NASCAR: Daytona Duels Post-Race Press Conferences

RFK Racing ushered in a new era in grand fashion on Thursday night, sweeping the Daytona Duel races and setting the tone as the team launches forward into the 2022 season.

Brad Keselowski patiently baited his time in Duel 1, moving his No. 6 Kohler Generators Ford into P1 with four laps remaining in the race and never looking back. Chris Buescher’s Fastenal Ford led 17 laps and ran most of the race in the field’s top two.

Running in second, Buescher made a last-lap pass with one lap to go, surviving contact with Joey Logano and giving RFK the Duel sweep.

For their effort Keselowski and Buescher will start third and fourth in Sunday’s Daytona 500.

Duel 1 Winner

An Interview with: Brad Keselowski

THE MODERATOR: We are joined now by the winner of the first duel race tonight, and that was Brad Keselowski. Brad, with the race going on right now, we’ll go right to questions.

(No microphone.)

BRAD KESELOWSKI: I’m going to keep learning about these cars every time I get in them, and there’s a lot to learn, and they keep changing so much. We came down here for the test, and our car was not very good, didn’t have a lot of speed, drove really bad. I knew we made a lot of changes from the test to come down here and learned a lot accordingly, and I was trying to kind of reset my brain from what I had at the test session because what I had at the test session was hey, if you can just make 200 laps you’ll be doing good.

We made some good changes, Matt McCall and the team did, and I think I needed to put those to the test for sure.

(No microphone.)

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, yeah, there’s always little nuances. I think the bumpers are something — I’m more worried about the hood flaps than I am the bumpers and how they bounce back and forth and come out of the cars. But in theory it’s the same for everybody, so it’s just another thing for us to manage, and that’s our job as race car drivers is always to understand the risk versus reward of every move we do, and to be right on the edge but not over it.

That’s everything from how the car handles to the mechanicals of the car and keeping it in one piece. We want to push all the mechanicals to the edge the same way, and the driver has a huge influence on that.

I’m curious if it was a benefit for you guys to only have four cars at the end in that little pack there, and you were able to kind of slingshot there for the lead. Was that a benefit of having just a small group of cars there?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, it certainly didn’t hurt. If there had been more cars, I don’t think I would have done anything different. You know, the risk proposition was a lot lower when you have that many cars because I think if it didn’t work I was going to finish fourth. That didn’t hurt for sure.

I was curious if there was any kind of spark of emotion or anything seeing the 2 car behind you coming across the line right behind you.

BRAD KESELOWSKI: No, not particularly. I’ll go watch it on TV; maybe it will then. In the moment I just want to win and I don’t have a chance to be sentimental.

How does this feel?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: It’s just really good. It’s just so important. There’s a lot of guys and gals on my team that have never won a race before. The company hasn’t won a race in five, six years now, five and a half, something like that. That’s any kind of race.

It’s really important to get that winning habit built up, and the only way you can really do that is to go win. That builds confidence in each other and builds expectations. Not just the expectations, that’s probably not the right word, it builds a reality that those expectations can happen. We had a really poor showing at the Clash, and we needed something to offset that, and this is a great offset for that.

Do they get accustomed to believing they have a car capable of winning the Daytona 500?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, they should, yeah. That should be what comes out of today. The 500 will be a lot different than this race. I think the big thing we’re noticing is as the pack increases the cars change pretty dramatically, and then of course on the 500, you’ll have the hotter temperatures because it’ll be during the day. Good Lord willing it doesn’t rain on us, which it looks pretty good for that. That’ll be a whole different set of circumstances that we’ll have to adjust to, but I think I’ve got a really solid team. Most of the team is from the 1 car last year, and they’re built on a really strong foundation. This is something to just keep going from.

You said you don’t really have time to get sentimental, but there is this element with your father. Do you give it thought?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, I haven’t yet. Somebody asked me in Victory Lane, and I had my girls with me and we were doing the hat dance, so I didn’t get to think about that. Yeah, it was special. We did get to put the decal on right before the start of the race. Ron Drager from ARCA, he had decals made and asked me if I wanted to run one, and said, hell, yeah. They came in right before the start of the race and put it on the car. I told my dad last year because I knew he was pretty sick and his prognosis was he wasn’t going to make it through the summer. I said, Dad, we’re going to win the Daytona 500, and you saw how that went.

