Race Weekend Central

RFK Shines at Richmond With Chris Buescher Victory, Brad Keselowski Top 10

Chris Buescher, new king of Richmond Raceway?

Maybe not yet, but after hounding Kevin Harvick for the win last summer at the 0.75-mile D-oval, he led 88 laps en route to a commanding victory in Sunday’s (July 30) Cook Out 400 in the NASCAR Cup Series.

Buescher’s third victory of his career and first of 2023 made him the 13th different winner of the season and 12th full-time driver to visit victory lane.

“What I’m proud of at RFK as a group is we don’t have to just talk about short-track racing,” Buescher said after the race. “We can talk about superspeedway racing and know we’re going to be up front battling for wins, leading laps. We can talk about road course racing and know that we’ve been very competitive at a lot of those and been battling for wins.

“We can talk about some mile-and-a-halfs and be in the conversation there, as well. Maybe not quite as strong and not have the results, but we’ve had moments at a lot of different styles of racetracks.”

RFK Racing teammate Brad Keselowski led 102 laps, the most of any driver in the field, but came up just short after a pit stop mishap set the No. 6 team back in the running order.

Just 22 races into the 2023 season, Buescher has matched his win total, surpassed his top fives and is one away from matching his top 10s from last year.

Keselowski, who finished a dismal 24th last season in his first year as an owner-driver, had just one top five and six top 10s in 2022. This season, he’s already at four of the former and nine of the latter.

Short-track racing has been among the most significant disciplines in which RFK has shone, though, with Keselowski leading 109 laps at Bristol Motor Speedway last fall before Buescher ended up with the win. Together, they led 190 circuits at Richmond on Sunday.

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“We have racetracks that we’re going to be competitive at every week,” Buescher said. “We do not have to circle racetracks as our chance, or, ‘this is where we’re going to be really good’ and, ‘we’re going to have to get through this week.’

“We haven’t had that this season. Really didn’t have a whole lot of that last season as well. Now, last season was a building season, it took a lot of work to get there. To see results from all that work is big for us.”

Keselowski’s day went sideways when the No. 6 slid awkwardly into the team’s pit stall during green-flag stops in the final stage.

“We wanted to win 1-2,” Keselowski said after the race. “That’s the ultimate goal. We didn’t get that, but we still had a heck of a day where we ran 1-2 in parts. This is kind of the next step for us, is to be able to win races on a contender basis.

“I told somebody … we moved from irrelevant to relevant. The next step is to try to be contenders. You get to the contender status by winning races. We’re not where we want to be. … This is another step in our progression and a lot to be proud of.”

The No. 17 rolled off 26th and wasn’t even the mix at the end of the opening stage, but Keselowski had made his presence known, creeping into the top 10 after starting 13th.

By the end of stage two, won by Keselowski, they were 1-2. Buescher was right behind his teammate, and the No. 17 kept that momentum into the third stage as he hounded Keselowski for the lead.

Buescher short-pitted Keselowski during that run, and the aforementioned pit stop mishap dropped the 2012 Cup champion a few notches down the running order — and 10 seconds behind leader Buescher — once the cycle had finished.

The No. 17 then inherited the lead at lap 305, survived the next round of green-flag pit stops, regained the lead and had set sail … until a caution flew with less than 10 to go. He then had to survive a frenetic dash to the finish, and did exactly that.

“We were afraid there were gonna be new winners,” Keselowski said. “… Strong day for us with winning the stage and winning the race with both cars. Lot to build off of, lot to be proud of today.

“I just got in a little too hard and a little too wide and locked up the right front. I struggle to give a great answer on how big a difference that would[‘ve made] until I’ve seen all the information, but certainly Chris was very fast and when we got back out on track, I got passed by two or three cars. I was just trying to hold on there for a little bit.”

Keselowski still has yet to win as an owner-driver in the Cup Series.

“Obviously, I want to win the race as a driver, and that’s super important to me,”
he said. “Bristol honestly stung a lot more than this did because it was out of our control. … Here, I think there were some things that were in my control, in our control as a team. I just think I wasn’t flawless today.”

Buescher locked himself into the playoffs with the win but was already solidly above the cut line on points. Keselowski, too, sits above that cutoff and is currently poised to point his way into the 2023 postseason. This comes a year after both drivers missed the playoffs.

“I take the most pleasure from seeing that a group of people come together,” Keselowski said. “Whether it be the ones that you see with the drivers and the pit crew and the team members, or the people you don’t see, which is the mechanics, management team, so forth. … I take just as much pride in that as anything that I’ve done.

“I think we’ve come a good ways. I’m not looking at today, everyone as strong as today was, and saying that we got everything we want and need to win every week. We’re progressing and we’re putting ourselves in position.”

RFK made up a third of a six-Ford contingent in the top 10, a much-needed boon for the Blue Ovals after a subpar season to date. The manufacturer led 201 combined laps.

On-track success notwithstanding, both Buescher and Keselowski highlighted the importance of the win on the financial side.

“That is huge for us to be able to have a showing like this with everybody here,” Buescher said. “To just show that we can talk about the progression and we can sit down and tell everybody about what we’ve done better, what we’ve invested in, what our tools look like now, how our cars look better now — built nicer.

“… But it has to show up on the racetrack on Sunday. That’s what days like today do. That proves we’re not trying to fluff everything, that we’re legitimate into what we’ve invested into this program and what everybody is working on to make sure that we are competitive.”

Regardless of which RFK pilot won, Buescher, Keselowski and No. 17 crew chief Scott Graves all participated in banging a gong after the race in the media center — a Richmond tradition revitalized by Keselowski.

About the author

Adam Cheek joined Frontstretch as a contributing writer in January 2019. A 2020 graduate of VCU, he works as a producer and talent for Audacy Richmond's radio stations. In addition to motorsports journalism, Adam also covered and broadcasted numerous VCU athletics for the campus newspaper and radio station during his four years there. He's been a racing fan since the age of three, inheriting the passion from his grandfather, who raced in amateur events up and down the East Coast in the 1950s.

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4 Comments
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Echo

I’m happy for Brad, Chris and RFK. I’ve liked Brad ever since he didn’t lift for Edwards. Always been a thinker.

dawg

As pleased as I was to see Brad & the entire organization’s hard work rewarded.

As well as Preece, showing why he deserves to be in Cup.

I was also surprised by the other side of that coin.

It’s not often you’re going to see Larson 2 laps down, & Byron lapped as well.

Track House never seemed to find it’s way with either of it’s cars.

Not what either Org. needs heading into the playoffs.

Echo

I agree about Larson and Byron. How could they be that far off.

DoninAjax
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