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Rick Hendrick gives an update on Junior
Rick Hendrick talks about the status of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and says that Earnhardt visited his team this week.
Hendrick on Dale Jr.: 'We want him for a long time'
RELATED: Support for Dale Jr. LOUDON, N.H. – NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team owner Rick Hendrick said driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. will undergo additional tests early next week as the popular driver works through concussion-like symptoms that sidelined him for Sunday’s New Hampshire 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. "I'm not a doctor but he's running through a bunch of tests, going to have some more tests the first of the week and he's doing good," Hendrick told members of the media Sunday morning at NHMS. "He wants to be in the car. The doctor's going to tell him when it's OK for him to be back. I know he's anxious, and we want him back as soon as the doctor gives him clearance." Team officials announced July 14 that Earnhardt, winner of 26 Sprint Cup races, had not been cleared to race this weekend after visiting doctors for what he thought was a possible sinus infection. JR Motorsports driver Alex Bowman was tabbed to drive the team's No. 88 Chevrolet in Sunday’s race. "Dale is special to me, taking the driving part away," says Hendrick , who has fielded a car for Earnhardt since 2008. "I just want him to feel good when he gets back in the car. I don't want him to push himself. He's kind of an ironman, he doesn't want to let the team down, he doesn't want to let his fans down. But we need him for the long pull, and he wants to be in the car. "The best thing the doctors can do is go through all the protocol and do all the tests, and there's a bunch … to do. When they say 'You’re good to go,' he'll be back." Should Earnhardt not be cleared to return in time for next week's Sprint Cup race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, four-time series champion Jeff Gordon will handle the driving duties. Gordon stepped away from full-time competition at the end of 2015 to join the NASCAR on FOX broadcast team as an analyst. He was on vacation with his family when Earnhardt’s condition was announced. "He thought I was kidding at first," Hendrick said of his conversation with his former driver. "He was on vacation and I asked him what he was doing next week. He said 'I'll be in Indy, that's one of my appearances I have to make.' And I said, 'Well, bring your driver's uniform. Just in case.' "He said, 'Are you kidding?' and I said 'No, I'm serious.' " "If Dale can't go, then Jeff is ready to step in." Hendrick said Gordon could fill in beyond next week's race if necessary, but added that "we're just taking it a week at a time." "Hopefully Dale is going to be back next week and it's not even something that we think is going to happen," he said. "But if it does … Jeff is a team player, he wants to support the organization and I'm sure he'll do whatever he has to do." READ MORE: Bowman keeps missing Junior's calls The latest incident marks the second time Earnhardt Jr. has missed races for a concussion or concussion-like symptoms. In 2012 he missed two races late in the season after suffering two concussions in a six-week stretch. Hendrick said he didn't believe the latest incident raised a red flag and would possibly be something that could curtail his driver's racing career. "He and I talked about years beyond next year, around I guess Daytona," Hendrick said. "If there was something major, major wrong I think (the doctors) would have seen it already. "I'm very hopeful and he's very hopeful and I think the doctors want to err on the side of being sure. We want him for a long time. He loves the fans, he loves the sport, he loves to race and we love him in the organization. I'm proud of him." Earnhardt was 13th in points prior to missing Sunday's race. He is winless this season, meaning he would need a victory to possibly secure a spot in this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. The field of 16 will consist of this year's race winners and, if there aren't at least 16, additional positions to fill the field would be determined based on championship driver point standings. Hendrick said his organization has not requested a medical waiver from NASCAR. "I haven't even thought about a waiver or any of that right now," he said. Chase eligibility includes the requirement that drivers attempt to qualify for all points races prior to the start of the Chase. Such waivers have been provided by NASCAR in the past. &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Hendrick on Dale Jr. 'We want him for the long haul'
Rick Hendrick talks before the race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway about Dale Earnhardt Jr. being out and the possibility of Jeff Gordon filling in for Earnhardt at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Jeff Gordon set for longer sub stint in No. 88, if needed
