Dr. Diandra: RFK Racing by the numbers

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Dominance — whether by manufacturers, owners or drivers — waxes and wanes with time. The racing team now known as RFK Racing is a prime example. So let’s look at RFK Racing by the numbers.

The team (then called Roush Racing) ran its first race in 1998. It became a NASCAR powerhouse by strategically pooling data from multiple cars and sharing resources.

Roush remains the only organization to have fielded five full-time Cup-level cars — and the only company to place five cars in the championship playoff system.

In 2010, NASCAR limited each owner to no more than four Cup Series teams to prevent a small number of very large companies from dominating the series.

Roush cut one car in 2010 to meet the mandate, and another in 2011. By 2017, the company was fielding only two cars.

Roush merged with Fenway Sports Group in 2007 to become Roush Fenway Racing, and then transitioned to RFK racing last year when Brad Keselowski became driver and part-owner.

Although RFK has won 137 races and 90 poles, the graph below shows its decline in recent years. The team hasn’t won a race since 2017, when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. had his career-best Cup season with wins at Talladega and Daytona.

A vertical bar chart showing the wins of Roush/Roush-Fenway/RFK racing from 1998 to the present

RFK in 2022

Brad Keselowski is a Cup Series champion with 35 wins over 472 races. Chris Buescher, in his seventh full-time Cup Series season, has one win.

The Next Gen car was intended to minimize the advantages dominant teams had built up. Teams like Trackhouse Racing seized on that promise, earning wins and top-10 finishes.

RFK’s season started out promising, with both drivers winning their Daytona Duels. Things went downhill from there.

Keselowski has yet to post a top-5 finish and has only three top 10s. His streak of winning at least one race each season since 2011 is in jeopardy. On a more positive note, he only has two DNFs in a year with a 55.6% increase in cars failing to finish races.

Two graphs showing Brad Keselowski's rank (upper graph, scatter) and finishes (lower graph, bar)

A 100-point penalty assessed after the team modified a single-supplier part caused a drop in Keselowski’s ranking from which he has not recovered. He stands 28th in points.

Keselowski has been involved in 10 caution-causing accidents and one spin, which puts him fifth for most accidents, spins and stalls. Those 11 incidents, however, happened in only seven races: He had two incidents in each of four different races.

While the veteran driver has led 73 laps this season, 67 of those laps were in the Daytona 500. He’s led only 4 since. The team has incurred six in-race penalties and had to start two races from the back due to unapproved adjustments.

Buescher ranks 23rd with one top-five and six top-10 finishes. He had four DNFs and missed one race due to COVID concerns. His best finish this year is a second at Sonoma.

Two graphs showing Chris Buescher's rank (upper graph, scatter) and finishes (lower graph, bar)

Buescher has gotten more attention for bad luck this season than for his racing. He was the first driver to roll the Next Gen car and remained in his car during a spectacular fire at the Indianapolis road course. After the fire was put out, Buescher drove the car to a 10th-place finish.

Both RFK drivers are among the stronger closers. Keselowski has a net gain of 20  in the final 10% of races this season, while Buescher has 24.

Is speed the problem?

Even after Kevin Harvick’s win at Michigan last week, Ford has the fewest wins (five) of any manufacturer in the Cup Series. But RFK racing lags in speed, even among Fords.

The graph below compares the average starting positions of the top-10-ranked Ford drivers. Buescher is fifth and Keselowski 10th. Chevrolet’s Kyle Larson holds the top spot with an average starting position of 9.00.

A horizontal scatter chart comparing the qualifying of Ford teams

A second measure of speed is a driver’s green-flag speed ranking from loop data. Keselowski and Buescher have each demonstrated top-10-ranked green flag speed this year.

The parenthetical numbers in the table below indicate the driver’s rank at each track.A table showing the tracks at which RFK drivers have top-10-ranked speedBuescher ranks top-10 at eight tracks and Keselowski at three. All three of Keselowski’s best tracks are also tracks where Buescher did well. Richmond is one of those tracks, offering a glimmer of hope for this weekend.

At the other end, each driver has races at which they were out of the top-25 in green-flag speed.

A table showing the tracks at which RFK drivers have below 25-ranked speed
*The second Atlanta race. Buescher ranked 16th at the first Atlanta race.

Bear with me on the next graph: It looks complex, but — I promise — it’s simple to unravel.

Single numbers, like averages or medians, provide a limited amount of information about a driver’s performance. Boxplots consolidate information about every race a driver’s run in a season.

