. His victory boosted him five spots in points to 10th. Richmond, a track where he has never led a lap, will be a test.

William Byron

  • Points position: 22nd
  • Best seasonal finish: 1st (Las Vegas 1, Phoenix 1)
  • Past at Richmond: Led 122 laps in April race last year

Byron had a top car in this race last season but was passed by Denny Hamlin for the win with five laps remaining. Byron finished third, his career-best run at Richmond.

Denny Hamlin

  • Points position: 11th
  • Best seasonal finish: 6th (Auto Club, Atlanta 1)
  • Past at Richmond: Four consecutive top-four runs, including a win

Hamlin can be counted on to challenge for the win every time the tour rolls into Richmond. He has won there in 2009, ’10, ’16 and ’22.


Daniel Suarez

  • Points position: 14th
  • Best seasonal finish: 4th (Auto Club)
  • Past at Richmond: Best career finish is 7th

After opening the season with top-10 runs at Daytona, Fontana and Las Vegas, Saurez has plummeted into the 20s in three consecutive races. Richmond will present another big challenge. Suarez has five consecutive finishes of 16th or worse there.

Ryan Preece

  • Points position: 29th
  • Best seasonal finish: 12th (Phoenix 1)
  • Past at Richmond: Top finish of 20th in five career starts

Preece’s first full-time season in the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41 has started poorly. He has been sidelined by accidents in three races and was more upset than most after being parked by a multi-car crash Sunday at COTA.

Alex Bowman

  • Points position: 16th
  • Best seasonal finish: 3rd (Las Vegas 1, COTA)
  • Past at Richmond: Three top 10s, including a win, in past five races

Bowman seems poised to score his first victory of the season. He has been among the tour’s most consistent drivers to date, with five top-10 finishes in six races.




What takes place in a NASCAR appeal hearing? Here’s a look


Hendrick Motorsports is scheduled to have its appeal hearing at 10 a.m. ET Wednesday.

So what will happen in the appeal hearing? Here is a look at the process, based on the NASCAR Cup Rule Book.

NASCAR penalized Hendrick Motorsports for modifications to hood louvers. Those penalties were:

  • Docked Alex BowmanKyle Larson and William Byron 100 points and 10 playoff points each.
  • Suspended crew chiefs Cliff Daniels, Alan Gustafson, Rudy Fugle and Blake Harris four races each and fined each $100,000.
  • Penalized each of the four Hendrick teams 100 owner points and 10 playoff points.

Before the appeal hearing starts, both sides — in this case, Hendrick Motorsports and NASCAR — must file a written summary presenting their case before the hearing.

The summary must not be longer than two single-spaced pages. Any attachments or appendices either side intends to present during the hearing must be included. Such attachments or appendices may include, but are not limited to, video, written statements, diagrams, photographs and charts.

The summary is to be filed by 5 p.m. ET two days before the beginning of the hearing. The summary shall be confidential and not released to the public. The Cup Rule Book says that releasing the summary to the public “may result in a penalty.”

The appeal will be heard by three members. They will come from a pool of panelists. The Cup Rule Book lists 19 panelists. That group includes former drivers Mike Skinner, Lake Speed, Bill Lester, Shawna Robinson and Lyn St. James, along with others in various roles in motorsports.

The Cup Rule Book states that “in seating an Appeals Panel, the Administrator shall take into consideration the panelists’ availability, background, professional experience and knowledge.”

The Cup Rule Book states “the burden rests on NASCAR to show that it is more likely than not that a violation … has occurred, and that the Penalty Notice issued is within the guidelines of the NASCAR Rules.”

Both parties are allowed in the hearing room while each side presents evidence. NASCAR goes first.

After both sides finish, there is a break before an optional rebuttal period. NASCAR has the chance to go first, followed by those appealing.

Once that is complete, NASCAR is permitted one last opportunity to “argue, explain, or present rebuttal on the facts and violation” to the appeal panel since NASCAR carries the burden of proof.

The appeal panelists may ask questions to either group or any witnesses at any time during the hearing.

Decisions by the three-member National Motorsports Appeals Panel do not need to be unanimous.

The National Motorsports Appeals Panel can affirm the penalty or adjust it. The panel can rescind some or all of the penalties or increase any or all penalties.

