RICHMOND, Va. — Chris Buescher was aglow in Victory Lane early Sunday evening at Richmond Raceway, soaking in a convincing, playoff-clinching win at a place where, not long ago, he said he wanted to cover over, fill with dirt and build housing on. “It seems like it sweeps your legs out every time we come here after the first stage,” he said, noting the track’s tendency to react and up the difficulty like a three-quarter-mile Cobra Kai.
Oh, how the opinions can flip, the result of what Buescher called a “massive leap” in progress by his RFK Racing team. Buescher was golden after the first stage, methodically climbing from a 26th starting spot on a day where position gains were hard-fought. Right there with him was his teammate and boss, Brad Keselowski, who also contended and ran 1-2 with Buescher in the race’s later segments before a wonky pit-stop entry shuffled him back to a sixth-place finish.
Keselowski and Buescher entered Sunday’s Cook Out 400 with a solid cushion on the plus side of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs hunt, one that only a historic collapse in the standings would unravel. Sunday’s victory placed an approval stamp on what’s been building the last two seasons at RFK Racing, but it also skipped past the unpalatable alternative of reaching the postseason by points.
“I’ve said that consistently,” Buescher said after netting his third Cup Series victory and his second under the RFK Racing banner. “We’ve talked about that as a team, that obviously, it has to be in the back of our minds because we are in a good spot in points. We’ve worked hard to have that consistency. But we’re not indestructible where we’re at, that a win would take care of everything.
“That’s our sport. Winning fixes everything. It fixes the points talk. It fixes morale. It fixes bad weekends. Everything can be changed by winning. From that standpoint, it’s awesome that we are in the playoffs. That was part of our goal at the beginning of the season. At RFK we talked about winning races, making the playoffs, and being able to be a contender in the playoffs. We don’t want to be a placeholder by any means either.”
The organization has undergone a recent transition in both performance and name, morphing from Roush Fenway Racing into the RFK banner when Keselowski became a part-owner before the 2022 campaign. The upswing has swelled memories of car owner Jack Roush’s heyday, when his mega-team was a regular winner on the Cup Series and fielded title-caliber efforts in both the Xfinity and Truck tours.
Recent markers have shown RFK inching back toward the team’s former glory. Buescher’s clinching effort Sunday resulted in the organization’s first playoff berth since Ryan Newman’s bid in 2019. The organization has led 415 laps through 22 races this season, just three shy of its laps-led total of 418 last year. Before Sunday, RFK hadn’t passed the 400-laps-led plateau in a season since 2013. Buescher and Keselowski have also finished in the top five four times this year, the first time two drivers have each reached the mark since 2013.
“Certainly tremendous execution,” Keselowski said. “We wanted to win 1-2. That’s the ultimate goal. We didn’t get that, but we still had a heck of a day where we ran 1-2 at parts. This is kind of the next step for us, is to be able to win races on a contender basis. I told somebody, a lot of you guys here this year, 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. We want to be where we win every week, we’re 1-2 finishing. This is another step in our progression and a lot to be proud of.”
The advancement from relevance to prominence is a movement that Keselowski hopes to keep rolling, and he’s quick to point out that he hasn’t done it alone. He also noted Sunday that the organization isn’t all the way there yet, even after one longtime scribe raised the question of whether RFK Racing was now the best team in the Ford camp.
“We’re positioning ourselves to get there one day, and I’m proud of that,” said Keselowski, acknowledging the modest inroads RFK has made against Ford heavyweights Team Penske and Stewart-Haas Racing. “That’s earned, right? You’ve got to earn that title. You do that with winning multiple races and contending for championships. We’re knocking on the door of that. Until we are walking in at Phoenix with three or four win stickers on our cars, it’s hard to say that we’re the best. That’s what we want to be.”