RELATED: Weekend schedule for Pocono, Iowa LONG POND, Pa. -- Jeff Gordon maintains that he is looking at his stint in the No. 88 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports "as a very temporary thing," but adds he's willing to remain in the role "as long as they need me." "I say that very loosely," Gordon quickly added Friday at Pocono Raceway, site of Sunday's Pennsylvania 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, where he will line up 24th on the grid (1:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. is said to be making progress in his recovery from concussion-like symptoms that sidelined him following the July 9 race at Kentucky Speedway. Alex Bowman drove for the team the following weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway before Gordon took over last weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. "It was great last Friday to see him say 'hey I feel good today and made some progress,'" Gordon said of Earnhardt. "We want to just keep going with how he is feeling. The doctors are evaluating. I'm not speculating anything at this time. "I wouldn't be here in Pocono if I wasn't committed to be there for Hendrick Motorsports and this team in any way that they need me. I think there is a balance between trying to make this transition. First of all you want Dale to have the comfort of knowing that somebody is there for him. He doesn't have to worry about that aspect of it through this process. "… Then there is the side of who is the best person to be in the car to get the most points. And then there is the sponsorship side of it as well. So far from what Rick ( Hendrick , team owner) is telling me that seems to be me. That is why I was at Indy and that is why I'm here." The series travels to Watkins Glen International next weekend, with an off-weekend before heading to Bristol, Tennessee. HMS officials have not indicated who would be in the car if Earnhardt Jr. is unable to return for next week’s event. Gordon, a four-time series champion who moved from the driver’s seat to the television booth after the 2015 season, finished 13th at Indy; Bowman was 26th at New Hampshire. There have been "a couple" of conversations between Gordon and Earnhardt Jr., Gordon said, noting that his former teammate "likes to FaceTime." "It seems like he is always on the treadmill every time I see him or talk to him," Gordon said. "He is just real interested in what we are up to and how it's going and things we are working on. I think also a lot of it is … evaluating where they are at as a team and some of the set-ups and whether I'm going to be making the same comments as he was making when he was in the car. "So far, I feel like it's been very similar. Definitely, any amount of information that I can get to help me prepare for every time I'm on the track is great information. I'm asking everybody questions just trying to get up to speed everywhere we go including Dale." RELATED: Latest updates on Dale Jr. Prior to competing at Indy, Gordon was able to reacquaint himself with the track through simulation programs; he also pulled information from teammate Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 team, which tested at the 2.5-mile track the previous week. That hasn't been the case this week. "Get fitted in the car, debrief with the team from Indianapolis and then preparation for Pocono," he said. "Didn't have test video from some of our teammates for here like we did last week at Indianapolis and I didn't have time to get in the driving simulator either. "The first few laps today were definitely again a steep learning curve. This is a very challenging race track so it's going to be a tough, challenging weekend, but I do like this track and (there is) a little bit to learn with this new package." Earnhardt's absence has resulted in a fall from 13th to 17th in the points standings. He will need to either a race win or be 15th or higher (based on the current list of winners and their respectively point standing) in points to potentially earn a position in this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. He would also need a waiver from NASCAR, something that would not be determined until he has officially been cleared to return to competition. &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Similarities undeniable in friends, competitors Childress, Hendrick
CONCORD, N.C. -- Richard Childress and Rick Hendrick have more in common than being long-time car owners in NASCAR. Both men have seen their teams win multiple championships. Both have fielded entries for some of NASCAR’s most talented drivers. And both are going into NASCAR’s Hall of Fame as members of the Class of 2017. Their friendship has been built on respect for each other’s accomplishments as well as years of fierce competition. Sometimes, what has taken place on the track has tested the limits of that friendship. But it remains unchanged. "We’ve had some situations where we’ve had to go up to each other and say, 'You know, we’re not driving the cars,' " Hendrick said Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway , site of the Coca-Cola 600 . Specifically, in 1988 when Dale Earnhardt, driving for Childress, and Geoff Bodine, driving for Hendrick , were embroiled in a feud that became so intense it resulted in all four being summoned to NASCAR headquarters in Daytona Beach, Florida, to meet with CEO Bill France. It was a rivalry that had been building for quite some time. It all came to a head here at CMS. "That was back when Dale and Geoff were wrecking each other, right here (at Charlotte), and it was costing us a lot of money," Hendrick said. It was the Coca-Cola 600 race weekend, and during the Saturday race, the Winn-Dixie 300, contact from Earnhardt sent Bodine spinning and into the wall. Afterward, Bodine made a trip to Earnhardt’s garage stall, drawing an imaginary "X" over the car. "That was his engine builder next to the car. I was just wishing him good luck for today," Bodine