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."
Brian Keselowski hopes 'Dega spurs another start
RELATED: Full race results from Talladega Brian Keselowski was all smiles on pit road after finishing 17th in the Camping World Truck Series race at Talladega Superspeedway on Saturday, as he debriefed with his team and chatted with those surrounding him. But under the smile lay a level of disappointment -- his chance at his first NASCAR major series victory in his first Truck start had faded away like his diminishing fuel cell, the culprit of Keselowski's demise in the final laps of the fred's 250 presented by Coca-Cola. "I'm emotional. I'm really proud of how we ran," Keselowski said on pit road after the race. "I'm disappointed that it was probably my only chance. We'll see how it works out." Keselowski -- who is a crew chief for ARCA driver Matt Kurzejewski and part-time driver in the series -- seemed poised for victory, as he was lined up to restart fourth for a green-white-checkered attempt in a Ford owned by his brother Brad Keselowski . His performance throughout the day had shown brighter than his lack of experience behind the wheel of a truck, as he had battled back to the front after getting slapped with a pit road speeding penalty early, and even led 10 laps around the 2.66-mile track. "We worked our way through the pack really quick and I was like, 'Wow, that's good,' " Keselowski said. "… All of a sudden we're out in front of a pack and everybody is starting to pit and we're weaving our way through traffic and the 4 (of Erik Jones ) is with me and I'm like, 'We might be leading this thing.' " But determination can take a driver only so far. Prior to the restart, Keselowski made the disappointing trudge down pit road, his No. 29 truck fuel cell as dry as the Alabama asphalt. It was a moment that was heart sinking for Brad Keselowski Racing team owner and younger brother Brad Keselowski , who had given Brian the opportunity to pilot the No. 29 for injured Austin Theriault . "I really thought he was going to win it," Brad Keselowski said, tilting his head back in dismay in the Talladega garage after Saturday's Sprint Cup Series qualifying session. "… He did great, he really did. I was really happy to see him run up front, disappointed he didn't finish off, but he did everything I could ever ask him to and more." Brad Keselowski 's girlfriend Paige White tweeted at Brian after the race, saying that their motorcoach needed a new floor due to Brad's pacing during the Truck race. "You made him proud!" she said. Despite the finish that was marred with disappointment, Brian Keselowski 's strong showing at the superspeedway gave the 34-year-old driver one crucial element: confidence. "It kind of validated what I always thought -- that I could do it, I just never had a chance." Keselowski said. And win or not, its certainly a performance Keselowski hoped others were watching. "We had a really good truck," Keselowski said. "I hope I showed somebody I could do it."
Keselowski hires familiar face for BKR ride
Brad Keselowski posted a blog late Thursday evening indicating that a new driver will be behind the wheel of the No. 29 Brad Keselowski Racing Ford -- his brother, Brian . The elder Keselowski will suit up for next Saturday's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Talladega Superspeedway (1 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM). The ride was opened up because the truck's full-time driver, Austin Theriault , was injured in an accident during the Rhino Linings 350 on Oct. 3 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway . On short notice, Keselowski kept it close to home. Excited to announce the newest member of our @TeamBKR truck team, my brother @KeselowskiBrian . My blog on why now: http://t.co/zo1UG9xTIp — Brad Keselowski (@ keselowski ) October 16, 2015 Brian was more than thrilled at the notion. I've been waiting most if my life to say this, I get to drive the #29 truck @TalladegaSuperS ! I'm so excited I can hardly stop smiling — Brian Keselowski (@KeselowskiBrian) October 16, 2015
Keselowski's Darlington paint scheme revealed
RELATED: Buy Darlington tickets " '16 throwback schemes " SHOP: Keselowski gear Team Penske driver and 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski unveiled his Darlington Raceway throwback paint scheme Wednesday evening on FS1's "Race Hub." The No. 2 Ford will sport a 1972 design by Miller Lite with a lighter shade of blue and a line of gold between the primary colors of blue and white. "We're showing the old-school Miller Lite colors for this race," Keselowski said after pulling the cover off the car. " ... It's very old school, and it's going to be another fun weekend." RELATED: Darlington announces 2016 throwback theme
Keselowski completes weekend sweep of qualifying
Brian Scott will join Brad Keselowski on the front row
Keselowski leads Penske 1-2 in first Vegas practice