A boxplot comparing the green-flag-speed ranking of Ford drivers

Here’s the secret code:

  • If you just want the basics, focus on the red lines on each bar. They represent the driver’s median rank over all 23 races. In half the races, the driver ranked lower than the median in green-flag speed, and ranked higher than the median in the other half. I’ve arranged the drivers in order of median rank from best to worst going left to right.
  • Each driver’s bar shows the rankings for the middle 50% of races — those races that are most representative of the driver’s year.
    • A short bar tells you the driver is consistent. Ryan Blaney ranked between fourth and 12th in green-flag speed in half the races this year.
    • A longer bar means they’re less consistent. Buescher’s bar ranges from eight to 20.
  • The “whiskers” — the lines coming from each end of the box — mark the best and worst rankings. These are the best and worst 50% of each driver’s races.

Those green diamonds are races in which the ranking was so different from the driver’s usual range that statistics make it necessary to call our attention to it.

Ryan Blaney, for example, had green-flag speed rankings from 1 to 20 in 22 races. The ranking of 25 (at Loudon) was so far off that we should view it as an anomaly.

The first thing this graph tells us about RFK is that while the RFK drivers aren’t leading the Fords in green-flag speed, they’re also not at the tail end.

  • Buescher is one of only four Ford drivers (with Blaney, Harvick and Logano) to have ranked first in green-flag speed at a race.
  • Buescher’s median green-flag speed rank is 18 for the season, sixth among Ford drivers.
  • Buescher’s bar extends much further down than up. He has the same number of races in which he ranked from 18 to 21 (3 positions) as he does 18 to eight (10 positions).

As for Keselowski:

  • His median green-flag speed rank is 20, eighth out of the top-10 Ford drivers.
  • His bar is short, which means he’s consistent. The problem is that he is consistently ranked around 20.
  • The most telling aspect of the graph is that all three of Keselowski’s top-10 rankings are statistical outliers. You can only see two of the three points because he ranked seventh twice.

While the team has shown speed, it hasn’t been enough speed, or the speed hasn’t been consistent.

The fact that Buescher outperforms Keselowski in most metrics isn’t really surprising. Two of the most disruptive events in a person’s life are the death of a loved one and a job change. The Keselowski family lost its patriarch in December 2021, and more than one race-proven driver has struggled in the first year with a new team.

In this year of surprises, a win by Keselowski or Buescher is not entirely out of the question — especially if one of them has the chance to be a spoiler in Daytona.

Helio Castroneves rules out Daytona 500

Helio Castroneves Daytona 500
Robert Scheer/Indy Star/USA TODAY NETWORK
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Helio Castroneves might be at the 2023 Daytona 500, but the four-time Indy 500 winner won’t be in a race car.

During a news conference Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, Castroneves confirmed in response to a question from NBC Sports that he essentially has ruled out attempting to make his NASCAR Cup Series debut in the Feb. 19 season opener.

As recently as last Thursday at Rolex 24 Media Day, Castroneves, 47, said he still was working on trying to piece together a deal.

The Brazilian had been negotiating with the Cup team co-owned by boxer Floyd Mayweather and would have been in an “open” entry that lacked guaranteed entry to the Great American Race. That potentially would leave him in the precarious position of needing to make the race on qualifying speed or a qualifying race finish (as action sports star Travis Pastrana likely might need in his Cup debut).

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“Unfortunately for me, lack of experience, no testing,” Castroneves said. “A lot of things. I believe it would be a little bit tough throwing myself in such a short notice, and to go in a place that you’ve got to race yourself into it. So as of right now, yes, it’s not going to happen.

“But we did have an opportunity. We just got to elaborate a little bit more to give me a little more experience on that. So there is more things to come ahead of us, but as of right now, I want to focus on the IndyCar program as well and (the Rolex 24 at Daytona).”

Castroneves, who has a residence in Key Biscayne, said he still might attend the Daytona 500

“I might just come and see and watch it and continue to take a look and see what’s going to be in the future,” he said.

Castroneves enters Saturday’s Rolex 24 at Daytona having won the event the past two years. He made his signature fence-climb after winning last year with Meyer Shank Racing, which he will be driving for full time in the NTT IndyCar Series this year. He became the fourth four-time Indy 500 winner in history in his 2021 debut with Meyer Shank Racing.

The 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar champion also has indicated an interest in Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 car that aims to place international drivers in a Cup ride (such as Kimi Raikkonen at Watkins Glen International last year). Team co-owner Justin Marks recently tweeted Trackhouse wouldn’t field the Project 91 car at the Daytona 500.