said during a pre-race television interview. In Sunday’s 600, contact between the pair sent Bodine’s No. 5 Chevrolet to the garage. This time, NASCAR officials penalized Earnhardt, holding the driver of the black No. 3 Chevrolet on pit road for five laps. The following week, both drivers and the two car owners were summoned to Daytona. The incident was recreated for the movie "Days of Thunder." "They made a movie about it," Hendrick recalled. "We got summoned to Daytona; Bill France brought us in a room … Dale, Geoff Bodine, Richard and myself. "I’m not going to use all the words he used but he said, 'There aren’t two monkeys that are going to mess up our show. … We can sit here and watch videos all day.' … but Richard and I had already agreed that we couldn’t control it; we tried to, but it was costing us a lot of money. "Mr. France said, 'We’re going to go have dinner.' Dale said, 'I’ve got some plans.' Mr. France said, 'There’s the phone, change your plans.' "Richard and I rode together; Dale and Bodine rode together and we never did have any more trouble." Childress, who won six premier series titles with Earnhardt at the helm of his cars, said such incidents weren’t exactly "great," but said it was a fun time in the series. "That wasn’t fun that night," Hendrick said. "That wasn’t any fun at all," replied Childress. "He (France) was serious. He definitely said 'I don’t care if one of you has to run on one side of the track and the other run on the other side, you better not do it again.' He was pretty serious. "But you look back on that … to be part of it and build the friendship we did … it was quite a trip." In addition to Childress and Hendrick , drivers Mark Martin and Benny Parsons, along with former car owner Raymond Parks, will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in January 2017.
Car owners Childress, Hendrick , Parks chosen for Hall of Fame
RELATED: See the induction ceremony in photos CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Three team owners accounting for 18 premier series titles and 349 victories in NASCAR's top series headline the NASCAR Hall of Fame's class of 2017. Raymond Parks, Richard Childress and Rick Hendrick were named, along with drivers Mark Martin and Benny Parsons, Wednesday. NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France made the announcement in the Hall of Fame's Great Hall. Parks, Childress, Hendrick and Parsons have been among the nominees on all eight previous Hall of Fame ballots. Martin was nominated for the first time this past year. "That's a load off my mind; I feel relieved, totally," Vi Parks, widow of Raymond Parks, said afterward. "It was a long time coming and I just wish he were here to appreciate it. It's just a great feeling. NASCAR meant so much to Raymond. He loved racing, he loved to be with the people; he always went as long as his health would allow him to go." Parks, who passed away in 2010, became the first championship-winning team owner in 1949 when his driver, Red Byron, won what was then known as the Strictly Stock division. A successful Atlanta businessman who was responsible for helping NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. move forward with the formation of the sanctioning body, Parks and Byron marched to NASCAR's first Modified title as well. Childress won six premier series titles with driver Dale Earnhardt, a member of the inaugural Hall of Fame class inducted in 2010. His Richard Childress Racing organization, located in Welcome, N.C., has earned championships in NASCAR's XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series as well. "I really didn't expect to get in because I was told the only way you're going to get in is to retire or be deceased," Childress said via telephone Wednesday evening. "I sure like the first one better … I haven't gotten plans to retire yet either. "Just to be in there with the class that I'm in, it's unbelievable." Often during speaking engagements, Childress said he would tell the crowd, "Only in America could a kid with a $20 race car and a dream be here speaking to a group like this today," a reference to his humble beginnings as a young racer. "Now I can say only in America could a kid with a dream be in the NACAR Hall of Fame," he said. Hendrick Motorsports drivers have won 11 premier series titles and 242 races. And the team owner said he has no plans for slowing down. "You get tired to the point your body is telling you that you need to slow down," Hendrick said, "but all the people that have worked there that are working there now … you want to keep it going; you want to see it continue. "It's kind of like when you build something and the momentum is there and you want to keep it going. When you sign a young guy like Chase Elliott , you (are) kind of committed to keep it rolling. You want to see Jimmie (Johnson) win his seventh (championship); you want to see Chase win his first, (Dale) Earnhardt (Jr.) win one, Kasey (Kahne) … . "I'd love to see the 250 wins and maybe end up with another Cup championship or two. You know I'm super competitive; I don't want to just go show up, I want to be competitive. "We've accomplished so much. I'm very appreciative of where we are but the competitive side in me and with the team we have we want more. You just have to go dig every day." In addition to the five Hall of Fame inductees, Martinsville (Va.) Speedway track founder H. Clay Earles was selected as the recipient of the 2017 Landmark Award for Outstanding Achievement in NASCAR.
