When Keselowski decided to team up with Jack Roush two years ago, he knew that getting this organization back to prominence was going to take some time. The formalization of Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing was all about change and new beginnings. As they begin their second season together this weekend at The Clash, there are higher expectations in terms of performance and results.
The first year for RFK was a roller coaster season. It began here at the LA Coliseum with the inaugural Clash that saw both cars miss out on the main event. Keselowski and Chris Buescher both missed out in the Last Chance Qualifier Heat races, and they were not part of the 23-car field fighting for the win.
"It was not a points race, but it just looked bad," Buescher said. "It was bad. A real punch in the gut. It hurt our feelings more than anybody else’s, I promise." Keselowski understood the problem. "We didn’t have a lack of hunger that was holding us back," he said. "We had a lack of understanding our vehicle dynamics."
Fast forward to the following week, and both drivers had an incredible bounce-back performance. Keselowski and Buescher swept the two Duel races at Daytona, getting the team to victory lane twice on the same night, even though the races did not award any points. Brad led 67 laps in the Daytona 500 and finished 9th, while Buescher was not far behind in 16th place.
The first half of the season was a struggle, but the group seemed to find their footing late in the year. Buescher earned his first win of the season under the lights at Bristol during the playoffs. It was the first win for the organization since 2017, and a much-needed boost of morale.
Keselowski qualified on pole at Texas and finished inside the top five at Homestead-Miami Speedway. They may have missed out on the playoffs, but both drivers seemed headed in the right direction.
That momentum was carried into the offseason, and the team is poised to have a much better 2023 campaign. Ford made some significant gains in the offseason, and are expected to be much stronger this year with the addition of a few new parts. With the speed they showed at the superspeedways last season, it should give them a great shot to have success at Daytona next week. Seven of the top nine cars in the Daytona 500 were powered by Ford, including the winner, Austin Cindric.
Last year was the first season since 2010 that Keselowski failed to win a race. It was a disappointment, but also not totally unexpected. More concerning was the lack of consistent finishes. His best finish (Homestead) was his only top-five result of the season. His previous low for a season was nine. He had six top-ten finishes, down significantly from his previous low of 14.
"I wanted to get another win,” Brad admitted. “I kind of had that as an expectation, so I was a little disappointed by that. But by the back half of the year, I felt like we had the opportunity to at least run competitively multiple times. I’m happy and very fortunate to be a part of leading a team and leading a company at the same time."
This is a team that should definitely be on the rise this year, and should be poised to win multiple races. The competition will still be incredibly tight, but Keselowski believes that this group has all of the necessary ingredients to make it happen.
"I think we have a lot more knowns going into this year. I know what I don't know now. Our people understand our resources and how to optimize them at a much higher level. This year is more about applying lessons learned." That begins now, as both drivers will try to earn their way into the 27-car main event.