After what had been a ‘Cinderella Story’ season for Roush-Fenway-Keselowski Racing through the opening 31 races of the 2023 season, the team’s championship hopes shrunk from two cars to one following the Bank of America ROVAL 400 as Brad Keselowski fell short of making the Round of 8 of the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.
The RFK duo came into the Charlotte ROVAL in the green. Buescher started the race 19 points to the good while Keselowski, only two points above the line, was treading water. Unfortunately for the veteran driver, road course racing does not play to his strengths, which made it a challenging battle all race long to remain championship-eligible.
Keselowski found himself in trouble early by missing the frontstretch chicane on lap 16. That required the driver to make a stop-and-go in the designated box on the track, which Keselowski attempted. However, after failing to come to a complete stop, he was given an additional pass-through penalty, a call that frustrated his No. 6 team.
“There were numerous levels of confusion and we thought we had served it with a stop-and-go,” Keselowski explained. “And before that we thought that we had it crossed over so in the end, it didn’t really make or break our day.”
The No. 6 Castrol Ford Mustang team recovered well from the early mishap, as Keselowski reached the top 10 once again before fading back through the field. Keselowski pitted for tires in an effort to claw their way back through the field but with a difficult time passing, their hopes of continuing the playoffs dwindled.
The moment that sealed the deal for this team was a collision with Ross Chastain near the end of the final stage causing both cars to miss the front chicane. Each team had to serve a stop-and-go penalty.
Following the race, the 39-year-old shared his feelings were mixed, speaking on the highs of being a team owner and the lows of getting eliminated after the excellent season he and his team have had.
“I’m really happy for Chris and you know obviously you’re never happy when you don’t advance,” Keselowski shares. “If you look at where we were a year ago to where we’re at today, it’s night and day and we want to make the same jump next year.”
On the flip side, Buescher avoided the chaos to advance his team to the ‘Round of 8’. The team ran a fairly consistent 109 laps despite a flood of late-race cautions.
“Some great strategy to keep us working forward and able to have a race car and be there well within the top 10,” Buescher shared while discussing his race around the other playoff contenders and his points scenario. “Obviously, we were aware of our situation and would’ve loved to have been able to have run a little harder but just wasn’t in the cards for us there towards the end.”
Though they survived this round, the No. 17 team will enter the next round of the Playoffs as the first driver below the cutline. As a positive, earlier in the season Buescher shared he was looking forward to the next race, which will be at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Unfortunately, the team might not be as prepared as they might have hoped.
“We have been driving off the hood pin, which is typically not a good idea but it has been everything focused on getting through this round that I’m not there yet,” Buescher admitted while discussing his thoughts about the upcoming race.”The first Vegas was so long ago, I’ll have to go back and look at it and study. I know our program has come a long way this year, especially on that mile-and-a-half side of things so I know we’ll be better than we were the first time around and I don’t believe our first time around was one of our strong races on the season.”
It is true that the group has improved at mile-and-a-halfs as the season has progressed, but Vegas certainly is not Buescher’s best track, historically. With an average finishing position of 16.6 and only one top-10 finish at the track, which came in the fall of 2020, the team may start the ‘Round of 8’ on the wrong foot but will look to fight their way into the Championship 4.