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RFK Racing moves one step closer after win at Richmond: ‘We moved from irrelevant to relevant’

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Credit: Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

RICHMOND, Va — History might remember Sunday afternoon at Richmond Raceway as the day Roush Racing returned to prominence.

It’s not just about winning a race, mind you.

What is now RFK Racing has now won sporadically over the past two years in both points paying and exhibition contests but it’s how they won with Chris Buescher on Sunday that makes this time feel transformative.

Buescher, and team co-owner Brad Keselowski, combined to lead 190 of the 400 total laps around the Virginia short track. On a slick and slimy day where passing proved to be a challenge, Buescher drove to the lead from the 26th starting position.

And if not for a pit road entry error on Lap 285, both teammates very well could have delivered a 1-2 finish for team founder Jack Roush. It’s a far cry from the dark ages over the past decade where the team downsized from five powerhouses to two non-factors. For that matter, it’s a far cry from last season where the team was penalized for a technical infraction and neither team made the playoffs, albeit one where Buescher did win the Bristol Night Race.

“We moved from irrelevant to relevant,” Keselowski said on Sunday after the race. “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 finishing 1-2.

“This is another step in our progression and a lot to be proud of.”

The victory was especially rewarding because the entire race was a Roush Fenway Keselowski flex from how both teams took control of the race, drove away from the field and how Buescher responded to a caution inside 10 to go by simply driving away to the win.

In every facet, Buescher executed.

Crew chief Scott Graves executed.

Their over-the-wall pit crew executed.

RFK Racing becomes multifaceted contenders

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Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

Despite his victory at Bristol last year, Buescher says the organization used to have to circle certain tracks as their only chances of winning, and short tracks were not amongst them. Basically, it was going to take Ricky Stenhouse winning a superspeedway for the No. 17 Buescher now drives to get into the playoffs.

That’s not the case now, in the second year as RFK and under the NextGen platform, as the organization has become true multifaceted contenders across the full 38-week campaign.

“It would be great if we just stepped up our short track program and we were competitive at these styles of racetracks,” Buescher said. “That would put you in a place where we’d be leaving Richmond saying we don’t have another shot until Bristol maybe. I don’t know what the first one would be. That’s not where we’re at.

“We have racetracks that we’re going to be competitive at every week. We do not have to circle race tracks as our chances, 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.”

And now, barring something dramatic like another big penalty, both RFK Ford Mustangs are going to be in the playoffs. It’s the first time since 2014 that the organization once called Roush will have two cars in the playoffs.

What does that mean in the big picture?

“It’s a big step forward,” Keselowski said. “I don’t know if I have an answer for what it means other than we get to stay in business, which is always good, right?

He said that with a laugh, but it’s also probably true that Keselowski didn’t buy into this team to be mediocre.

“It’s a good boost of confidence for us that we’re doing the right things, for me personally,” Keselowski said. “Beyond me, just the people that work there every day, that put their effort, heart and soul into the cars and the team. I’m happy for them.”

The only bit of unhappiness, or really just disappointment, is that Keselowski knows there was at least a chance for a 1-2 finish — the closest thing to a perfect day you can have in the Cup Series. It’s the second time in as many seasons that RFK Racing was poised to place both cars in the top-five with Buescher winning on a night where something happened to the No. 6 team.

At Bristol last year, it was a flat tire. On Sunday at Richmond, it was just an unforced error on Keselowski’s part.

“I mean, obviously I want to win the race as a driver,” Keselowski said. “That’s super important to me. Bristol honestly stung a lot more than this did because it was out of our control where we blew a tire. Here I think there were some things in my control, our control as a team. I wasn’t flawless today. There’s a little bit of work to do there on my end.

“I don’t think it stings so much the way Bristol did. In both cases we had two good cars and we were able to strike with the 17 car. That’s something to be proud of.”

And so too is where the team has come from since Keselowski has taken stewardship of the organization.

“I’m not the only person, right, I’m one of the people,” Keselowski said. “There’s a team of people. I’m happy for them.”

To that point, Keselowski says his role as team owner has been simply the empowerment of talented people to execute those talents on the brightest stage in the discipline.

“Really my job is to be a facilitator, it’s to try to make sure the resources are there in combination with the right people to be successful,” Keselowski said.

“In that light, I don’t feel like I really do that much work, to be honest. I just try to listen to the people that do the work, make sure they’re getting what they need in a servant leadership style. Some days are better than others, certainly. We have all of our flaws. I have all of the flaws that come with that.

“I think we’ve come a good ways. I’m not looking up 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.”

Again, history and time might remember otherwise.

Matt Weaver is a Motorsports Insider for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter.

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