RELATED: Full practice results Brad Keselowski landed the fastest lap in opening NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice Friday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway . Keselowski powered the Team Penske No. 2 Ford to a best speed of 195.327 mph on the 1.5-mile track. He was just nine thousandths of a second ahead of Penske teammate Joey Logano , who registered a 195.263 mph lap in the No. 22 Ford. Hometown favorite Kurt Busch was third-fastest, pushing the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41 Chevrolet to a 195.235 mph lap. Paul Menard was fourth-fastest and Brian Vickers -- subbing for the injured Tony Stewart -- fifth-fastest in preparation for Sunday's Kobalt 400 (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), the third premier-series race of the season. Defending race winner Kevin Harvick was seventh-fastest in the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 Chevrolet. Jimmie Johnson , last week's winner at Atlanta and a four-time victor in Vegas, posted the eighth-fastest lap in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevrolet. Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin clocked the 13th-fastest lap in the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 Toyota. He logged his speed in a reserve car after spinning and smacking the wall in his primary Toyota during Thursday's test session. The 85-minute session went caution-free, but had its share of close calls. Menard scraped the wall with his Richard Childress Racing No. 27 Chevrolet on the exit of Turn 4. Kasey Kahne slid up out of the groove in Turns 1 and 2 with his Hendrick Motorsports No. 5 Chevy, but avoided contact.
Johnson, Keselowski top Saturday's Kansas practices
RELATED: Keselowski lands Coors Light Pole Award " Practice 2 results " Final practice results Jimmie Johnson soared to the top of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series speed charts in Saturday afternoon's final practice at Kansas Speedway . Johnson logged a session-best lap of 188.983 mph in the Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 Chevrolet, upending pole-starter Brad Keselowski 's bid for a perfect weekend at the 1.5-mile track. Johnson, eliminated early from title contention, will start 21st in Sunday's Hollywood Casino 400 (2:15 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM), the second race in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs' Contender Round. Keselowski settled for second-fastest in the Team Penske No. 2 Ford, posting a lap of 188.930 mph, just eight thousandths of a second off Johnson's top time. The 2012 series champ won the Coors Light Pole Award in Friday qualifying and led the first two practices before Saturday's final session. Denny Hamlin was third-fastest, just ahead of Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth . Joey Logano -- who has already clinched his spot in the Eliminator Round by winning the Contender opener last week at Charlotte -- completed the top five in the Team Penske No. 22 Ford. Kevin Harvick , the Sprint Cup Series defending champion, was 18th-fastest overall in the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 Chevrolet. Final practice positions for the rest of the championship-eligible Chase drivers: Carl Edwards (sixth), Dale Earnhardt Jr . (ninth), Martin Truex Jr . (10th), Ryan Newman (11th), Kurt Busch (16th), Kyle Busch (24th) and Jeff Gordon (29th). Hamlin sat atop the five-lap average heap, followed by Johnson, Truex, Keselowski and Kenseth. In the 10-lap-average category, Johnson led, followed by Truex, Kasey Kahne , Kenseth and Harvick. Keselowski shows the way in second practice Coors Light Pole Award winner Brad Keselowski backed up his Friday show of speed by rocketing to the top of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series leaderboard Saturday in second practice at Kansas Speedway . Keselowski clocked a lap of 189.960 mph in the Team Penske No. 2 Ford. He will start first in Sunday's Hollywood Casino 400 (2:15 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM), the fifth race in the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs. "The track is changing," Keselowski said. "Today it's a lot cooler than it's supposed to be tomorrow. We know the grooves and all of that is going to change, so we have some speed but we have to keep working on it because you're gonna see comers and goers as the track changes and we don't want to be a goer. We want to be one of those guys that comes to the front and stays in the front, so we've got to keep working." Matt Kenseth , who sits in the Chase basement after a trouble-filled race last weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway , turned the second-fastest lap at 189.215 mph in the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota. Joey Logano , the defending race winner at Kansas and last week's winner at Charlotte, was third-best at 189.062 mph in the Team Penske No. 22 Ford. A pair of part-time Sprint Cup drivers closed out the top five in the 55-minute session. Ryan Blaney was fourth-fastest (188.910 mph) in the Wood Brothers Racing No. 21 Ford. Brian Scott recovered from a mid-practice spin on pit road entry to post the fifth-best lap at 188.897 mph. Defending Sprint Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick was ninth-fastest in the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 Chevrolet. Practice positions for the rest of the title-eligible Chase drivers: Martin Truex Jr . (sixth), Denny Hamlin (eighth), Ryan Newman (10th), Kurt Busch (16th), Dale Earnhardt Jr . (17th), Kyle Busch (20th), Carl Edwards (22nd) and Jeff Gordon (28th). Hamlin was the fastest in the 10-lap average category in the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 Toyota. He was followed by Harvick, Jimmie Johnson , Kurt Busch and Blaney in the top five. Keselowski was best in terms of five-lap average speed, followed by Hamlin, Logano, Kenseth and Johnson in that category.
