Ford Performance Notes and Quotes – RFK Racing Chicago Transcript (6.30.23)

Ford Performance Notes and Quotes
NASCAR Cup Series
Chicago Street Race Media Availability | Friday, June 30, 2023

RFK Racing’s Brad Keselowski and Chris Buescher met with the media Friday to give their thoughts about the inaugural NASCAR street race through the streets of downtown Chicago. While the Chicago Street Race course is a new challenge for the entire field, Buescher notably brings a closely related road course rapport to the event – two Top-10 finishes in 2023, which includes a fourth-place finish last month at Sonoma Raceway.

  • Brad Keselowski: Co-Owner of RFK Racing, Driver of the No. 6 Elk Grove Village Ford Mustang
  • Chris Buescher: Driver of the No. 17 Fastenal Ford Mustang

HAVE YOU HAD ANY TIME TO CHECK OUT THE STREET COURSE? WHAT ARE YOUR FEELINGS?

CHRIS BUESCHER – “Nothing yet. But, we’ve checked out four different entrances of this building so far (media center). We’re off to a good start. The track walk is coming next. I guess it’s not an officially open track walk, but everybody else is posting photos, so we’re going to take off.”

BRAD KESELOWSKI – “Yeah, you guys are so important that we came here, first. That’s part of our ‘aim to please’ mentality here at RFK Racing.”

BRAD, YOU’VE BEEN VOCAL ABOUT TRYING DIFFERENT THINGS IN NASCAR. WHAT ABOUT THE CONCEPT ABOUT FULL-BODIED STOCK CARS ON STREET COURSES? HOW IS IT GOING TO WORK, AND CAN THIS BE A CONSIDERATION FOR THE FUTURE?

KESELOWSKI – “I don’t know how it’s going to work. I think at some point, you just have to go do things. You can get caught up in ‘what’s going to / what’s not going to work,’ and you can talk yourself out of a lot of things going down that path, but it’s important to refresh and renew. I don’t know if this weekend’s going to work out, but I hope it does. I have a lot invested in it personally, just like a lot of others do. But, there are a couple really good indicators that it’s going to work well – it’s a really good sentiment and an excited town as we’re pulling in. So, those are really good things. Of course, there are always going to be concerns, and we have concerns every week – not just this week. But, there are different concerns this week. It’s just natural. It’s new. New is exciting. New is concerning. I think there is a mixed bag of emotions, but I think it’s really important for the sport to try different things, to not be scared to fail. We will not grow at all as a sport if we’re overly scared of failing. That doesn’t mean we want to fail. It doesn’t mean we want to take reckless chances. But, this seems like a pretty calculated maneuver and a good piece of energy for our sport, and that’s always looking for something new and fresh to move it forward.”

YOU BOTH ARE LIVING THE HOTEL LIFE THIS WEEKEND. WHAT DIFFERENCES DOES THIS EVENT BRING LOGISTICALLY? ARE YOU CLOSE ENOUGH TO WALK TO THE COURSE?

BUESCHER – “I think so. I’m pretty sure one of these buildings right here is our hotel. So, it didn’t strike us as a very exhausting walk over here. It’s probably a lot closer than half the motorhome walks we go on at places. Yeah, it’ll be close by. I don’t have a view of the racetrack from my room – it’s of the backside of the alley, so I didn’t get that lucky. But, it is close-by. Definitely going to be paying a lot of attention to the Xfinity cars on-track, as well as the Xfinity race. I think we have the opportunity to go walk the course a little bit and be around different areas – maybe even go check out some of the spotter stands during the Xfinity race if that is an opportunity for us. Just trying to figure out what we can about this place… walk around and try to see what’s been repaved. I think everyone has obviously been on simulators, trying to find their way around it. But, the new paving – we have maps of where it is or was going. Thanks to a handful of you all for a bunch of pictures of what that looks like, but I haven’t seen it in person. I think that’s the next thing, as we are close enough to keep walking and keep taking a look at things, trying to figure out what it’s going to be like or get our best guess. We won’t know until tomorrow until we get on-track, really get up to speed. Simulator stuff I always come out of there feeling really good about it, and then you get on the track and everything’s different. It kind of makes you hit a reset button. So, a lot going on this weekend.”

WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU REMEMBER WALKING INTO THE TRACK FROM YOUR HOTEL, AS OPPOSED TO STAYING IN A MOTORCOACH?

KESELOWSKI – “Has to be like Mexico, maybe? I think the drivers normally having buses is a reflection of the fact that at most tracks, there’s really nowhere close to stay or there are not the amenities to be able to be at your best. Here, it’s a little bit different. I mean, the hotel is right here. There are actual restaurants, and there are places and things you can do to take care of yourself and be prepared. I’d actually prefer this, because it’s a lot cheaper than driving our bus up and down the road each week… certainly a lot cheaper than buying the bus. But, don’t tell my wife or bus driver that part. Yeah, it actually worked out quite nice.”

BRAD, HAS YOUR TEAM ADAPTED IN ANY WAY FROM A MARKETING / SPONSORSHIP ACTIVATION STANDPOINT, CONSIDERING THIS EVENT MAY ATTRACT A DIFFERENT TYPE OF FAN?

KESELOWSKI – “Well, I think if you look at my car and you look at the sponsor this weekend: We have Elk Grove, which is a local community here with a big manufacturing initiative, and those are opportunities that are afforded to us by being in such a unique market as we are here in Chicago. I don’t think these are partnerships that we’d be able to land elsewhere. So, I think I’d start there. Outside of that, when you do the things that we do with our partners, whether it’s dinners and whatnot, it’s much more intimate of an environment here. A lot easier for some of our partners to attend, and probably more so than any of those things, from a partner attendance viewpoint, we have more partners attending this race. It kind of feels a little bit like the Daytona 500 for us in the sense of partners that are coming and want to be a part of this race. Those are all really healthy signs for us as a company with sponsors kind of being the life blood of us financially. That tells us that this is a big weekend for our sport.”

BRAD, DO YOU KNOW THE PLAN AS FAR AS PREPARING THE CARS FOR ALL THE CHANGES AT ATLANTA?

KESELOWSKI – “We’re doing really well. I actually just checked in on this, either Monday or Tuesday. The only cars we did not have done are the three that are here this weekend. We’re in really good shape. It’s always interesting when we have major rules changes to the cars, how we’re able to get it done and what kind of timing. Our group stepped up and was able to execute it fairly well on their own. So, that’s been a good thing to see. Of course, it always gives a lot of the ‘I told you so’ to those that are questioning and not building the cars themselves. But, hopefully this is one of the last major safety changes, and it’s a significant gain that… maybe we can’t put ‘safety to bed’… but have a little less rate of change to the cars here for the foreseeable future.”

CHRIS, LAST WEEK KYLE LARSON SAID THAT YOU ARE ONE OF THE MOST TALENTED DRIVERS IN THE FIELD. WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO GET A COMPLIMENT LIKE THAT FROM HIM?

BUESCHER – “Makes you feel a little warm and fuzzy. It’s neat to hear, and know that we go to a lot of different racetracks and can run well. Somehow or another, road racing… I found my name in the hat more than I ever anticipated. It’s just something that’s clicked on pretty early in my racing career, and I get to talk about it a little more when we go places like this where we turn in both directions. Jack [Roush] actually told me years back – it was my first Xfinity win at Mid-Ohio, a road course – I remember the drive back to airport, called me and said, ‘That was good. Congratulations. But you were supposed to be good on ovals. So where’s that win?’” It’s one of those that you start trying to figure out what it is that makes it work for you, pick it apart, and be good at different styles – road courses, as well. I’d say early on, Sonoma was one where I couldn’t find my own way around and have been really competitive around there for several years now. It’s just like ovals: There are different styles of road courses, and it’s taken some hunting and some research to really try and figure out how to be good at all those places. It’s cool to be in the conversation and in the hunt for these things and to continue to be able to get good results. Just need checkered flag results.”