It’s bittersweet that it didn’t happen while he was still alive, but I’m still glad it’s some success.

Why did you make the move with four to go as opposed to waiting?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, because last year in the 500 I ended up in a wad down here, and not that I was okay with that, but I figured maybe I wouldn’t end up in a wad with four to go. I thought maybe my push would be a little more handleable — is that a word, handling? Handleable, something like that.


BRAD KESELOWSKI: Manageable, thank you. And so I got a good push from Chase Briscoe. It was just the right amount, not too much, and then I was able to just kind of block all the lanes and my spotter T.J. did a good job to manage that for the next two or three laps — I honestly can’t remember how that all played out, but it was perfect.

Some drivers mentioned they were a little surprised that typically when you go single file here everybody goes up top and everybody stayed to the bottom, and they said they even noticed it in practice a little bit. Is that something you noticed? Is that a quirk or is that something that might play into Sunday?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: No, it definitely will play into Sunday. The cars are built symmetrical. Last year’s car was built asymmetrical, and so this car is built symmetrical, and specifically how that affects it is when the cars were asymmetrical the side draft off the right side was really, really sensitive and the side draft off the left side was not sensitive at all — well, it was minimally sensitive. So you never really wanted to expose your right side. If somebody got underneath you, you could come back down and grab their right rear quarter panel and just stop them.

So that naturally created this kind of gravitation towards the top lanes at all the plate tracks. With this car being symmetrical and that not being the case, I think the racing will be significantly better because that high lane freight train won’t be there.

I felt like early in the race I was behind Ryan Blaney for a while early in the race, and I was ready to go, and he stayed calm, which was smart on his part, I guess. He stayed calm but I felt like we could have pushed and made the second lane work. I think all of us wanted to get through that pit stop and stretch our legs out and take it from there.

Were you the one who was able to put the sticker on the car or were you already in the car?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: The team did right before I got there.

Did you see them do it?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: No, I didn’t. It happened while I was in driver intros, but that’s okay. There’s no pride in authorship for me. Just proud to say it was on there.

Do you guys know how to bump draft yet? There’s a lot of talk about the different bumpers and the foam in there and whether you really know the feel.

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Did we know it before? You know, shoot, we came here the last seven years and wrecked 30 cars a weekend. I don’t think we really knew it before based on that.

So I think we’ll pick up as much as we can pick it up and then we’ll push it to its limits.

Brad, as an owner how would you assess the job the driver did tonight?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, he won’t get fired, which is good. Got a little job security there, but there’s some things I could have done better, I’m sure, but I was good at being patient, putting ourselves in position at the end, and I give a lot of credit for my crew on executing the pit stop really well to put us in position where we could kind of control our own destiny there.

Then for me it was just finding the right opportunity and capitalizing on it and working with my spotter. That was important once we did get the lead to manage it and keep ourselves there.

In spite of last year’s finish, in Turn 3 the fact that the drivers right behind you were all former teammates, did that kind of help or hinder how you thought the race may finish, realizing that it’s a qualifying race? There’s no reason to have any urgency.

BRAD KESELOWSKI: There’s still urgency; there’s 10 points on the line and a trophy and a check, right, so we wanted all those.

You talked a moment ago about winning mentality; how do you establish and what’s the balance for a team that has struggled to say it’s about winning, yes, we can be happy about a top 10 or top 5 but we can never be satisfied unless it’s a win, which is a mindset that hasn’t obviously been there for a while? How do you establish that balance?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Just for now, it’s setting the bar really high. It’s having people that hold those same beliefs, surrounded by them, and then executing around them. It’s pushing in every way and every day, and not accepting less than our maximum potential, and I think that’s what we saw today was our maximum potential.

There’s a really good group of people here. We’ve assembled a great team kind of in the dark, and now we get to show it.

Your brother actually pointed this out on Twitter, but there was a moment where it was you, Briscoe, Cindric, Blaney, Reddick all in the top 5.

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Yeah, a reunion tour.

