Race Weekend Central

Friday Faceoff: Has RFK Returned to Glory?

With both its drivers currently in the playoffs, has RFK Racing returned to glory?

Wyatt Watson: With the results that the team has been showcasing, RFK has certainly improved mightily from last year. Brad Keselowski battling for the win at Atlanta Motor Speedway, both cars running well at Daytona International Speedway and both running top 10 at Phoenix Raceway until the last few laps certainly shows it is contending for a playoff berth for the first time since Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards were the stars of RFK.

However, to say it has returned to glory is an overstatement. That would mean RFK is the championship favorite it was back in the mid-2000s. It would also mean the team would have four entries again, with each one competing for the playoffs. If RFK truly wants to be mentioned as a team that has returned to glory, it has to contend for the championship. It’s not there right now.

Luken Glover: Considering this was a team that won championships and could be reliable for six-plus wins in a season, not yet — but it is trending in that direction. After Ryan Newman pointed the No. 6 into the playoffs in 2019, the team struggled the next two seasons. However, after Chris Buescher got a win at Bristol Motor Speedway last year, RFK has backed up those flashes with more consistent speed so far. Intermediates and flat tracks will show where RFK is at, but so far, it looks much more competitive. It has a driver whose driving style reminds me of Kenseth in Buescher and a motivated co-owner/driver in Keselowski. It won’t be long before it’s back to its former glory.

Steve Leffew: Not yet. The RFK duo had an average finish of 17.75 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Phoenix. It’s definitely improved, and the new car likely plays a role in that. But we are talking about an organization that once put five cars in the playoffs. An organization that competed for championships in all national series. The good news for RFK fans is it seems clear the bleeding has stopped. Don’t be surprised if it picks up a win or two this season, but it’s still got a long way to go.

Josh Calloni: No, RFK hasn’t returned to full glory, but it sure is close. Last season, it seemed as if it would have one of the team cars on a good run, but not the other, aside from a few races. However, this year, both its drivers have looked consistently fast. Pairing that fact with two extremely good drivers in Buescher and Keselowski, it’s only a matter of time before RFK returns to victory lane on a more consistent basis and becomes a championship-level threat.

Zach Gillispie: It is not there yet, but it is well on its way. Buescher’s win at Bristol last year was a huge statement for the success of the team going forward, but there needs to be more consistency within the organization. To do what it did in the early to mid-2000s, it needs to be a threat to Hendrick Motorsports every single week. It is nowhere near that mark right now.

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Is the 14th-in-points Corey LaJoie’s early success a fluke or long term?

Calloni: Neither fluke nor long-term success — rather, somewhere in the middle. Corey LaJoie is a talented racecar driver and has shown that multiple times. However, the Spire Motorsports equipment still isn’t necessarily playoff caliber. Regardless, LaJoie has strung together a few good runs, especially at the drafting tracks. There has definitely been a step up from last season, but it’s still very early, and more will need to be improved to make the success it’s shown something it can hold on to long term.

Gillispie: Spire reportedly made a huge financial commitment to boosting its program with LaJoie over the offseason. It seemed to be paying off until a dismal outing at Phoenix. LaJoie had the advantage of the draft to earn his top five last weekend, but there really needs to be more races for us to have an accurate reading of how LaJoie’s season will go. Although his points standing is impressive, his finishes this season are scattered all throughout the field. LaJoie needs consistency to really prove this is no fluke.

Glover: Not a fluke. LaJoie has shown steady improvement since he arrived at Spire, and his talent is on display. LaJoie ran in the top 15 all day at Auto Club Speedway and got a stage point on speed. I don’t expect the team to make the playoffs, especially since the No. 77 is nowhere close to where LaJoie is, but it is now a top 20 to -25 points contender.

Leffew: LaJoie has four top 20s on the season but just one top 10. His average finish is 16th. Last year at this point it was about 20th. LaJoie and Spire have made some gains this year. It’s no longer a team you can pencil in around 25th to 30th. It’s gone from backmarker to mid-pack, and it’ll stay there.

Watson: LaJoie certainly isn’t 14th in points by accident; he earned this. With a career-best finish at Atlanta, a solid 14th at Auto Club (including a stage point there) and four top-20 finishes in five races, LaJoie deserves the recognition he’s earned for the finishes he’s achieved. If one still has doubts about LaJoie’s performance, just compare his results with his teammate Ty Dillon and tell me you’re not impressed.

Jordan Taylor and Jenson Button will both make their NASCAR Cup Series debuts at Circuit of the Americas. Who else would you like to see make their Cup debut in 2023?

Gillispie: There has been a somewhat surprising trend of washed-up NTT IndyCar Series drivers making forays into NASCAR (Sage Karam, James Davison, Marco Andretti and Ed Jones, to name a few). There have been some past IndyCar stars who are only getting very few opportunities this year. So let’s throw Ryan Hunter-Reay, Takuma Sato or James Hinchliffe in a Cup car on a road course. There has been some talk about IMSA star Tommy Milner coming over. But there are also plenty of current NASCAR figures who have not yet made Cup starts who deserve one. Chandler Smith is already set for his debut at Richmond Raceway. Brandon Jones, Grant Enfinger, Ty Majeski and Spencer Pumpelly need a one-off too.

Calloni: Dreaming a little too big, any of the current Formula 1 drivers would be a huge addition to the sport, even for one race. F1 has gotten so popular and has such a wide variety of fans from all around the world, so to get one of those drivers in a Cup race would likely sport a huge increase in ratings, which would be awesome for the sport. Lewis Hamilton, for example. But someone like Donny Schatz at the Bristol Motor Speedway dirt race would be very cool too.