Rick Hendrick wants all four teams to taste success
RELATED: Gordon keeps pedal down on way to Homestead Hendrick Motorsports , winner of six of the last nine NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships, fields four teams but only one will be going for the 2015 championship later this month at Homestead-Miami Speedway . It's a fact that team owner Rick Hendrick doesn't like to be reminded of, given his organization's run of success in the series. Three Hendrick drivers qualified for this year's 16-team Chase for the Sprint Cup field -- Jeff Gordon , a four-time champ; Jimmie Johnson , winner of six titles; and Dale Earnhardt Jr . Earnhardt is still chasing his first Sprint Cup crown. Teammate Kasey Kahne was the only Hendrick driver who failed to earn a berth in the 10-race playoff. Gordon qualified for the Championship Round at Homestead thanks to a win last weekend at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. Johnson failed to advance past the first round, while Earnhardt was eliminated after the second three-race segment. With only Gordon still title eligible, how does the organization balance what's best for the No. 24 team while not ignoring the needs of its other teams in the remaining three races? "The cool thing about our deal," Hendrick told NASCAR.com, "is all the stuff is the same. We don't play favorites over any of them. We give them the best stuff we've got -- all four of them. "So it won't be any different the next few races." While Gordon's efforts are top of mind, it's just as valuable for his other teams to continue to succeed as the season winds down, Hendrick said. It's just as important for Jimmie, Kasey and Dale," Hendrick said. "Dale's won twice, Jimmie's won four times this year, so it would be nice if Kasey could get a win. He's been running really well here lately, running up in the top five and top 10. "For all of those teams to end the year on a high is important because that momentum rolls you into next year. You go into the off-season kind of feeling like 'Man, I can't wait to go to Daytona.' "So yeah, it's important for all of them to run good."
Rick Hendrick : 'We've just fumbled the ball more than normal'
CONCORD, N.C. -- The days of penciling in a Hendrick Motorsports team as a championship contender aren't exactly over, but it would be inaccurate to describe the four-team organization as peaking with just one race remaining before the start of this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . A year ago, HMS had all four of its teams, with drivers Jimmie Johnson , Dale Earnhardt Jr ., Jeff Gordon and Kasey Kahne , ready for the start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series' 10-race playoff. Heading into this weekend's Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway (7:30 p.m., NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR), only Johnson and Earnhardt have secured bids for the 16-team Chase. Gordon can make the field based on his position in the points standings (he needs to finish 17th or higher Saturday night) or with a victory, while Kahne mathematically can get in on points but more likely needs a win to get in. RELATED: Updated standings The Chase officially gets underway Sept. 20 at Chicagoland Speedway . While many organizations would be content with such a scenario, team owner Rick Hendrick knows that’s not what's expected from his group -- which has won 11 series titles. Hendrick engines and chassis have also been on the entries of eight of the last nine championship-winning teams (including those won by Stewart-Haas Racing 's Kevin Harvick and Tony Stewart ). The bar rests high for his organization, Hendrick said Tuesday at the HMS campus. "People catch up; people work hard," he said. "Rule package, rule changes, usually we're on top of it and we come out in front. "To think that you can be in this sport every single year and be the dominant guy that wins them all, that isn't going to happen. NASCAR isn't going to let that happen." Johnson won four of this year's first 13 races, equaling his win total from a year ago, while Earnhardt Jr. has a pair of victories this season. Earnhardt Jr. has five top-10 finishes since his win in the July Daytona race; Johnson and Gordon have three while Kahne has none. Combined, the four have led just seven laps in the past eight races, a statistic that doesn't please the team owner. "It's just part of it," Hendrick said. "I'm a big fan of (Winston) Churchill … I don’t like it when we're behind, but it motivates me. We've just got to work hard, work smart and we'll be back. "We get in position in Darlington