Keselowski leads opening practice at Kansas
RELATED: Full opening practice results Brad Keselowski led opening NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice at Kansas Speedway on Friday afternoon, topping the leaderboard at 194.349 mph. The Team Penske driver reached his high speed on Lap 7 out of his nine laps around the 1.5-mile tri-oval. He was one of three Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers in the top five. Coming up just short to the 2012 Sprint Cup Series champ was Richard Childress Racing 's Austin Dillon (194.224 mph). Joe Gibbs Racing 's Matt Kenseth, (194.147 mph), Richard Childress Racing 's Ryan Newman (193.694 mph) and XFINITY Series regular Brian Scott (193.653 mph), in the No. 33 Chevrolet, rounded out the fastest five drivers in practice. Defending race winner Joey Logano was 18th-fastest (192.747 mph), and this season's spring winner Jimmie Johnson was seventh-fastest (193.195 mph). Kevin Harvick was the slowest Chase driver in the session, coming in as 27th-fastest (191.605 mph). Harvick has one win at Kansas (2013) and has started on the pole three times there. The Sprint Cup Series returns to the track Friday evening at 6:15 p.m. ET for Coors Light Pole Qualifying (NBCSN/Live Extra).
Keselowski Proves 'He's Got Game' during visit to Texas Motor Speedway
On Sunday afternoon, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship contender Brad Keselowski played a game of cat-and-mouse with his competitors en route to his dramatic overtime win at Talladega Superspeedway that secured an automatic berth in the upcoming Eliminator 8 Round.
Keselowski wins Coors Light Pole Award for NNS race
Watch the season finale: 4:30 p.m. ET (ESPN2) RELATED: Full lineup His Team Penske teammate had been faster Friday, but Brad Keselowski sped to the Coors Light Pole Award during group qualifying Saturday at Homestead-Miami Speedway . Keselowski's speed of 166.384 mph puts him on the pole for the Ford EcoBoost 300 . It's Keselowski's fifth series pole of the season and 19th of his career. Ryan Blaney, in the No. 12 Ford, had previously paced both Friday practice sessions and was fastest in the second round of group qualifying. He will line up fifth. Kyle Larson qualified second at 166.353 mph, with Matt Kenseth (166.006 mph) third and Elliott Sadler (165.827 mph) fourth. Chase Elliott, who locked up the 2014 NASCAR Nationwide Series championship last week, will start 14th. He finished 24th in the opening round and was the last car to advance in group qualifying. Elliott's JR Motorsports teammate Regan Smith , who is second in the standings, will start 15th. Smith has a 13-point lead over Brian Scott in the battle to finish second in the final standings. Derrike Cope, Ryan Ellis , Johnny Jackson, Kevin Lepage and Martin Roy did not qualify. The Ford EcoBoost 300 is scheduled to begin at 4:30 p.m. ET Saturday and will be televised on ESPN2.