That obviously ties with the truck team. Did you notice that?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: No, I didn’t. I’m in the car just — you don’t have chance to think about that. Honestly I can only see one in front, one behind anyway. That’s cool; we kind of had ourselves our own little duel, didn’t we. I’m really happy for each one of them and their success.

I played a role but it was pretty small, and they’re doing a lot of their work on their own to get where they’re at and doing a great job at it.

When Edsel Ford came in to Victory Lane, did that surprise you? And what did that mean to you?

BRAD KESELOWSKI: Well, you know, I didn’t know he was here, so it kind of surprised me in that way. Like, you’re here on a Thursday? Usually those guys — it must have been really cold in Michigan. Really cold. I feel you, Edsel; I’d have come down here a couple weeks ago.

No, I was happy to see him. He’s a great guy. He’s been so supportive of me and kind. We need that support. We can’t do this without great manufacturer support. We need those guys to be excited and hungry and engaged, and when you win, it brings them to Victory Lane, right, but it does more than bring them to Victory Lane, it brings them to the table with all the things behind the scenes that we really need to be able to compete at a high level.

I told those guys we were going to win races this year, and I’m not sure they believed me, but it’s good to see them in Victory Lane and be able to validate it really early.

THE MODERATOR: Brad, congratulations on tonight’s win and good luck on Sunday.

Duel 2 Winner

An Interview with: Chris Buescher

THE MODERATOR: We are joined now by the driver of the No. 17 Ford for RFK racing, Chris Buescher. Chris, congratulations on the big win. Talk about your victory here at the high banks of Daytona, please.

Chris Buescher celebrates Duel 1 win at Daytona. Getty Images for NASCAR

CHRIS BUESCHER: Yeah, appreciate it. Appreciate everyone staying around for a late night again. Heck of a start for us. Really cool to see Brad be able to park it in Victory Lane after his duel and do such a great job there, and sitting in the hauler watching with Scott and everyone, said, well, there’s a little extra pressure there, and we got fired off in our race and stayed double file a lot longer than I figured it would, but we were able to get up front and had really good speed.

Really proud of the effort everybody did and the ability we had in our Fastenal Mustang to move around. It’s a cool night, a good start. We have a lot of racing left to do yet. I was trying to time it out there at the end and had those single stragglers running around and was trying to get clear of all them and have some open racetrack to be able to make a move and ended up coming down to the white flag lap. Was trying to do it a couple laps earlier and didn’t quite have the opportunity.

But really cool night, really proud of everybody back at the shop and all the extra effort after a rough trip out to LA. Really cool start for the 500 weekend.

This is your first win since 2016; how good did it feel to just pull into Victory Lane and celebrate knowing that you won again in the Cup Series?

CHRIS BUESCHER: Yeah, it’s awesome. It was a heck of a start. I know it’s not the big one, and sitting here thinking about numbers and statistics, kind of makes you think that — it makes it hard to back it up in the big race. So that’s, I guess, on my mind, but what a heck of a start to our season to be able to get Fastenal into Victory Lane in the Cup Series. It’s still a points-paying event. It’s not quite the same, but it’s still a really big moment for us.

It’s cool to see Jack smiling real big. I’m sure he was in there with the 6 group, as well. But just a really neat feeling, really cool start. Wish it was a couple days later, and we’re still going to work really hard to make that happen, and we have a good opportunity. We have two very fast race cars, and I’m pretty confident that we’re going to have the ability and the opportunity to get there. It’s just about being clean and trying to minimize risk up until those closing laps.

Did Brad come see you in Victory Lane, and if so, what did he say?

CHRIS BUESCHER: Yeah, he did. He came in, said thank you, and I don’t know why he said thank you to me, but I felt like I had to return that one and just said good job and how cool it is for everybody. I know, shoot, it was so cool to see him park it in there after the first duel, right, and know that we had to go out there and try and follow that, and it was like, man, we need to have a good clean run.

Really it opened up the opportunity for us to race hard just with knowing that we had a car tore up in the first duel we would have to backtrack just a little bit and play it a little safe. Didn’t have to do that.

It gave us the opportunity to go out there and race hard, lead a bunch of laps. Had a really nice run down pit road, good stop. Everybody has worked really hard on this single lug program, and I know it’s just a massive departure from where we’ve been, and everybody did a really nice job on pit road, as well, on both teams.

