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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."
XFINITY GarageCam ‘drafts’ at Talladega
Matthew Dillner strolls the NASCAR XFINITY Series garage to catch up with drivers and football personality, Eli Gold, to see who the No. 1 draft pick could be.
Schluter-Systems to Sponsor David Ragan at Talladega
HUNTERSVILLE, NC (April 25, 2016) - BK Racing announced that Schluter-Systems will be the primary sponsor of David Ragan 's No. 23 Toyota Camry at Talladega Superspeedway . In addition, Schluter-Systems also joins BK Racing as an associate sponsor for the remainder of the 2016 season. "I'm excited to have Schluter-Systems on board our No.23 car this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway ," Ragan said. "We've got a sharp looking car for a track that I really enjoy." "We're thrilled about this partnership with Schluter-Systems," BK Racing Chief Marketing Officer Doug Fritz said. "The Schluter team has been fantastic to work with and we look forward to connecting them with our loyal NASCAR fans." "This is an incredibly exciting opportunity for us at Schluter-Systems," said Marco Ludwig, President and CEO of Schluter-Systems North America. "We've come to get to know David Ragan and the whole team at BK Racing , and our relationship evolved to where sponsorship was the next natural step for us. It began where many Schluter relationships begin-- talking tile-- and today, we are very proud to stand behind No. 23 at the Talladega race. We'll be cheering for David , and wishing him a safe race."
Which teams have the most pit-road penalties in 2016?
No team wants to be leading in pit-road penalties, but someone has to be. So far this season, pit road has claimed 179 penalties, 40 of which have been pit-crew related. Of those 179 total penalties, there are a few teams that have accumulated more than the rest. Leading the way is the No. 16 of Greg Biffle with 10 pit-road penalties, only one of which was on his pit crew. Behind Biffle is the No. 23 of David Ragan with nine, none of which were at the fault of his pit crew. Behind those two were the Nos. 7, 17, 30, 31, and 44 that all had eight penalties. Leading the count of penalties accrued by pit-crew members is the No. 83 of BK Racing with four and the No. 15 of HScott Motorsports with three. For more pit crew news and the full penalty chart, visit PitTalks.com .
Junior talks plate success that others still seek
RELATED: Full schedule " Dale Jr.'s 'Amelia' ready to take flight again TALLADEGA, Ala. -- In his mind, the best race Dale Earnhardt Jr . ever ran at Talladega Superspeedway won't be remembered for one simple reason. "Because I didn't win," the Hendrick Motorsports driver said Friday during a day of practice on the 2.66-mile layout. "I'm disappointed because of what happened in that race and what we were doing with the car and what the car was doing was amazing. It sucks because we were just 6 inches short of being declared the winner. … We've lost a lot of races here, but I can't even remember any of them that stand out like that." A winner in the spring race at Talladega, Earnhardt Jr. returned in the fall needing another victory to keep his championship hopes alive. Although he led a race-high 61 laps, officials determined that Joey Logano ( Team Penske ) was the leader and thus the winner when the caution came out on a green -white-checkered restart that froze the field and ended the race. Fifty-five. That's how many races the 41-year-old Earnhardt has lost on tracks where NASCAR requires the use of restrictor plates to keeps speeds in check. However, 10 wins during a career that launched full-time in 2000, puts the son of a seven-time champion in the role of the favorite in plate races. That's twice as many as the soon-to-be-retired Tony Stewart and six-time champion Jimmie Johnson . It's as much a statement about the car, Earnhardt said, as the driver. And what one does with it. "If the car can't complete the passes that my mind mentally wants it to make, then I won't be as offensive and as confident in making those moves," he said. "When I was driving the (Budweiser) car, around 2003, '04, '05 when we were winning all those races, I raced as hard in practice as I did in the race. …You kind of can set the tone early in the weekend with your competitors that this is who you're going to be out on the track; plus this is the car you've got." It certainly helped that his father, Dale Earnhardt, was a master of plate racing, winning 13 times combined at Talladega and Daytona. RELATED: See all of Earnhardt Sr.'s wins "I learned a tremendous amount because I solely watched him whereas, someone else who grew up around the sport may not have focused as much on one particular driver," Earnhardt Jr. said. Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards have combined to win the last four NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races heading into Sunday's GEICO 500 (1 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Fellow JGR teammate Denny Hamlin scored the win in the season-opener at Daytona, the most recent restrictor-plate race. MORE: Edwards: 'Kyle and I haven't talked' since Richmond "You can't make stupid mistakes," Edwards, still searching for his first plate-track win, said. "I learned that early on." Caught up in an incident during one restrictor-plate race, Edwards said he told then-car owner Jack Roush afterward "something like, 'Man, there's just nothing I could do to miss the wreck.' " At which point Roush gave his driver a piece of advice. "He said, 'You might want to go look at the tape because you drove right past Tony Stewart into the wreck and he somehow missed it.' "I went back and watched and I learned from that," Edwards said. "You really have to be watching ahead and you have to pay attention." That he's yet to win a restrictor-plate race is perplexing, considering the 36-year-old has 27 career victories. "I don't need to see my stats at these places," he said, "because they're not good. … I'd like to get a superspeedway win. We've got great cars and we've got great teammates. I feel like I know how to run these races, but I just haven't been able to get the victory out of it. Hopefully we can do that." Edwards isn't the only notable still searching for that first plate win. Former series champion Kurt Busch (2004) and Martin Truex Jr ., who lost to Hamlin by a nose at Daytona, are as well. "We've seen Dale over the years just really show everybody how it's done and that's because he has a really good understanding of the air, the way it works and knowing how to use that to his advantage," Truex Jr. ( Furniture Row Racing ) said. "For me … I've kind of had good races and bad and lately I feel like I've learned a lot more and gotten better at it, but there's still a lot to learn. MORE: Five to Watch: Sleeper picks " Wildest Talladega wrecks
Sprint Cup qualifying order for Talladega
# Car Driver Team 1 7 Regan Smith Golden Corral Chevrolet 2 47 AJ Allmendinger Kroger/Hungry Jack/Crisco Chevrolet 3 48 Jimmie Johnson Lowe's Chevrolet 4 31 Ryan Newman Caterpillar Chevrolet 5 83 Matt DiBenedetto Dustless Blasting Toyota 6 46 Michael Annett Pilot Flying J Chevrolet 7 30 * Josh Wise Curtis Key Plumbing Chevrolet 8 32 Bobby Labonte Rimrock Devlin Ford 9 23 David Ragan Schluter Systems Toyota 10 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr Nationwide Chevrolet 11 2 Brad Keselowski Miller Lite Ford 12 43 Aric Almirola Fresh From Florida Ford 13 14 Ty Dillon (i) Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet 14 15 Clint Bowyer AccuDoc Solutions Chevrolet 15 5 Kasey Kahne Farmers Insurance Chevrolet 16 34 Chris Buescher # Love's Travel Stops/CSX-Play it Safe Ford 17 17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr Fifth Third Bank Ford 18 11 Denny Hamlin FedEx Express Toyota 19 19 Carl Edwards ARRIS Toyota 20 78 Martin Truex Jr Bass Pro Shops/TRACKER Boats Toyota 21 20 Matt Kenseth Dollar General Toyota 22 44 Brian Scott # Twisted Tea Ford 23 38 Landon Cassill FR8Auctions Ford 24 3 Austin Dillon Dow - Energy & Water/Intellifresh Chevrolet 25 98 * Cole Whitt RticCoolers.com Toyota 26 27 Paul Menard Moen/Menards Chevrolet 27 18 Kyle Busch Skittles Marvel Toyota 28 35 * David Gilliland Shaw's Southern Belle Seafood Ford 29 21 * Ryan Blaney # Motorcraft/Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center Ford 30 55 * Michael Waltrip Peak & BlueDEF Toyota 31 16 Greg Biffle Ford EcoBoost Ford 32 95 Michael McDowell Thrivent Financial Chevrolet 33 42 Kyle Larson Target Chevrolet 34 22 Joey Logano Shell Pennzoil Ford 35 13 Casey Mears GEICO Chevrolet 36 4 Kevin Harvick Busch Fishing Chevrolet 37 6 Trevor Bayne AdvoCare Ford 38 10 Danica Patrick Aspen Dental Chevrolet 39 41 Kurt Busch Monster Energy Chevrolet 40 24 Chase Elliott # NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet 41 1 Jamie McMurray McDonald's Chevrolet * Required to qualify on time, (i) Ineligible for driver points in this series
It's Bristol XFINITY Series GarageCam BABY!
NASCAR.com's Matthew Dillner takes you in the garage area at Bristol Motor Speedway to give a unique look at some of the stars of the NASCAR XFINITY series.
GarageCam sees Smoke fire it up at Richmond
Join NASCAR.com's Matthew Dillner as he takes a walk around the Sprint Cup Series garage at Richmond International Raceway and talks to Casey Mears, David Ragan and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on the day of Tony Stewart's return.
