NASCAR’s breakout team is just getting started

Brad Keselowski, Chris Buescher, RFK Racing, NASCAR (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images)
Brad Keselowski, Chris Buescher, RFK Racing, NASCAR (Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images) /

RFK Racing have been the breakout team of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season, yet they are still working quietly under the radar.

The 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season was the year of the second-year teams.

The Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan-owned 23XI Racing expanded from one car to two, Kurt Busch won in the second car to make the playoffs (even though he later gave up his spot due to injury), and Bubba Wallace won a playoff race for Busch’s No. 45 team to send it to the round of 12 of the owner playoffs in its first postseason appearance.

Additionally, the Justin Marks and Pitbull-owned Trackhouse Racing Team expanded from one car to two, both Daniel Suarez and Ross Chastain won and made the playoffs for the first time, and Chastain made it to the Championship 4.

Legendary car owner Jack Roush is hardly a second-year NASCAR Cup Series team owner.

But it is his second-year RFK Racing team that have been the breakout team of the 2023 season.

Brad Keselowski departed from Team Penske after the 2021 season, ending a 12-year run which saw him win the 2012 championship and 34 races, because he could not be involved in team ownership the way he would have liked to with Roger Penske’s organization moving forward.

Instead, he became a third co-owner of Roush Fenway Racing (formerly Roush Racing), and they rebranded as RFK Racing.

For as disastrous as the 2022 season was for the team, it laid the foundation for a breakout 2023 campaign.

Success was not expected overnight. Keselowski missed the playoffs for the first time since 2013 and went winless for the first time since 2010, his first full season in the Cup Series, ending one of the longest active Cup Series win streaks. He finished in 24th place in the point standings.

Chris Buescher failed to qualify for the playoffs and ended up matching his worst finish in the point standings, 21st place, since joining the team in 2020.

Roush entered the 2022 season seeking his first win as an owner since Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s two-win season in 2017. He entered the season seeking his first playoff appearance since Ryan Newman qualified in 2019.

Despite the struggles, the team did manage to find victory lane for the first time in over five years.

While Buescher, who is generally viewed as one of the quieter, more consistent drivers in the Cup Series, wasn’t a playoff driver, he won the playoff night race at Bristol Motor Speedway, marking his first win since he won a rain-shortened race at Pocono Raceway as a rookie with Front Row Motorsports in 2016.

Skip ahead to 2023, and the RFK Racing resurgence is officially upon us — even in a season during which Ford’s struggles have been no secret.

The team are still seeking their first playoff appearance in four years, and they haven’t yet won this year, but this is a team fielding two cars that are consistently running at the front half of the field.

Last year at this time, Keselowski’s top finish was ninth place. Through 16 races this year, he has five finishes of eighth or better, including three top five efforts, and sits in 12th in the point standings, 96 points above the cut line. He scored just one top five finish all of last season.

Buescher has seven top 10 finishes so far this year compared to the four he had at this time last year, and he has three top five finishes compared to one. He sits just ahead of Keselowski in the standings in 11th place, 102 points above the cutoff.

Neither driver is truly safe as far as making the playoffs yet, as there are still 10 more races to go before the regular season ends and the playoff cut line could move up if more new winners emerge; 10 drivers have won through the first 16 races of the year.

Last year, the cut line ended up between the third and fourth place drivers. It currently sits between the 16th and 17th place drivers.

So perhaps for one or both RFK Racing drivers to feel safe, a win is needed, even though it technically might not be required.

Either way, that win — or wins — seem to be coming sooner rather than later.

Buescher showed last year that he is more than capable of doing more than simply “running well” when he took it to the playoff field at Bristol Motor Speedway. He didn’t just become one of the better drivers in the Cup Series overnight. Consistency streaks are nice, but wins are needed to truly make a statement, and he did exactly that.

And we all know what Keselowski, a 35-time winner at NASCAR’s top level, is capable of. Just three years ago, he was the championship runner-up. He didn’t suddenly lose his talent overnight.

Next. All-time NASCAR Cup Series wins list. dark

The RFK Racing duo are set to go for their first win of the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season on Sunday night at Nashville Superspeedway. The Ally 400 is set to be broadcast live on NBC beginning at 7:00 p.m. ET. Begin a free trial of FuboTV now and don’t miss it!

DraftKings Sportsbook, which is now offering fans an instant $150 just for signing up and betting $5, has both Buescher and Keselowski listed at +8000 to win this race. Keselowski is listed at +2500 to win the championship, while Buescher is listed at +8000.