HOW DIFFERENT WILL IT BE FROM A REGULAR RACE WEEKEND IN TERMS OF FOLLOWING THE WEEKEND MORE CLOSELY?

KESELOWSKI – “Most weeks I don’t feel like there’s a lot to take away from the Xfinity cars. I think the rules, the way the cars drive and the drivers in that series really dictate the ebbs and flows being so much different, that there’s not a lot to learn from watching those races. This particular weekend, it’s obviously a different dynamic for that. I think a lot of the questions that we have are more car-track and integration related than just other things that we’d look at during a weekend. So, I think there will be a lot of questions for us: ‘How does the track change,’ ‘Do the walls move if someone hits them,’ ‘ Are there techniques or tactics that are going to come together,’ there are sections of the track that are paved so are they going to have more grip… things of that nature that are significantly more dynamic given this weekend than normal weekends that lend themselves to watching other series and trying to learn from it.”

BUESCHER – “Yeah, it’s not about if they can get to the 500 marker on entry, right? It’s about the restart zone and it being in a different place, how that’s going to play out and how it’s going to be enforced. Basically, everything Brad just said. The nuances of something completely new that you have a lot of questions about, and you don’t have any answers until it actually plays out in front of you. Going to be paying attention to a lot of that.”

HAVE YOU WATCHED EACH OTHERS’ SIMULATION SESSIONS? HOW HAS IT BEEN TRYING TO LEARN THIS TRACK?

KESELOWSKI – “Well, I wrecked a lot more than Chris did. So, whatever that’s worth. I watched him run for 10 or 20 laps and not really hit a wall. Then I went out there, and I think I hit every one of them. So, I don’t have any room to tease.”

BUESCHER – “I got there several hours before he did, and I hit every wall before that. It made it look good by that time, but I promise you, it was not a smooth start. There was a decent amount of iRacing as well when we didn’t have our Ford time that I tried to run in. I’m just more about figuring the course out, a little less of reading into just the setup side of things. I wrecked a whole lot of stuff over there as well. I think we definitely have ideas about places that make us a little bit nervous on-track. They’re going to be snug. Just some of the pictures I got from my spotter earlier today make the fountain corner look way different than I feel like it appeared in the simulator. it looks much tighter on the entry and exit of the fountain loop – Turns 8,9 and 10. I don’t know how we come up with numbering our corners on road courses, because for some road courses that would be one corner and at Watkins Glen it’d be four – I can’t keep up. That one looks different, so we’ll need to get on-track to get a read on it and see. That’s the only way to do it. The simulator definitely helps, but I’d say mostly everybody has been on it and has run some amount of laps. I’m hoping it’s as close as it could possibly be. But, we have to get on-track and figure it out.”

BRAD, FOR ALL THE ACCOMPLISHMENTS YOU’VE EXPERIENCED IN YOUR CAREER, WHAT ARE YOUR FEELINGS NOT HAVING WON YET ON A ROAD COURSE TYPE TRACK?

KESELOWSKI – “Yeah, it’s frustrating. I’ve had some really good cars. I think we’re capable of winning, more so probably at The Glen than anywhere else. We had a really good road course car last year at Indianapolis, that I felt like maybe not as good but a good shot at winning with. And I’ve let a few of those chances slip away with mistakes that I’ve made. It can be frustrating and some of them circumstantial. At the end of the day, the burden falls on me to make that happen. It’s not the stat I want to have, for sure. But, the season is much bigger than that. You kind of roll with that and do what you can. I’ve certainly put a lot of time and effort into it with different things we’ve done, to try to find another level. It’s something I have to challenge myself with. It doesn’t come natural and it’s just a lot of work to put in. Chris: It comes natural to him. It gives him such a huge advantage and puts him in a spot where he can take a weekend like this. I look at him and say that he’s one of the favorites to win. He’s got the natural talent to be able to pick these tracks up, immediately dissect them and figure out what he needs to go faster and not put himself in risky positions. That doesn’t come as easily for me as I would have liked it to, but ultimately, I still have a lot of opportunities in front of me, and I’m going to continue to grind, put the effort in and hope for the result.”

