Race Weekend Central

2-Headed Monster: Has RFK Resurgence Made Roush the Top Ford Team Again?

With Chris Buescher’s win Sunday (July 30) in the Cook Out 400 at Richmond Raceway, the RFK Racing driver solidified his spot in the 2023 playoffs and notched only the third win for Ford this season. While the Mustangs have been a step behind all season, they’ve been showing marked improvement in recent weeks, while this race saw seven Fords in the first 11 positions.

Among those was teammate and owner Brad Keselowski in sixth, who has been knocking on the door for a win in several races this season. Have Brad and Buescher finally brought the Roush organization back to being the best Ford team in the Blue Oval camp? This week Chase Folsom and Luken Glover state their case in 2-Headed Monster.

See also
Stock Car Scoop: Are Ford and RFK Racing Back?

Don’t Dismiss the Penske Power

How refreshing is it to see RFK Racing competitive on a consistent basis, competing for wins and in position to land both drivers in the playoff hunt?

As a kid, I got to witness then-named Roush Racing at its peak arguably, with a team that once was comprised of Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle, Mark Martin, Kurt Busch and Carl Edwards. That’s about the equivalent of the Golden State Warriors with Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson.

For about a decade, there was a growing fear that Jack Roush’s organization would continue to decline down a slippery slope that would completely eradicate them from winning at the Cup level again.

Enter a former Cup champion and seasoned veteran in Keselowski, matched with a potential franchise driver in Buescher, and RFK is the most competitive it has been in years.

Are they at the top of the Ford ladder? Let’s pump the brakes here.

There is no question that RFK has surpassed Stewart-Haas Racing and separated themselves from teams like Front Row Motorsports and Wood Brothers Racing. But there is still one giant figure in motorsports whose team stands at the top right now: Roger Penske.

Team Penske has been far from pretty this season. Austin Cindric’s promising rookie campaign has translated into a virtually absent sophomore season. The odds of Joey Logano successfully defending his title are growing longer. And mistakes have once again cost Ryan Blaney and the No. 12 team multiple wins so far.

However, like many times before, they cannot be counted out. In a year where Ford started out noticeably behind the other manufacturers, Blaney has carried the torch, so to speak. He has had the most consistent speed and looked dangerous at times. The Coca-Cola 600 proved what the No. 12 team was capable of, as Blaney took it to the field to snap a 59-race winless streak.

A summer slump and costly mistakes have dropped Blaney in the standings a bit, but he still boasts the sixth-most laps led (343) and is tied for fourth in top 10s (10).

Logano sits right behind Blaney in points in 10th and while he hasn’t looked like a title favorite thus far, you can never count him out. Just look at what happened last season. And if you look at this past week’s race at Richmond, Logano snuck in a top five out of nowhere. That can be dangerous in the playoffs, as he has proven many times before. He is also tied for the third-most top fives (seven). 

The key ingredient that keeps Penske above RFK for the time being is front-running speed. Blaney has had that speed at tracks like Phoenix, Talladega, Dover, Charlotte, Gateway and New Hampshire. Logano was a threat for the win at Daytona, Martinsville, Gateway and New Hampshire, while winning Atlanta.

If you look at RFK, they have been able to run inside the top five and top 10 consistently. Beyond that, winning speed has not been as frequent as the top-two teams at Penske. RFK has proven they can excel at short tracks and they have grown at many other track types as well. But for now, Penske has had more speed at a larger variety of tracks.

At the current rate, I do think this could change by the end of the season. But for now, Penske is still the team to beat at the blue oval. – Luken Glover

Keselowski Has Returned Roush to Relevance

If you had told most NASCAR fans in 2012 that in three years time, Kenseth and Edwards would depart Roush Fenway Racing for Joe Gibbs Racing and that Roush would descend on a downward spiral resulting in them being a mid-tier team at best, they would have called you crazy.

However, it happened, and the once five team powerhouse of the 2000s has been through some dark days in the past 10 years. That being said, everything comes full circle eventually.

