Rick Ware Racing expects to strengthen its position within the NASCAR Cup Series by forming a technical alliance with Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing for the 2023 season and beyond.
As part of the agreement, RWR will lease space on the RFK campus in Concord, N.C., in an effort to form a symbiotic relationship between the teams.
With 19 different Cup winners in 2022 and the new car offering increased opportunities, combining resources should prove mutually beneficial to both companies.
“At its core, it’s a technical alliance with probably a twist,” said RFK president Steve Newmark. “Getting on our campus, we'll have even closer interaction just because of the proximity and the fact that (RWR president) Robby (Benton) and Jeremy Thompson (RFK competition director) and folks will be talking.
“So we're pretty excited because we think it'll help both organizations.”
Clearly, Brad Keselowski’s involvement at RFK put a spark into the once blue-chip organization, which had plateaued around 2014 after being a weekly contender for two decades. Keselowski, a third-generation racer, hopes to restore Roush Fenway Keselowski to its glory days.
Earlier this month at Phoenix Raceway, Keselowski said, “RFK is exploring any and all opportunities to grow its partnership teams and hopefully, one day, position back to be a four-car team.
“For the whole company, we want to see it get back to being a four-car team that can compete for race wins and championships.”
Keselowski’s business acumen and drive were key elements in attracting both Ware and Benton, who have developed relationships with the former Cup champion throughout their tenures in NASCAR.
“I believe in Brad's vision and what RFK has done in bringing Brad over,” Ware said. “I’ve known Brad for a long time. I raced against him and his dad in the Truck Series in 2000. We pitted next to them and were all just struggling to kind of be somewhere at that time.
“Obviously, he had a more successful career than I have had to this point, but I want to use that die-hard mentality and ‘never give up’ that he has had and I believe that’s what RFK has.”
Ware first entered the NASCAR ownership ranks in 1999 with a Craftsman Truck operation. He expanded to the Xfinity Series in 2004. After a one-off Cup race with Timmy Hill in 2012, Ware added a Cup team in 2017. The early acquisition of three charters solidified RWR’s standing in Cup.
This latest move with RFK comes one year after RWR announced its move to Ford Performance and a multi-year lease of Roush Yates Engines. Benton says much of the evolution of RWR has occurred from an organizational perspective and is not visible to the public. While becoming a “global motorsports entity” it was time to elevate the NASCAR performance as well.
“To do that, we need to align ourselves with a partner that wants us as bad as we want them,” Benton said. “It's a true alliance, a truly reciprocal relationship with respect to how we're going to approach the season and individual races.
“There are many parts so many aspects of what makes a team successful that all have to come together at the same time. But this is a very big part of a very big puzzle piece for us. The larger picture of what we're trying to accomplish.”
Benton, who worked with Keselowski at Team Penske, shares Ware’s sentiments. He also understands the necessity of developing partnerships to compete against the powerhouse teams in NASCAR.
“It’s critical with RFK being a two-car team and RWR being a two-car team,” Benton said. “There are more opportunities to work more directly together. The Next Gen car has changed the model, so to speak, with how we approach the organization and the organizational aspect of the team—not to mention the competition side of it.
“So what we see here is an opportunity to have a multi-year relationship with a team that is very solid and firmly founded with what their plan is for the future, what Brad’s plan is for the future is here. Through some conversations, we just found a lot of synergies with the way that we wanted to approach things.”
The introduction of the new car and the streamlined assembly process provided additional space—and resources at the Roush Fenway Keselowski campus.
“It's an opportunity to be based on campus at RFK and then just build to a much more intimate relationship with respect to how we approach any given weekend,” Benton said. “As president of RWR, I'm not as entrenched in the competition side of things, but I think for our competition department bolstering them with the access to RFK competition department, just opens up a lot more depth and knowledge for us to have to be better prepared for any given race.”
Since Ware’s earliest days behind the wheel, he has methodically expanded his motorsports footprint from stock cars to motocross, sports cars and open wheel. This year, RWR added an NHRA Top Fuel team to the portfolio. Despite his other endeavors, Ware insists that NASCAR remains front and center.
“I want to be really clear that NASCAR is our core product,” Ware said. “It also is the most competitive product and I feel it's the toughest of all motorsports when you have 19 different winners and there are as many races as we have and as many competitors that you're racing against.
“Over the last three years, we've made small steps to improve ourselves every year. In 2021, we stepped up to the next level. This past year, for ’22, from the motor programs to taking on more engineers, to having an alliance with Stewart Haas. We took that next leap and it's been very clear—just statistically, numbers don't lie—that we've had more top 10s and more lead-lap finishes and been more competitive across the board.”
But to take that next step, Ware understands that RWR cannot do it alone.
“I believe it’s going to be the most competitive NASCAR has ever been in 2023, so you need to step your program up just to kind of be—I hate to say status quo—but probably just to be there,” Ware said. “Well, we don’t want to ‘just be there’ again. We want to take the next level. I'm happy with our other entities and we're very competitive and running for wins, really, in all of the other series that were involved in. NASCAR is a huge, huge endeavor and you know we're going to focus even more, actually, on NASCAR.
“(RFK) was the pinnacle at one time and it’s not where they want to be. I want to be with them on that next ride. I believe I have something to bring to the table as well, but I'm excited about every aspect that we're doing for the Cup program.”
RWR’s steady improvement has not been lost on Newmark. With many of the manufacturers bolstering alliances throughout their teams, there is clearly strength in numbers.
“It's the relationships and what we're seeing Rick and Robby build,” Newmark said. “Just the fact that we are a two-car team, the more collaboration and the more data sharing that you could have the better than you can be.”
After more than three decades in NASCAR, Ware remains realistic. He knows RWR has “a long way to go” to prove themselves among the Cup landscape. But he’s willing to invest the effort.
“I know what I'm willing to do as a team owner,” Ware said. “With Robby at the helm, we're going to work really hard to make ourselves embedded--and even more valuable to RFK. Those are all intrinsic things. They're hard to put your hands on. But how or when they ever get to a four-car team—and we don't have those answers right now--but I believe as long as we can deliver and evolve, we can give more than we're taking. It's going to grow. And it's going to benefit Rick Ware Racing and I hope it will benefit RFK. I'm pretty confident that it will.
“Those are the things that I think you'll see start to slowly unfold whether it's the ability to have two cars for a test, even it's only two or three or four instead of just one, and to be able to share information. We're just going to work really hard to continue to move up. This is a really tough business. And it's very competitive, but it's a great business to be in, and a fantastic sport.”