WHY DOES CHECKING THE SPOTTER STANDS DURING THE XFINITY RACE MATTER WHEN YOU HAVE A VIDEO CAMERA ON YOUR DASH? THERE ARE ALSO SOME AREAS THAT SPOTTERS CANNOT SEE, SO HOW MUCH DO YOU THINK YOU WILL RELY ON THEM FOR INFORMATION?

BUESCHER – “Maybe half of it is to try and understand what the spotter is seeing. The other half is for me just to have more visuals of the track in different areas. The camera has opened up your vision quite a bit out the back, but also realizing that your room for error here is zero. If you do have an instance where you need to know if your spotter has a clear view or not, and with certainty clear you or if it’s going to be close, I feel like everyone needs to have that in their head, because there is zero run-off and it’s a hard decision just going off your gut. You want a good understanding of what decision is being made from up in the air.I feel like there is something to be said about that for this go-around. Just have to be smart about it, but you can very easily lose a race car around this place. I don’t have to see the track in person yet to say that. Lost many of them on the simulator, so it is going to be a tough one just in the fact that there’s no room for error. I watched a lot of other motorsports and their street races over the past couple of weeks. Whether it’s been IndyCar, F1 or some sports car series, it’s tight. One person’s mistake can cause three… four… eight people to have a really bad day. We need to make sure we run the cleanest race possible to put us in the best spot to set up for a win at the end.”

WHERE YOU TRYING TO LEARN SOMETHING FROM WATCHING THOSE RACES?

BUESCHER – “I love racing in general. The first part of the answer is because we were in a ton of rain delays over the past several weeks, and we’ve had time to watch in places that have TVs. I still don’t have TV at the house, so it’s not much of an option there. But, watching them come on instead of sitting there, kind of idly watching them make laps and focusing on what they do for some of their passing scenarios, how they approach certain corners, if it may be a switch back. None of their cars run good on a rough racetrack either, and I was trying to figure out if some places looked like you’d run a little offline just to make sure it was as smooth as possible. Just trying to pick up little things like that. I dove into it a little more, just knowing what we were getting ready to come up against here.”

WHAT IS THE MENTALITY HEADING INTO THE RACE OF MANAGING LEVEL OF AGGRESSION?

KESELOWSKI – “I would expect this race to look very similar to the first race we ran at the roval, where a few people will get humbled very quickly in practice, qualifying and maybe even the start of the race. That will settle it down, and then at the end, it’ll turn into some pretty tough racing. I always feel like in motorsports you can almost feel the vibe of the competitors. You go to Daytona every year – you have the 500 and the Duels – and in one race, there are a lot of wrecks and in the other, there’s not. And if you’re in the second race, and there are no wrecks, you go, ‘Damn, I’m hosed,’ because you get a feel for the ebbs and flows. Then you look at a race like this, and it’s going to go up and down wildly. If you have a very smooth practice session, expect the qualifying session to be a disaster – and vice-versa. So, I think you’ll see that a lot here over the course of the next two days where the race flow and ebbs will have these big moments where it gets really calm, and then it ramps up really quickly. Then, dies down when everyone starts to see the consequences. I would expect a race with a lot of variability in it.”

