When a driver goes the ownership path in the NASCAR Cup Series, there are two distinctive paths.
While there are the success stories of the team-owner hat being put on by those such as Alan Kulwicki and Tony Stewart, there are also the pathways of Michael Waltrip, Ricky Rudd and Bill Elliott, who took their crack at being a driver and owner before eventually walking away from the owner end of things due to various circumstances and factors.
Without question, Brad Keselowski‘s move toward ownership — the latest in a long line to try their hand at it — was a risk. Going from Team Penske, home to the now-reigning Cup champion Joey Logano where a driver will have all the advantages and resources you could ever have, to RFK Racing, which terms of on-track results is a shell of its former self during Jack Roush’s golden era — that’s a risk to a driver’s legacy.
Because it leads to what-ifs. It’s still an age-old question – would Elliott or Darrell Waltrip have won more had they stuck to the driving role and not played team owner?
Read all of Frontstretch‘s content looking back on 2022 here
This part of Keselowski’s career will be defined by the rise or fall of RFK.
And it remains to be seen which side Keselowski lands on just yet, but year one under the RFK banner gave the team what any new venture needs: a good start.
Sure, it would have been icing on the cake for Chris Buescher or Keselowski to have willed their way into the postseason. Most years, they’d have had a fighting chance going down the final stretch in August. But due the higher-than-usual amount of race winners during the regular season changed that. Buescher’s climb was even higher since he missed a race during the first part of the season due to COVID-19 as well.
Still, from an organizational standpoint, a measure of success for any team came with Buescher’s Bristol Motor Speedway win in September, part of a start to the NASCAR playoffs that saw three drivers get their first win of the season despite not being in the initial group of postseason drivers. The win was no fluke, either, with the No. 17 leading the most laps with 169.
And not just that — RFK was good at Daytona International Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway early this year, with Keselowski’s ninth in the Daytona 500 and Buescher’s seventh in the first on Atlanta’s new layout being the first top 10 of the season for both.
Keselowski’s No. 6 team appeared to find its footing in a solid way in the season’s latter stages. In the final 10 races of the season, he found his way to four top-10 finishes. More importantly, they came at a wide spectrum of tracks, starting with a seventh at Darlington Raceway and followed by eighth at Texas Motor Speedway, fifth at Homestead-Miami Speedway and sixth at Martinsville Speedway.
If Buescher was under the radar as a strong road-course racer entering 2022, that cover is now blown. Five times on road courses he finished in the top 10. And with more road courses on the Cup schedule these days, you have to peg Buescher as someone with rising stock. The high-water point for Buescher this past season, minus the Bristol win, was a second-place showing at Sonoma Raceway in addition to a third at Richmond Raceway.
All of that is to say, as the season went on, RFK appeared to get a handle on the new Next Gen Cup car, and the groundwork has been laid for both Keselowski and Buescher to be expected to contend for postseason spots.
And if that indeed ends up the case, Keselowski’s ownership path may indeed be one of prosperity, sustaining his legacy well into the decades to come.
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