After winning the 2022 Superstar Racing Experience opener, SRX CEO Don Hawk had promised he would help secure a Daytona 500 ride for Castroneves.

Castroneves has been angling for a NASCAR ride for years, dating to when he drove for Team Penske from 2000-20. After winning the Rolex 24 last year, he said he had been lobbying Ray Evernham and Tony Stewart for help with getting in a Cup car.

Though Castroneves is out, Sports Business Journal’s Adam Stern reported that Mayweather’s The Money Team Racing still is considering IndyCar driver Conor Daly for its seat.

Fire at Reaume Brothers Racing shop injures three

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A Thursday fire at the Reaume Brothers Racing shop in Mooresville, North Carolina, injured three individuals, according to Mooresville (North Carolina) Fire-Rescue.

Firefighters were dispatched to the shop, which is scheduled to field entries for driver Mason Massey in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series this season, at about 11:30 a.m. Thursday.

The fire department extinguished the blaze quickly. The department stated on its Facebook page that one individual was transported to Lake Norman Regional hospital for smoke inhalation, and another was transported to Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, N.C. with burn injuries. A third was treated and released.

The team stated Thursday night on social media that Taylor Collier and Devin Fokin had been treated and released. The team stated that Taylor was treated for smoke inhalation and Fokin was treated “for serious burns.”

The Mooresville Fire Marshall’s office is investigating the cause of the fire. The fire department said the shop sustained “significant fire damage.”

In a tweet, the team said it is determining the extent of damage to the building. “More importantly,” it said, “a few of our team members did sustain injuries during the fire and are being transported for medical treatment.”

 

Trackhouse, RFK Racing, Front Row Motorsports sign sponsorship deals

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Trackhouse Racing, RFK Racing and Front Row Motorsports announced sponsorship deals Thursday morning.

Trackhouse said WWEX, a Dallas-based global logistics group, will increase its sponsorship presence with the team this year, serving as the primary sponsor in 21 races for drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez.

WWEX will appear on Chastain’s Chevrolets in 19 races and will sponsor Suarez twice. The organization was a Trackhouse sponsor in 11 events in 2022, which was a breakout season for both Chastain and Suarez.

RFK announced that Solomon Plumbing, which joined the team last season, will expand its presence this season and in future years. The Michigan-based company will serve as the primary sponsor for several races on driver Brad Keselowski‘s No. 6 Ford.

MORE: Chase Briscoe signs contract extension with Stewart-Haas

Solomon specializes in plumbing and fire services for new development and construction. It initially sponsored Keselowski last season in the dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Front Row Motorsports has signed Quincy Compressor, a Bay Minette, Ala.-based compressor manufacturer, as a sponsor for four races.

Quincy will sponsor Todd Gilliland‘s No. 38 team in three events and Michael McDowell‘s No. 34 team in one race.

 

 

Stewart-Haas Racing signs Chase Briscoe to contract extension

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Chase Briscoe has signed a multiyear contract extension to remain at Stewart-Haas Racing, the team announced Thursday.

The length of the deal was not announced.

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Briscoe is entering his third Cup season with the team. He won his first series race last year, taking the checkered flag at Phoenix last March. That victory put him in the playoffs. He finished the season ninth in the standings. 

“It’s huge to have stability, with my team and my partner,” Briscoe said in a statement from the team. “It just gives you more confidence. Stewart-Haas Racing is where I want to be for a long time. It’s the place I’ve known longer than anywhere else in my NASCAR career.

“I remember getting signed by Ford in 2017 and I told people, ‘You know, if I could pick one place to be, it would be Stewart- Haas Racing. And if I could drive one car, it would be the 14 car. That would be the ultimate dream.’ And now, here I am.

“SHR has such a great group of people, from the Xfinity Series to the Cup Series, and they’ve all just guided me in the right direction. From drivers to crew chiefs to crew members, they’ve always had my back, and that’s been a huge help – just having people believe in you.”

The 28-year-old Briscoe has been with SHR since 2018. He split a limited Xfinity schedule that season between what is now RFK Racing and SHR. He ran full time with SHR in the Xfinity Series in 2019 and ’20 before moving to Cup in 2021.

“Chase has made the most of every opportunity and the proof is in the results. Keeping him at SHR was a priority and we’re proud to have him in our racecars for many more years to come,” said Tony Stewart, who co-owns SHR with Haas Automation founder Gene Haas, in a statement from the team. 

Briscoe’s signing comes two weeks after teammate Kevin Harvick announced that this will be his final season in Cup. 

The Cup season begins Feb. 5 with the Busch Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum before going to Daytona for the Feb. 19 Daytona 500.