The addition of Keselowski as an owner-driver (another thing nobody in 2012 would have guessed) at the now Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing has brought the team new life and they once again find themselves contending for wins, which leaves the question: are they back at the top of the Ford totem pole?

See also
The Big 6: Questions Answered After Chris Buescher Puts RFK Racing in the Playoffs at Richmond

A lot has happened in 11 years’ time, including both Team Penske and SHR switching over to blue ovals, but at this time, I would say yes, RFK finds themselves once again leading the Blue Ovals. 

Looking from abroad, this take might seem far-fetched, even looking at just the past two seasons, as Logano and Penske just won the Cup Series title last year. But as we know, this sport is moving at a faster pace than it ever has and all that seems to matter is “what have you done for me lately.” 

With that in mind and the ever-changing performance upgrades and research done by the race teams, I narrowed my research down to the past six races, when NBC took over the series broadcast.

For starters, the four main ford teams at this point are SHR, FRM, Penske and RFK. While Michael McDowell is having a stellar season to this point, FRM isn’t quite on par with the top teams at this point in time. As for SHR, Kevin Harvick is once again having an outstanding season, although winless, but the other three SHR cars have been abysmal. So that leaves just Penske and RFK. 

It’s easy to look at the points and see Logano and Blaney ahead of Buescher and Keselowski in points and write off RFK, but over the past month and a half Penske has somewhat gone silent.

Logano holds the best average finish of the three Penske cars over the past six races, with a 14.1, while the other two cars of Blaney and Cindric have average finishes of 24 and 19.8, respectively, which isn’t anywhere up to Penske standards.

Now, Logano and Blaney have shown speed, but for whatever reason, whether it be mistakes of their own or mistakes of others, they haven’t been able to capitalize on this speed.

While some would write it off as bad luck when accidents occur like Blaney’s at Nashville or Logano’s at Pocono, or even pit penalties like Blaney’s at New Hampshire, I disagree. Racing is a team sport and by putting yourselves in bad positions whether it be by penalties or pit strategy, the responsibility still falls on the team’s shoulders. 

Switching over to the RFK side, the two-car duo of Buescher and Keselowski is beginning to take the next step and capitalize on the speed they have in their cars. Both drivers hold better average finishes over the past six races than all three Penske cars, with Keselowski sitting at 11.3 and Buescher at 12.8. 

This past Sunday at Richmond, RFK did another thing that Penske hasn’t done outside of superspeedways, and that was take total control of the race. However you want to look at it, the two RFK cars led the most and the second most laps on the day, combining to lead 190 of 400 laps, with Buescher eventually picking up the win. This was very reminiscent of last season’s Bristol Night Race, when the two cars led the most and third most laps on the night, leading 278 of 500 laps. 

Team Penske might have the strongest single driver in the Ford camp, with Logano always finding a way to put up numbers when it counts, but the team as a whole hasn’t been the strongest, especially with Cindric severely underperforming compared to his teammates and Blaney being prone to mistakes.

RFK is the blue oval team who, as a whole, seems to be putting it all together at the right time and has as good a shot as any Ford team to make a run at a championship. – Chase Folsom

About the author

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.

Chase began working with Frontstretch in the spring of 2023 as a news writer, while also helping fill in for other columns as needed. Chase is now the main writer and reporter for Frontstretch.com's CARS Tour coverage, a role which began late in 2023.  Aside from racing, some of Chase's other hobbies include time in the outdoors hunting and fishing, and keeping up with all things Philadelphia sports related.

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Dawg

If you look at the Penski operation as a 2 car team, & it almost is. They still have the advantage with both the 22, & 12 as winners.

As for them being a 2 car team, yes, Cendric won the 2022 Daytona 500. But since then, he’s done almost nothing. They finish off the lead lap more often than not. I know that Cindric was rushed to Cup a year early due to Brad’s leaving, but he’s now had a year & a half with no noticeable improvement. In a car that was always a front runner, & that both Rusty, & Brad won Championships in.

If it weren’t for nepotism, we’d be speculating on who Cindric’s replacement would be.

My point being if we compare RFK & Penski as both 2 car teams, Penski still has the edge. But RFK is closing fast. Good job Brad, & all.

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