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Homecoming week for Brad Keselowski comes with some recent signs of encouragement — “a little bit of an upswing,” as he puts it. His first year on the driver-slash-ownership side with RFK Racing has had its share of wild swings with some hits and misses mixed in.
Back in his native state for Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 (3 pm ET, USA, NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM) at Michigan International Speedway, Keselowski says he hopes to give the home crowd reason to cheer — both for his No. 6 Ford and the No. 17 Mustang of teammate Chris Buescher. Tuesday, he indicated he’s making progress in re-establishing the organization’s place among the NASCAR Cup Series’ perennial powers, but that he also has personal goals for adding to his own legacy behind the wheel.
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“We seem to be getting better every week, and the team’s starting to click and we’re starting to figure out some of the missing pieces,” Keselowski said, noting the speed he and Buescher had last weekend on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course . “Michigan is gonna probably be a tough race for us, but I’m looking at Richmond, Watkins Glen, Daytona, and I think we have reason for a lot of optimism and hope. So, we’re gonna give it all we got, and I’m in this for the long haul. I’m 38 years old, and statistically, I’m still a few years from my prime, and I want to keep pushing as hard as I can to get this company to where RFK — both cars, the 6 and the 17 — can win races and contend for championships.
“So we’re heading in the right direction, and I think it’ll bear fruit with a little patience. So I appreciate the fans that are sticking with me as we’re turning a new leaf.”
The novelty remains, barely more than a year after the announcement in July 2021 that Keselowski would join forces with Hall of Famer Jack Roush’s group. The organization’s name change came later, and RFK Racing made its first on-track splash with a sweep of this year’s Daytona 500 qualifying races.
The splashes have had fewer ripples since, and both drivers need wins to shoehorn their way into the Cup Series Playoffs. Buescher managed to grab his first career pole position earlier this season, but has just six top-10 finishes so far. Keselowski’s total is half that, and his place in the Cup Series standings received a jolt in March with a 100-point penalty for modifications to a single-source part for the Next Gen car model that debuted this year.
That punishment stood alone until a recent spate of infractions emerged after last month’s race at Pocono Raceway, where the top finishing Joe Gibbs Racing entries of Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch were disqualified. Days later, Michael McDowell’s Front Row Motorsports No. 34 team was added to the offenders’ list with its own 100-point deduction.
Keselowski said he had “a little bit of sense of relief” that the penalties to those teams were treated with similar severity to his team’s case. While he said he had a general understanding of NASCAR’s position with rules enforcement, he advocated for wider, sweeping sanctions for teams that play outside the rule book’s boundaries.
“The reality is that the garage is going through a reset with respect to kind of cutting out the games, and that’s a good thing for us as a sport,” Keselowski said. “I personally think the sport needs more penalties, and that NASCAR needs to be handing them out like candy right now to get control of the garage. Because, you know, we’ve been playing a lot of games for a lot of years, and the games have to stop. The games cost a lot of money. … And so looking at that, the easiest way for NASCAR to stop those expenses is to stop the games.”
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After his team’s own brush with the long arm of NASCAR law, Keselowski said he clamped down. Engineering home-grown parts at great expense was out.
“I know after our issues at Atlanta, we went through our entire company and said no more games,” Keselowski said. “Nothing goes on in these cars, period. And it’s a rapid culture shift and there’s a lot of people inside our own company that didn’t like it, but the reality is NASCAR is setting precedents that needed to be set, that we support being set, that are important to the future of our industry and its viability.”
As for the more immediate outlook, this weekend’s event at Michigan holds extra importance to the sport’s manufacturers, but also to the Rochester Hills-raised Keselowski. The driver-owner is 0-for-24 in Cup Series races held at the 2-mile track, and the prospects for finally scratching the win column there are marked by variables.
Sunday’s 400-miler is the first Michigan race for the Next Gen model, and a Goodyear test there earlier this year prompted a change in approach from the tire supplier. Mix those factors with limited track time in Saturday’s preliminaries and there’s uncertainty aplenty.
“I would say this is about as wild card as a wild card can get this weekend,” Keselowski said. “I don’t know what to tell you to expect with the new car, different tyres, very little practice. The one test session there was with a limited amount of cars didn’t go that smoothly so we’ll have to see. I don’t know what to expect. It could be complete and utter chaos. It could be the best race ever. It could be somewhere in between. I don’t know. I think that’s in some ways part of the fun of Next Gen is the complete uncertainty every week, what’s going to happen.”