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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."
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NASCAR David Stremme | Drivers : NASCAR Drivers, Race Standings & News | NASCAR.com
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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."
Shannon Koch wins 2015 Better Half Dash
Photo credit: @CLTMotorSpdwy RELATED: Photos of the Better Half Dash participants CONCORD, N.C. -- It was the NASCAR wives' and girlfriends' time to shine on the track in Thursday's fifth annual Better Half Dash, organized by Motor Racing Outreach at Charlotte Motor Speedway . Shannon Koch, the wife of NASCAR XFINITY Series driver, Blake Koch , took the checkered flag. She overcame some early-race trouble when the back body panel of her No. 8 machine was blown off by the wind. "I really didn't know that I lost part of my car until I came back around and they were picking it up off the track," Shannon Koch said after the race. "My husband just said, 'keep going, they didn't black flag you yet.' " Congratulations Shannon Koch! @CLTMotorSpdwy : Shannon Koch wins #BetterHalfDash ! pic.twitter.com/utaZBrZH2u http://t.co/A8pZxzvjsB — NASCAR Off Track (@OffTrackNASCAR) October 8, 2015 When asked whether that gave her an aerodynamic advantage, Shannon Koch said, "I don't know, maybe it did. Did lap times pick up? I have no idea. It didn't feel any different to me." To which second-place finisher Katelyn Sweet, girlfriend of Kyle Larson , quickly said to a loud round of laughter, "Your motor got way more air." No word on whether the car passed post-race inspection. Shannon Koch wins the #BetterHalfDash at @CLTMotorSpdwy pic.twitter.com/dbjY7tmYkm — Pete McCole (@PeteMcCole) October 8, 2015 The race benefits MRO and Speedway Children's Charities as well as each participant's individual charity. Koch's $10,000 winnings went to MRO, which was the charity she was representing. The participants raised $75,000, according to MRO and track officials With the win comes a really big trophy for Koch. She described it as "definitely the biggest that we have. It will go right up there with the rest of them." And Koch is also going out on top, saying in the post-race press conference, "I'm retiring." NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regulars Larson and Denny Hamlin were among the spotters for their respective significant others, Sweet and Jordan Fish. NASCAR Sprint Cup regulars Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr . were among those to check out the action as well. Sweet led several laps in the event and overcame an early spin out to finish second. Tandra Greenfield, the wife of NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Clay Greenfield , finished third. Greenfield is eager to come back next year. "It was fun to compete with them because they were so aggressive and competitive," she said. Wendy Venturini, a NASCAR reporter and wife of Jarrad Egert, director of track operations for Joe Gibbs Racing , was not able to pull off the MRO event sweep after taking the High Heel Dash in May. Over the past few weeks, there have been practice sessions leading up to the race, all while the competitors were busy raising money prior to the event. As in years past, the participant to raise the most money earned the opportunity to select their starting spot for the race. Koch earned the pole honor. The results: 1. Shannon Koch (wife of driver Blake Koch ) 2. Katelyn Sweet (girlfriend of driver Kyle Larson ) 3. Tandra Greenfield (wife of driver Clay Greenfield ) 4. Jordan Fish (girlfriend of driver Denny Hamlin ) 5. Kristen Yeley (wife of driver J.J. Yeley) 6. Tatiana Papis (wife of driver Max Papis ) 7. Ashley Deihl Stremme (wife of driver David Stremme ) 8. Melanie Self (Motor Racing Outreach Community Center Coordinator) 9. Jenna Robinson (wife of No. 19 tire changer Clay Robinson) 10. Whitney Kay Scott (wife of driver Brian Scott ) 11. Wendy Venturini (NASCAR reporter, wife of JGR director of track operations Jarrad Egert)
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