When NASCAR penalized William Byron 25 points and fined him $50,000 for spinning Hamlin during a caution in last year’s playoff race at Texas, Hendrick Motorsports appealed. The National Motorsports Appeals Panel rescinded the 25-point penalty but increased his fine to $100,000. NASCAR amended its rule book after the panel’s decision.

NASCAR does not have the option to appeal the panel’s decision. Those who filed the appeal can further appeal the panel’s decision to the Final Appeal Officer. That decision can’t be appealed.

Kaulig Racing and Denny Hamlin each will go through this process when their appeals are heard. Kaulig Racing’s appeal is April 5 for modifications to a hood louver. Hamlin’s appeal is April 6 for intentionally wrecking Ross Chastain on the last lap of the Phoenix race.

NASCAR Power Rankings: William Byron returns to No. 1


After last Sunday’s crashfest at Circuit of the Americas, the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings experienced another jumble, and William Byron returns to the top spot.

Byron took fifth place in the chaos of the triple-overtime finish. He and winner Tyler Reddick were the top dogs in the Cup Series’ first road race of the year, Byron leading 28 laps and Reddick 41. No one else led more than two laps.

MORE: COTA finish — Entertaining and messy

Christopher Bell, last week’s No. 1, fell to fifth place after a 31st-place finish at COTA.

NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

1. William Byron (second last week) — Byron, the season’s only multiple winner with two, finished fifth Sunday, marking his career first top five on a road course. He won the pole and the first stage.

2. Kyle Busch (third last week) — Busch continues to make his new partnership at Richard Childress Racing look good. His second-place run Sunday is his fourth top-10 finish in the season’s first six races.

3. Ross Chastain (sixth last week) — Despite being pushed around in the late going Sunday, Chastain persisted, re-emerging at the front to challenge the leaders and finish fourth. He has finished in the top four in all three COTA races and leads the points standings.

4. Alex Bowman (fifth last week) — Bowman continued his seasonal consistency, finishing third at COTA. He has finished in the top 10 in five of six races.

5. Christopher Bell (first last week) — Bell falls from the top spot in the rankings after being booted from Sunday’s race in a late-race accident. He dropped three spots in the Cup points standings to fifth.

6. Joey Logano (fourth last week) — Logano was mostly absent from Sunday’s front-of-the-pack jousting. He limped home in 28th and drops two spots in the rankings.

7. Tyler Reddick (unranked last week) — Reddick bursts into the rankings in a big way, easily outclassing the rest of the field on the way to victory at COTA. Challenged repeatedly by cautions that extended the race into three overtimes, he refused to give up the shot at his first win of the year.

8. Denny Hamlin (seventh last week) — Winless this year, Hamlin nevertheless keeps popping up around the front. Sunday’s late-race mess dropped him to 16th at the checkered flag.

9. Kyle Larson (eighth last week) — Larson seemed to be the race’s pingpong ball Sunday as he was bounced around during some of the tightest racing. He rallied to reach 14th.

10. Kevin Harvick (ninth last week) — Harvick’s final season has been a mix of the good and the bad, with two top-five runs, challenges for wins and a 33rd-place finish at Atlanta. He was 13th Sunday.

Dropped out: Brad Keselowski (10th last week).


Ross Chastain after COTA race: ‘Are you not entertained?’


One driver evoked the movie “Gladiator” after Sunday’s Cup race at Circuit of the Americas. Another could be penalized for his actions after the checkered flag. Others expressed dismay at what the end of the event became.

A race that had been a thrilling duel devolved into a demolition derby over the final laps, leaving feelings as bruised as some of the cars.

While Tyler Reddick celebrated his first win of the season, other drivers stewed at what the racing became. Three overtimes were needed to finish the event due to incidents in the Turn 1 hairpin. Then again, it should not have been surprising, coming a week after Kyle Busch said: “We have completely lost any sense of respect in the garage between the drivers”.

“Are you not entertained?” Ross Chastain exclaimed, evoking Russell Crowe’s famous movie line. “This is what we love. I don’t love doing it, but … as a sport we’re not boring.”