where we have three in the top six or seven and we run out of tires and that's our fault. … Maybe we just didn't use the right strategy, who knows? There's been a lot of that this year. We've just fumbled the ball more than normal." Earnhardt Jr., who finished eighth, was the only HMS driver to finish in the top 10 at Darlington Raceway this past weekend. Kahne finished 12th, Gordon 15th and Johnson 19th. RELATED: Results from Southern 500 HMS personnel aren't blind to the situation. "We know as a company … we see the obvious," Earnhardt Jr. said during Tuesday's edition of the "Dale Jr. Download" podcast heard on Dirty Mo Radio. "We see we've got to improve and get more speed. We as a whole group sense that." Knowing the strength and past success of the organization tempers concerns with the Chase on the horizon. "I'm real confident that our company's going to be able to find what they want and what they're looking for," Earnhardt Jr. said. "They always have." While his group may not be competing at the level expected, Hendrick isn't ready to toss in the towel. He admits the organization, as a whole, is "off a little bit." "Maybe we're the same and everybody else is better," he said. "We've had a lot of success and these people want it and they want it bad. They have a lot of pride and they don’t like to be beaten. So does Joe Gibbs (Racing), so does (Team) Penske, so does everybody out there. "The question is how do you get back?" JGR and Penske teams have been the teams to beat of late, with JGR drivers winning seven of the past 10 races and Penske teams scoring two wins in that stretch. "We've been (there) before when we weren't looked at as the best team out there, the best record or whatever," Hendrick said. "But it isn't over yet. So you go ahead and count us out."
Rick Hendrick shows off prized guitars
Rick Hendrick ’s interests span far beyond his love of racing and Corvettes. Mr. "H" gives NASCAR Illustrated a behind the scenes look at his impressive collection of rare guitars.
Keselowski and Hendrick : What might have been
On April 18, 2009, Mark Martin won the Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway . It was the 36th NASCAR premier series win for the 50-year-old driver and his first with team owner Rick Hendrick . A week and a day later, Brad Keselowski won the Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway . It was the first career win for the 25-year-old, and the first premier series victory for independent car owner James Finch. Two distinctly different races won by two distinctly different drivers. Martin's NASCAR career was beginning to wind down; Keselowski's, on the other hand, appeared to have only just begun. But there was one string that tied the two together -- Hendrick Motorsports . HMS was home to Martin, Jimmie Johnson , Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr . And it was expected by many to be the future home of the up-and-coming kid from Rochester Hills, Michigan. But a collection of factors that came together throughout the course of that season altered the racing landscape as well as the career path of Keselowski. It would be nearly three years before the next driver change at HMS. By then Keselowski had not only found a new home, but he was also on his way to winning the Sprint Cup championship. 'I WAS NOT GOING TO LOSE' The sun was out and the grandstands were packed when the 2009 Aaron's 499, the season's ninth Sprint Cup race, went green for the final time. As race leader Ryan Newman tried to keep Earnhardt Jr., the crowd favorite, in check, Keselowski darted to the inside behind Carl Edwards on the track's massive backstretch. It was a move that didn’t seem to mean much at the time. But at the start-finish line with two laps remaining, Edwards and Keselowski shot to the outside entering Turn 1. "Here they come; look at the 99 and ..." NASCAR on FOX analyst Darrell Waltrip began. " Brad Keselowski ," lead announcer Mike Joy and co-analyst Larry McReynolds chimed in. When the white flag appeared, Edwards and Keselowski had caught and were beginning to pull away from Newman and Earnhardt Jr. Racing back through the tri-oval, Keselowski turned his No. 09 Chevrolet to the outside, and then quickly dropped to the bottom as Edwards moved up to block. Realizing the bottom lane was now open, Edwards reacted quickly -- but not quickly enough. Contact sent the No. 99 Ford spinning. Edwards' car came off the track briefly and was beginning to settle back onto the track it was struck by Newman's Chevrolet. The impact sent Edwards roof-first into the frontstretch catch fence. Meanwhile, Keselowski