That just goes back to the entire organization. This isn’t a 6 or 17 victory, this is an RFK victory two times over for the night. We just need a third one now for the weekend.

Chris, you spent a considerable chunk of your career racing for Jack Roush, but it hasn’t been the most successful era for this team. You guys sweep the Duels and the team has only had one duel win before tonight. Can you give us insight into what this achievement, even though it’s not the 500, means for an organization that’s trying to get back to where it used to be?

CHRIS BUESCHER: Yeah, I mean, it’s obviously a massive stepping-stone. So much work has gone in. This has been a pretty massive reset for our sport with the Next Gen race car, so this is a huge start to that. Probably don’t have time to go through the story and talk about the lot of the beginnings, but Jack is the one who gave me my big shot into professional motorsports, signed on to go ARCA racing with the Roulo Brothers through help from Roush Fenway at the time, and when I was almost 16 and at the time Roush was dominating, right; it was eight, nine wins a year battling for championships, it was really big moments watching that happen, and the level of excitement for me to be a kid from Texas signing up to go race for that organization was through the roof.

We were able to have some good success in the ARCA series and get a championship there, and as we transitioned into the Xfinity side of things, we had some of our success there and it was good and we had a championship, but at the time the Cup program had fallen down some.

Since then it’s been a tough battle trying to catch up. Some of it’s from no testing, not having that ability as race teams to catch up. It’s not so bad when you’re ahead and they take it away, but trying to play catch-up without the ability to have that extra track time for me personally coming over and getting three or four races in a season and losing practice made it very difficult to get into the hang of things back at RFK, so that was a tough transition for the last couple of years, so this is just a really cool way to really hit a reset button. It was for a lot of the shop, it was for the race car, and in a way it’s going to be a pretty good reset for me, as well.

Chris, Joey first of all said it was a mistake on his part, but he said that he didn’t think you were going to get the run as quick as you did then, and I think I’ve heard some guys talk about these runs are a little bit quicker. Can you explain what kind of happened and why, because you did back up a whole lot to make that move it looked like.

CHRIS BUESCHER: Yeah, so the thing that’s been extremely interesting, and I think we’re all learning every time, is these cars are very good and have huge runs front to back in a narrow wake. But when you get side by side, it stalls you out aggressively, and it didn’t take — we had a line of four of us and a single car that we passed on the top, and then on the bottom it slows us down. Yeah, there’s not this — it stalled us all out. It stalled our whole line out, but as he had a little bit more gap ahead, we had that run moving forward up to him in that single file and was able to pull down the hill some, and it’s — I don’t want it to happen that way and I definitely hate it did.

You look back at it and if I was in that position, we all know our situation on cars and where we’re at, but you put those helmets on and no one is really thinking about that. We’re trying to go win races. If the shoe was on the other foot, I’d probably do the same thing and would be bummed about it just the same, where if you don’t try and make a move and end up fourth or fifth or whatever it would be, you’ll be bummed at the same time.

It was one of those days where we were racing. We talked about it within our organization. I’ve seen the Penske bunch talk about they were going there to race. Most of us were. And the ones that said they weren’t, aside from just a few that pulled over and really rode around, most everybody was, even if they didn’t want to say it.

It’s very interesting to see how the car reacts side by side, how the side draft is not so advantageous for the car trying to make the pass, but it can stall you both out pretty aggressively. I don’t know that I’ve seen any three-wide racing in the first duel. I didn’t see much behind us in ours. I think that’s going to be an interesting concept, and I think it’s going to be something that we’re all going to learn during the 500.

I hope that we learn in a very clean manner. I don’t know if that’s the case. But we’re learning a ton on track. I’ve told our whole team, I’ve learned more in two short practices this week than I did four or five days coming down here and testing single car and small groups, but learned more just in that limited amount of time working with Brad and trying to push and get side by side and get with a few more Fords and figure out what this car is going to do in different situations.

Through 500 miles we’re going to learn a whole lot more.

The way I understand it, you came up on the 15, the lap car on the bottom, so in a way that helped because going side by side with Joey it slowed him?