Chastain is correct, the sport is not boring. But it’s fair to ask if the sport has crossed a line. Is it OK for races to end this way? If not, how to change it is a more difficult notion.

The action has been getting more aggressive this season. It was evident in the Clash at the Coliseum when drivers charged into the corners and slammed into the back of cars as a way to slow down to make the tight turns.

Sunday marked the third time in the last four road course races that the event went to overtime. In the previous 28 road course races — dating back to 2012 — only three went to overtime.

It makes one wonder what could happen this weekend when the Cup series races at Richmond Raceway, beginning a three-week stretch at short tracks that includes the Bristol dirt race and Martinsville.

“These cars are so tough,” Chastain said. “We can run into each other. There are just lines of cars all pushing each other (on the restarts) on the brakes. Nobody is going in there saying, ‘I’m going to hit somebody,’ but it’s just the leader has to check up and it just magnifies itself.”

Chastain’s teammate, Daniel Suarez, was not happy after the race. He ran into the back of Chastain’s car, knocking him out of the way as they entered pit road and then hit the back of Bowman’s car on pit road.

Section 4.4.B of the Cup Rule Book states that drivers can be penalized for “Intentionally damaging another vehicle on pit road.” Such a penalty could result in the loss of 25-50 driver and/or team owner points and/or $50,000-$100,000 fine. Violations may also result in a suspension.

Suarez restarted fifth in the second overtime restart but left the inside lane open. Alex Bowman, with Ross Chastain and Chase Briscoe aligned behind, charged and got beside Suarez as they approached Turn 1.

As Bowman slowed to make the tight turn, he was hit from behind and that sent him into Suarez, who clipped the left rear of Martin Truex Jr.’s car. Truex spun in front of Suarez and blocked his path, allowing the rest of the field to drive by and costing Suarez a top-five finish. Suarez finished 27th.

Suarez spoke briefly with Bowman before having a discussion with Chastain.

“The problem is if you don’t peek out and bomb the guy in front of you, the guy behind you does it to you,” Bowman said. “So what do you do there? It’s not right. The way we race is embarrassing, and if 12-year-olds were doing it, we’d be yelling at them, but here we are saying it’s the best thing in the world on TV.”

Chris Buescher simply called Sunday’s race “our first bumper car race of the year.”

Austin Dillon said: “The end of the race became a typical NASCAR road course race. It was just a mess. We drove up into the hill on a restart and everyone just pile drove into each other.”

Jordan Taylor, making his first Cup start as he filled in for an injured Chase Elliott, was struck by what the restarts were like.

“Every restart, you just get smashed in the front, rear, side,” he said. “So yeah, it was pretty much just survival.”


Sunday’s race was scheduled to go 68 laps but was extended to 75 laps by the late cautions.

Here is a look at the drivers who gained the most and lost the most positions from where they were running on Lap 68 to where they were running on Lap 75:

Most positions gained

18 – Kyle Larson (finished 14th)

17 – Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (finished 7th)

16 – Kevin Harvick (finished 13th)

12 – Todd Gilliland (finished 10th)

9 – Ryan Blaney (finished 21st)

8 – Noah Gragson (finished 20th)

7 – Austin Cindric (finished 6th)

6 – Corey LaJoie (finished 11th)

Most positions lost

23 – Daniel Suarez (finished 27th)

20 – Joey Logano (finished 28th)

15 – Kimi Raikkonen (finished 29th)

12 – Christopher Bell (finished 31st)

12 – Martin Truex Jr. (finished 17th)

10 – Aric Almirola (finished 30th)

9 – Jordan Taylor (finished 24th)

6 – Michael McDowell (finished 12th)


Tyler Reddick and Kyle Busch, who switched rides before this season, have both won in the first six races.

This marks the third year in a row that two drivers with new Cup rides have won so early in the year.

Last year, Austin Cindric and Ross Chastain each won in the first six races of the year. Cindric had driven a few Cup races previously for Team Penske but last year was his first year in the No. 2 car. Chastain did have the same crew chief and other crew members at Trackhouse Racing after it purchased Chip Ganassi Racing.

In 2021, Kyle Larson, in his first season at Hendrick Motorsports, and Christopher Bell, in his rookie Cup season with Joe Gibbs Racing, each won within the first four races of that year.