kept his foot in the gas, racing across the finish line for the win just ahead of Earnhardt Jr. "I was not going to lose," Keselowski said in his post-race winner's interview. "I was not going to lift and (I was going to) hold my ground and consequences be damned." A full-time competitor at the time for JR Motorsports (which, coincidentally, counts Earnhardt Jr. and Hendrick among its ownership group) in what is now the NASCAR XFINITY Series, Keselowski said he didn't know what the future held after his first premier series win. "I know I don't have anything locked in," he said. "That's really all I can say ... I don't have a job secured for next year, and everything to this point has been wait-and-see. I know this certainly can't hurt." But behind the scenes, moves were already underway. Finch's Phoenix Racing, which purchased it engines from HMS, had put Keselowski in the car at the suggestion of Hendrick . And the JRM/ Hendrick pipeline, which grooms talent in the lower series to help restock the Sprint Cup program, was taking root. Keselowski had made two starts for Hendrick the previous year, and would make seven all together in '09, in addition to five races with Finch. Perhaps his future wasn't as cloudy as it appeared. " Rick had come out and told me, actually had made it a point to say to the media that he thought I was a future driver at Hendrick ," Keselowski told NASCAR.com recently. There was only one problem. SWAN SONG? On July 4, 2008, HMS officials announced that Martin had signed a two-year agreement to drive the organization's No. 5 Chevrolet. According to the news release, Martin, who would run a full schedule in 2009, would "run a partial Sprint Cup schedule ... in 2010, sharing the No. 5 Chevy with a to-be-determined second driver.” By most accounts, that driver was expected to be Keselowski. But in May of '09, less than three weeks after Martin's Phoenix victory, HMS officials announced a revision to the '08 agreement. The veteran driver would return in 2010 to once again run the entire season. With Keselowski waiting in the wings and Martin winning and agreeing to return the following year, " Rick was kind of half pregnant," Keselowski said. "He (was) stuck. "My feeling was, after I had won Talladega, I'm going to get this 5 car ride partially next year, pair it with something else, let's go. I didn't know what it was going to be. We'll figure it out; let's go." A phone call and subsequent meeting with Hendrick , however, changed all that. "I was kind of expecting more of a 'Hey, we're going to expedite the process of clearing out the rest of this,' " Keselowski said of the meeting, "And instead I got a 'Hey, I don't have a ride for you. You need to figure something else out. I'll try to help.' "That was late April, early May of that year. My intent ... was to give him that time to kind of make right on it somehow, find a ride because he had made me the promise that I would have that car. It didn't sit all that well, but I understood the circumstances and so forth." Months passed and Keselowski busied himself with his full-time XFINITY Series effort at JRM while making a handful of Sprint Cup starts for Hendrick and Finch. Hendrick , in the meantime, was exploring the various avenues that might keep Keselowski in the HMS camp. Possible scenarios included Stewart-Haas Racing , at the time a two-team effort, and Red Bull Racing. Consideration was even given to fielding a Sprint Cup entry out of the JR Motorsports shop, according to the owner. But the pieces didn't fit and as the summer wore on, Keselowski's future remained uncertain. "I wanted him to wait a year," Hendrick told NASCAR.com. "... I don't remember all the details, but I do remember that Mark had done so well, and I had tried to talk (Mark) into staying. "I've told all our guys, the first time I sat down with Brad he impressed me because he was so intense about the whole car and wanted to be involved in everything. He was just so committed. I told our guys he's got the right attitude about racing and driving. I just needed him to wait." Waiting, though, wasn't part of Keselowski's plan. "My perception is a driver is a lot like a perishable fruit," Keselowski said. "You've got so much time, then he spoils and goes bad. There are a lot of variables, much like anything." PENSKE COMES CALLING The Keselowski family has always been involved in racing. Brad's father Bob was an ARCA Series standout and a former winner in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. Ron Keselowski, an uncle, scored two top-five finishes in 68 premier series starts while older