Chase Elliott earns 21 Means 21 Pole Award at Talladega
RELATED: Lineup " See all 40 cars TALLADEGA, Ala. – Numerologists doubtless will have a field day with the front row for Sunday’s GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway (on FOX at 1 p.m. ET, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Touring the 2.66-mile race track in 49.704 seconds (192.661 mph) during Saturday's time trials, Chase Elliott put the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet on the pole, making the 20-year-old rookie driver two-for-two at restrictor-plate superspeedways. In his first qualifying run as a full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver, Elliott won the pole for the season-opening Daytona 500 . The pole was the sixth at Talladega for the No. 24, the first five having been recorded by Jeff Gordon , who retired after the 2015 season and turned the car over to Elliott. And the pole run came roughly 30 years after Elliott's father, Bill Elliott , earned the top starting spot for the spring Talladega race with a lap at 212.229 mph, before restrictor plates were introduced at the superspeedways. Coincidentally, Bill Elliott also won the pole for the Daytona 500 in 1986. "This is definitely a special place," Chase Elliott said after his pole-winning run. "It's cool to get it done today. This is a team effort, and those guys and everybody at the No. 5 and No. 24 shop, in particular, and everybody at Hendrick Motorsports and the Hendrick engine department and obviously (sponsor) NAPA Auto parts. "But, man, this is cool. Those guys do such a good job. And as I said in Daytona, this had nothing to do with me. This is the car that we had. This is the same car we had in Daytona. They brought another fast one here." The car Elliott beat for the pole, the No. 3 Chevrolet driven by Austin Dillon (192.424 mph), also has a noteworthy history at Talladega. Driving the No. 3 for owner Richard Childress, Dillon’s grandfather, the late Dale Earnhardt collected nine of his 10 Talladega victories and all three of his Talladega poles. "There's a lot of history here with Dale and RCR," Dillon said. "A lot of good stuff happened with RCR here, so hopefully we can continue that streak of good runs for RCR here. We’ve got a car capable of doing that, obviously, with the qualifying effort, and I'd love for it to be my first Cup win." Dale Earnhardt Jr ., who has never won a pole at NASCAR's biggest oval track but has six race wins on his resume here, qualified third at 192.293 mph. Matt Kenseth (192.181 mph) claimed the fourth position on the grid, followed by Jimmie Johnson (192.116 mph) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr . (192.089 mph). The only other driver to top 192 mph was seventh-place starter Brad Keselowski (192.008 mph), a three-time Talladega winner. Ty Dillon qualified the No. 14 Chevrolet for Tony Stewart and earned the 14th starting spot, but Stewart will start Sunday’s race and will have to drop to the rear for the green flag because of the driver change. The plan is for Stewart, who returned to action last Sunday at Richmond after injuring his back during the offseason, to turn the car over to Dillon during the first caution of the race. Note: Josh Wise failed to make the 40-car field.
XFINITY Series practice results from Bristol
Pos Car Driver Speed 1 2 Austin Dillon (i) 123.237 2 42 Kyle Larson (i) 123.095 3 33 Brandon Jones # 123.016 4 62 Brendan Gaughan 122.866 5 18 Kyle Busch (i) 122.819 6 88 Kevin Harvick (i) 122.631 7 7 Justin Allgaier 122.372 8 22 Joey Logano (i) 122.357 9 20 Erik Jones # 122.310 10 3 Ty Dillon 122.154 11 19 Daniel Suarez 121.906 12 1 Elliott Sadler 121.821 13 98 Aric Almirola (i) 121.428 14 48 Brennan Poole # 121.336 15 43 Jeb Burton 121.205 16 6 Darrell Wallace Jr 121.167 17 39 Ryan Sieg 121.022 18 28 Dakoda Armstrong 120.923 19 14 JJ Yeley 120.915 20 11 Blake Koch 120.414 21 16 Ryan Reed 120.414 22 24 Matt Tifft (i) 120.173 23 15 Jeff Green 119.715 24 51 Jeremy Clements 119.477 25 4 Ross Chastain 119.425 26 44 David Starr 119.291 27 89 Morgan Shepherd 118.899 28 01 Ryan Preece # 118.892 29 78 BJ McLeod # 118.819 30 46 Brandon Gdovic 118.591 31 90 Mario Gosselin 118.240 32 0 Garrett Smithley # 118.182 33 13 Timmy Hill (i) 117.862 34 52 Joey Gase 117.805 35 25 Harrison Rhodes 117.790 36 07 Ray Black Jr # 117.552 37 40 Carl Long 117.408 38 97 Ryan Ellis 117.265 39 70 Derrike Cope 115.856