A Year Later, Brad Keselowski has a New Perspective on his Atlanta Penalties

AVONDALE, ARIZONA – MARCH 10: Brad Keselowski, the driver of the #6 Castrol Edge Ford, prepares to practice for the NASCAR Cup Series United Rentals Work United 500 at Phoenix Raceway on March 10, 2023, in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

A year later, Brad Keselowski has a new perspective on his Atlanta penalties in the NASCAR Cup Series. Drivers and teams should take note, but will they?

Brad Keselowski and RKF Racing had a great start to their 2022 season. That momentum changed on March 24, 2022, after the NASCAR Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. NASCAR issued severe penalties to the RFK team for the modification to a single source part. Their driver and owner points were docked 100 points apiece with a ten playoff points deduction. The No. 6 crew chief Matt McCall was fined $100,000 and suspended from the next four points-paying races. The team appealed the penalties, but their appeal failed and the penalties were upheld. On Saturday, Keselowski spoke with the media and gave a new perspective on those penalties after a year of reflection.

This year, the Severe Penalties are to Hendrick Motorsports and Kaulig Racing

Is history repeating itself? Well, this year Hendrick Motorsports is off to a great start. and there are similar severe penalties for all four teams at Hendrick Motorsports and the No. 31 team at Kaulig Racing. And it is no surprise that both teams are appealing those penalties. The Keselowski/RFK, Hendrick Motorsports, and Kaulig Racing penalties all relate to unapproved modifications to a single source supplied parts. With the Next-Gen car introduction last year, NASCAR stiffened the rules making it clear that they intend to drive a culture shift within the sport.

The penalty and appeal experience of Brad Keselowski and RFK Racing indicate the culture shift may take some time for everyone to understand and accept. Keselowski admits it was a challenge a year ago.

The penalty we had last year was about a year ago this week.  It was tough.  Immediate emotions are to be frustrated and angry, but I don’t feel that way today.”

No doubt, Hendrick Motorsports, and Kaulig Racing are experiencing those emotions this week after their penalties from the NASCAR sanctioning body.

A Year Later, Brad Keselowski has a New Perspective on his Atlanta Penalties

On the season-opening weekend at Daytona this year, Keselowski took time to share his new perspective with NASCAR officials.

“In fact, when I saw NASCAR a couple weeks ago, we had a car get inspected after Daytona, I made a comment to them and I said, ‘Thank you.  It’s one of the best things to ever happen to us.”

Of course, Keselowski has had a year to reflect, but more importantly, in the past year, he’s seen changes within his organization because of what happened after Atlanta last year.

“We came out of it better.  It was good for the industry.  From our perspective, it changed our culture inside of the company to where we had better behaviors.  I thought it set a tone for the industry.”

Understanding the Emotions that Come with Penalties

Brad Keselowski says he can’t speak to what is happening with the Hendrick and Kaulig penalties because he doesn’t have the details of their situation. He can, however, relate to their emotions about the penalties. Keselowski makes it clear that his new perspective comes from his own experience.

“…with our issues.  I think I made a few comments a month later about the importance of penalties in the garage.  They serve a purpose.  I think it’s really easy and I’ve fallen victim to this as well – to look at NASCAR as the boogieman.

“In a lot of ways, they’re trying to help us and trying to help the sport and make sure that it can be healthy.  Whether or not NASCAR is right or Hendrick is right with their penalty, I don’t know to that specific situation, but as a whole, I do understand the inclination and the emotion behind the teams and maybe the fans getting fired up over a penalty, but in the end penalties are there for a reason.”

The Insights of Keselowski’s New Perspective is Part of the Culture Shift in NASCAR

A culture shift is never an easy process, and that is true for NASCAR. The people leading NASCAR through this culture shift are the sanctioning body – the part of NASCAR that enforces the rules. With the advent of the Next-Gen car, NASCAR’s sanctioning body saw an opportunity to take specific action to shift the culture by tightening the rules for drivers and their teams. Within any organization, there is someone who will challenge a new direction. A year ago, it was the RFK organization and the No. 6 team of Brad Keselowski. His experience can be enlightening and is an important message to share.

“They’re (the rules) there to make this circus somewhat manageable and sustainable, so as to what ends up happening with Hendrick, I can’t speak to it again, not knowing enough, but from my perspective and kind of having lived it, I’m probably 180 from where I was a year ago on it and I understand it at a high degree.”

Commentary: Highlighting Issues and Challenging the Status Quo can be Good

NASCAR needs the drivers and teams to highlight any issues within the sport. They may not always like the status quo to be challenged. But NASCAR does recognize, the importance of building a relationship for better communication leading to improving the sport. Again, it will never be a perfect world. But, two-way communication is a good start to evolving to a better place.

Lesson Learned: Use the communication process to bring about change. Do not use the penalty and appeal process to bring about change.

Drivers and teams can avoid this specific penalty (unapproved modifications to a single source supplied parts) by using the two-way communication process within NASCAR.

Yes, communicating and following a process takes time. Be patient for the process to work. Now the drivers and teams need to ask this question – How many other drivers and teams need to go through the penalty and appeal process for this message to become clear?

Lesson Learned: Unless NASCAR approves the modification, it is not acceptable to bring a modified single source part to the track.

A Year Later, Brad Keselowski has a New Perspective on his Atlanta Penalties

This comment from Brad Keselowski bears repeating as it relates to the culture shift within NASCAR:

“We came out of it better.  It was good for the industry.  From our perspective, it changed our culture inside of the company to where we had better behaviors.  I thought it set a tone for the industry.”

The comments of Brad Keselowski carry significance to other drivers, teams, and even fans. Keselowski understands the importance of having a sanctioning body to enforce the rules; to make it more “manageable and sustainable” so we can enjoy this sport for many years.

The hard lessons are there for all to learn. Hopefully, everyone gets the point, so they don’t keep making the same mistake and expect a different outcome.