brother Brian Keselowski has one or more starts in all three of NASCAR's national series. "We knew the Keselowski name from being here in Detroit," Walt Czarnecki, an executive vice president at Penske Corp., said. "His dad, his uncle, all that. They would run out at MIS ( Michigan International Speedway ) when (Penske) owned the track." But it was a business associate, lawyer/agent John Caponigro, who brought up the young driver's name during a conversation in 2009. "We thought he was committed to Hendrick ," Czarnecki said. "He'd been on loan to James Finch to run several races. But some things were changing." Conversations with Keselowski ensued, in Michigan as well as Mooresville, North Carolina, where Team Penske is headquartered. "All this time," Czarnecki said, "Still having this somewhat uncertain situation with Mr. Hendrick ." Team Penske had grown from a two-team to a three-team organization in '08, fielding cars for drivers Kurt Busch , Ryan Newman and Sam Hornish Jr . In '09 Newman departed to join owner/driver Tony Stewart at Stewart-Haas Racing and 32-year-old David Stremme was brought on board to fill the open seat. But the Keselowski opportunity was intriguing, according to Czarnecki. "We've tried to sign on what we consider to be the best available young drivers with a great deal of potential that we could mold and have them grow in our organization," he said. "And I think that Brad certainly fit that description. "But above and beyond that, he had a bigger vision as to what role he wanted to play in terms of the development of the team. ... Just how he saw different things coming together ... "Some of it may have been a little unrealistic; some of it was certainly the enthusiasm of a young man who had a goal in mind. ... But he had this great enthusiasm and he had this great desire and this great commitment. And that appealed to us." With the Hendrick effort seemingly stalled, Keselowski went back to Penske with a request -- to compete full-time in both the Sprint Cup and XFINITY Series. In addition to its Sprint Cup effort, Team Penske was fielding one full-time XFINITY Series team with driver Justin Allgaier . Expanding that program to two teams running all the races was problematic, given the economy at the time. Told such a scenario was unlikely, Keselowski was left to consider his few available options. But Penske officials continued to work until enough of the appropriate pieces were in place. "Sure enough, Roger called me one night and said 'Alright, I've got it put together,' " Keselowski said. "It kind of caught me off guard. I was sold. That's it; he made it happen." "I couldn't sit around and wait. ... Roger had gone above and beyond to put something together that I felt like was the opportunity I needed. ... The economy was on its way down fast; Roger (through his various businesses) had a lot of immunities to the economy. Rick made it very clear to me that he was not going to invest himself without having a sponsor, and the economy was not in a spot where he could facilitate that." Hendrick had been aware of the Penske interest from the beginning, having had conversations with his fellow team owner about Keselowski's status. "Roger called me and asked me could he talk to him," Hendrick said. "I didn't want to stand in his way. Brad's a hell of a talent. It was a timing issue. "It's worked out for him. At his age it would have been nice if we could have kept him. ... If I got a call from Roger and I was in his spot I would have done exactly what he did." POSTSCRIPT On Sept. 1, 2009, Team Penske officials announced that the organization had signed Keselowski to compete full-time in both the Sprint Cup and XFINITY Series beginning the following season. Since then, Keselowski has won 17 Sprint Cup races, 28 XFINITY Series races and championships in both series. "I don't want to sound mercenary but he brought us our first Sprint Cup championship (in 2012)," Czarnecki said. "Because that vision that he outlined, we tried to work with him and bring people along, bring people into the organization, have him work with people like (crew chief) Paul Wolfe, it was really the realization of that vision. That's what it (has) meant. "And his intensity hasn't changed." Former teammates Busch and Hornish have departed, and fellow driver AJ Allmendinger has come and gone. Keselowski, now 32, is the veteran of a Penske group that now includes 25-year-old teammate Joey Logano . "I wasn’t looking to switch," Keselowski said. "If things would have gone the way they were supposed to go before Mark won that race at Phoenix, I would still be there."