BUESCHER – “We talked a little bit about it, but when we go road racing, we’ve had some really good races. We’ve had some that have frankly been a little bit embarrassing for us, as a collective group. So, look at the styles of racetracks that have put on good racing and have been a little bit more tame at times. It typically involves having track limits – actual track limits. We go to COTA and Indy – there is so much run-off space, whether it is grass that doesn’t tear up race cars anymore and doesn’t hook up splitters or COTA which is paved so much wider than the track surface. When we go to Sonoma, the groove is asphalt. Don’t be in the dirt, right? You know that dirt is going to go slower and it’s going to cause you to find tire barriers. That keeps everyone in-line better. You have that ten-fold here. There are two places here I think that have a minute amount of run-off room. Everywhere else, the track limits are white line to white line, basically. I think that as a group, everyone knows and realizes it. They have the same thing on their mind as we do, knowing that if we want to win this race, we do have to be there at the end, and that will create some level of easing into things this weekend. To Brad’s point: It takes one moment to change that energy, and it can go haywire really quickly. We’ll be ready when or if it does happen. I feel like it should be a little bit of a slower start.”

WHAT’S THE FEELING OF BEING ON THE CUSP OF MAKING THE CHAMPIONSHIP, AND FEELING THE PRESSURE OF CONTINUING TO MAXIMIZE RESULTS?

KESELOWSKI – “We had our quarterly luncheon this week, and had the chance to address all the employees. Ultimately, there are multiple moods in reflection that come up, and the first one is, we’ve made a lot of progress from where we were as a company last year. That hasn’t come easily. There has been a lot of work and effort put in for that, and we’re certainly very proud of that. But we also know that we have nine really challenging weeks in front of us, where I think the cars are 11th and 12th in the points standings. We have basically a two-car cushion with the playoffs – that’s the way they work. So, over the next nine weeks, I would not be surprised to see two new winners. Hopefully, we’re one of them. But, if that’s not the case, we have both of our cars on the bubble, which is not a good place to be. So, we look at these next nine weeks, and we’d like to win. But, that’s every week. In absence of that, we need to be really perfect. We need to capitalize on the opportunities in front of us and avoid any pitfalls or mistakes. Looking at that, it’s a tense few weeks. Of course, if you make it through all that, then you have to go execute the playoffs as well, right? We know that’s not going to be easy. We know that’s a big challenge. We’re still in this mixture of emotion where we’re significantly proud of the progress we’ve made in most given weeks. We’re in a spot to be one of the best Ford cars. We know that the Fords are not where we want them to be. But we can’t let that be our excuse. We need to control the things we can control. I think as a company, the respective teams have done a pretty good job of that. Upgrades that have been made to Chris’s team and car over the last two or three months are really showing off some investments we made there… and pit crew and other hard assets. So now we have two cars that are really in a good spot to contend. We just need a little bit more vehicle speed. The vehicle speed can be frustrating. Some of it you control. Some of it, you don’t. I’ll be interested to see how the next few weeks play out. There is always an opportunity to improve those things, and they show up in different moments. Sometimes they show up when you make your stuff better, and sometimes they show up when NASCAR enforces some things on everybody else, right? You can’t give up hope on that being the case, and you have to continuously be positioned to take advantage of that. Outside of that from the Ford perspective, Ford has a new car for next year that we think will address some of those concerns, or at least the aerodynamic side of it. We have a lot of reasons for optimism beyond this year, but we have to make this moment we’re in count right now. Weekends like this are kind of equalizer weekends. They are weekends that I think aren’t good excuses for us. So, we need to score a lot of points and if possible, get a win with one of our two cars. I think framing the conversation is really important to understand all the context. This weekend is a big opportunity for us. We know that when we go to the next Nashville-esque track, that it’s going to be very difficult for us to win. But, we still need to do the best we can get a lot of points so we can hold serve with our respective positions.”

BUESCHER – “Where he ended there: Between all the road course racing we have coming up, superspeedway racing courses where we know we are very strong as an organization, as a manufacturer, there is a lot of really good opportunity ahead of us with understanding that there are a few that will be a little bit more challenging. But I think over the next handful of weeks, we have the majority that the conversation shouldn’t really matter to us.”

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com

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