Watson: Many names come to mind. F1 stars like Daniel Ricciardo, Hamilton, Max Verstappen, Sebastian Vettel, Kevin Magnussen, Mick Schumacher and many more would be amazing to see. One IndyCar legend who has been enthusiastic to give NASCAR a try is Helio Castroneves. The Brazilian is my pick because of the excitement he would bring to the garage and the racing atmosphere. Seeing Will Power, Scott Dixon or Tony Kanaan would be fun as well.

Glover: Thinking along the lines of the Bristol dirt race, I’d love to see a World of Outlaws driver get a shot in good equipment. How about the four-time defending WoO champion Brad Sweet? Sure, his stints in both the NASCAR Xfinity and NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series didn’t go particularly well, but none of those starts were on dirt. He may have a sprint car race that weekend, but one can dream, right?

Leffew: Hamilton would be a huge draw, but I am still reeling from the pre-season Castroneves rumors falling through. He’s accomplished so much in his career and flirted with the idea. Come on, Roger Penske or Justin Marks, let’s make this happen.

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Debris from Carson Hocevar and Josh Williams caused cautions after both had cleared the Damaged Vehicle Policy. Does NASCAR need to adjust its DVP or how it officiates those situations?

Leffew: The DVP isn’t perfect, but it is needed. We can all remember races where we had several debris cautions for the same couple cars, totally throwing off the rhythm and outcome of the race. In the Josh Williams example, the team did not utilize all of its allotted time. By my count, it took about five of its 10 minutes for repairs. It clearly wanted to avoid losing laps. Let this be a lesson to teams, they need to make repairs worthy of continuing and use the time allotted. Otherwise they might be parked.

Watson: NASCAR needs to get rid of the DVP. Teams shouldn’t have seven or eight minutes to try to tape their car up as best as they can to make minimum speed. If NASCAR would let cars go back to the garage as it did before the DVP era, that would eliminate the problem of halfway-repaired cars desperately trying to make minimum speed and spreading debris on the track from their mangled cars. If cars aren’t making minimum speed, they can simply go back to the garage and try to repair the car further. If they simply can’t repair it, they’re out.

NASCAR should have penalized Williams a lap and put him back on the DVP. A second strike. If the team failed to repair the car again and caused a third caution, then park the car. NASCAR reacted too harshly on the No. 92 team, and it pretty much stems from the fact that the DVP even exists.

Calloni: The DVP rule doesn’t need to be overhauled, per se, but it is a rule that needs to be officiated more consistently. Carson Hocevar was not parked for a very similar situation as Williams was, and the fact that those two races and occurrences happened only a few hours apart from each other reiterates the need for more consistency in these officiating calls. However, I’m more against the DVP than anything. If teams are given more time to repair vehicles and aren’t rushed in doing so, they can be more articulate and careful getting the cars repaired so pieces falling off become less of a problem.

Glover: The DVP helps to an extent, but it has already caused a lot of headaches in its time. It has not been officiated consistently, and we’ve seen cars cause multiple cautions because teams have rushed on pit road. In Williams’ case, they pointed to how cold it was for the debris that fell off their car, so they may have a valid argument there. But overall, NASCAR either needs to park teams who cannot effectively make repairs or get rid of the DVP clock entirely.

Gillispie: Get rid of the stupid DVP already. Love you too, Williams.

About the author

Never at a loss for words, Zach Gillispie is a young, talented marketing professional from North Carolina who talks and writes on the side about his first love: racing! Since joining Frontstretch in 2018, Zach has served in numerous roles where he currently pens the NASCAR 101 column, a weekly piece delving into the basic nuts and bolts of the sport. Additionally, his unabashedly bold takes meshed with that trademarked dry wit of his have made Zach a fan favorite on the weekly Friday Faceoff panel. In his free time, he can be found in the great outdoors, actively involved in his church, cheering on his beloved Atlanta Braves or ruthlessly pestering his colleagues with completely useless statistics about Delma Cowart.

Steve Leffew joined Frontstretch in 2023, and covers the Xfinity Series. He resides in Wisconsin and has been a NASCAR fan as long as he can remember. He has served honorably in the United States Air Force and works during the week as a Real Estate Lender.

Wyatt Watson has been an avid fan of NASCAR since 2007 at the age of 8. He joined Frontstretch in February 2023 after serving in the United States Navy for five years as an Electronic Technician Navigation working on submarines. Wyatt writes breaking NASCAR news and contributes to columns such as Friday Faceoff and 2-Headed Monster. Wyatt also contributes to Frontstretch's social media and serves as an at-track reporter.

Wyatt Watson can be found on Twitter @WyattGametime

Josh joined Frontstretch in 2023 and currently covers the ARCA Menards Series. Born and raised in Missouri, Josh has been watching motorsports since 2005. He currently is studying for a Mass Communication degree at Lindenwood University

Luken Glover joined the Frontstretch team in 2020 as a contributor, furthering a love for racing that traces back to his earliest memories. Glover inherited his passion for racing from his grandfather, who used to help former NASCAR team owner Junie Donlavey in his Richmond, Va. garage. A 2023 graduate from the University of the Cumberlands, Glover is the author of "The Underdog House," contributes to commentary pieces, and does occasional at-track reporting. Additionally, Glover enjoys working in ministry, coaching basketball, playing sports, and karting.

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