CHRIS BUESCHER: Yeah, so I wasn’t in line with the 15 —

He was on the bottom, you were on the outside, so did that help?

CHRIS BUESCHER: Yeah, so I guess being side by side at any point, it does just stall everybody out, and Joey is the first one to the scene, right, so it does, it pulls him back, and then as he pulls back, we hit that bubble in front, pulls back and tried to time it to be able to get a run, and honestly I was hoping for more open racetrack, and we had a lot of single cars in the last several laps, so I guess in a more perfect world I would have tried to back up and get more of a straight higher speed run at him, but with getting side by side it really stalled our whole lane out so where he was running slower than I anticipated and it actually slowed us down, too, so trying to back up to get a run was harder because you almost had to feel like you were going first to try and get any separation.

Yeah, it was difficult. I think just worrying about the situation, I think we’ll learn a lot more as we get more cars in more lines and try and start moving around.

Chris, were these statement wins to the garage tonight by you and Brad, and if so, what kind of statement do you think it made to the garage?

CHRIS BUESCHER: Yeah, in a way it is. I think it’s more of a statement to everybody really from our organization and everybody back at the shop that we’re going to work really hard to put really fast Mustangs on the track each and every week. I guess that in some ways it was a statement that the Clash is not what we expect and it’s not something that we were okay with and what happened to us out there. This was a good way to really reverse that storyline and get us heading in the right track.

At the end of the day there was half the cars on track. Yes, it was big, we had speed, and in practice we had speed in both Duels. The Fords in general had a lot of speed. I think there’s a lot to show for that, and I think that’s a really good statement for all of us.

I’m excited about our opportunity. I don’t worry too much about what the garage thinks. I’m excited internally for us, what we believe we have, the capability we have and the opportunity ahead of us for the rest of the weekend and the rest of the year.

We know the reason why the team hired David Smith, the analytics guy. That’s just one example of something that Brad is doing to get this team back on track. What are other things that you’ve seen out of Brad’s leadership so far that are new and invigorating that you haven’t experienced maybe with this team before?

CHRIS BUESCHER: It’s all proprietary, right?

No, that’s one example, right. That’s something that wasn’t thought of that was open information to anybody in the garage that was willing to go after it. It’s a big step for us to not only have that info and have that amount of knowledge, but it also takes it away from others.

I think when you look back at our organization and our shop and how everything is getting cleaned up, not necessarily restructured but reorganizing, and a lot of that comes from the Next Gen but a lot of it also comes from some of Brad’s previous experience having a truck team, having his manufacturing company. I got to take a tour of that facility several months ago, and it absolutely blew my mind how spotless it was, how high the standards are working in something that is growing metal. It’s grinding and cutting and growing materials. It’s just amazing how clean and organized everything was.

I think that’s something that he really focuses on is detail work and expects a higher quality of work out of everybody and a strong work ethic. I think that’s always been the case, and we have extremely talented and knowledgeable people back at the shop. This car has just required some change from everybody and kind of a different mindset on how we’re going to approach it and how we’re going to build repeatably fast race cars and how we’re going to go about making sure we’re focusing on all the little parts that are going to add up to make big speed at the end of the day.

With this being your first win of any sort since 2016, how much does this car give you confidence again in what you can do?

CHRIS BUESCHER: You know, the car is going to be an equalizer of sorts, right, that we’ve seen. The field has gotten tighter. The qualifying field is tight. When we’ve gone testing it’s been tight. You still have a lot of the cream rising to the top, right.

We have a little bit of — it’s just closer. So I think it just puts you in a tight window, and I think that means that some of the small details can make a big difference at the end of the day. It’s something I’ve been looking forward to. I’ve been in the lot of the tests for this car for our organization. It’s amazing to see it keep growing and overcoming some of the issues early on and to see those just disappear and become better and become — really turn it into a race car that’s going to be fun to drive.

I know we’ll have little tweaks along the way as we keep going as an industry, but it’s going to be something that’s going to put us right in the ballpark, and I think that if you ask Brad and you ask everybody back at RFK, it’s something that with a little bit of refining, we can put ourselves in position to be that top-tier team and be contending for wins every week.

THE MODERATOR: Chris, thank you for your time. Congratulations on the win tonight, and good luck on Sunday.