Keselowski vacates Penske seat to become part owner of Roush’s NASCAR race team
NASCAR’s silly season is in full swing. Unlike stick-and-ball sports, many free-agency moves and contract extensions transpire in the second half of the season, well before a champion is crowned. This gives team owners the all-too-necessary time to recruit sponsors and establish their crew. NASCAR’s 2021 driver carousel has been particularly busy, with factors like the Next Gen car, Ganassi’s recent sale, and incessant rumors of new teams, doing nothing to slow the spin. Add this one to the list:
Tuesday, July 20, second-generation driver Brad Keselowski announced that he would be vacating his driving seat at Team Penske, upon the conclusion of the 2021 season, for a seat at the owner’s table at Roush Fenway Racing. In addition to serving as minority owner, the Michigan-born NASCAR Champion will pilot the #6 Roush Fenway Ford Mustang in 2022.
This has been the worst-kept secret in NASCAR over the past month, and Tuesday’s announcement only confirmed everyone’s hypotheses about Keselowski’s next move. “I am thrilled to be able to share the news about this next venture with my fans, peers, and the industry,” says the 37-year-old drive in an interview with NASCAR. “This presents an opportunity to continue my on-track success with a strong team and a long-term commitment, but also dive into my passion of team ownership where I know I can be an asset to the future of the team.”
The team-owner aspect is not to be overlooked. Over the past decade Bad Brad, as his most devout fans call him, has been in the Championship conversation, and even this year, he’s poised to make a strong run at the 2021 Championship. Keselowski’s departure from the Penske powerhouse, an organization consistently at the top of the heap, shows, more than anything, his desire to build his own legacy.
How about this for a legacy? In 1988, Jack Roush—a former Ford engineer, college physics teacher, and racer—decided to expand his Michigan-based racing operation, primarily known for NHRA, IMSA, and SCCA dominance, into NASCAR country. The new team owner set up shop in North Carolina and tabbed up-and-comer Mark Martin to drive his Ford stocker. The duo won its first race in 1989, and since then, Roush’s teams have captured eight championships and 325 race wins across NASCAR’s three major series, among 19 different drivers.
Welcoming Keselowski to the firm is actually the second major ownership addition to Roush’s team. In 2007, Roush partnered with Fenway Sports Group owner John Henry to form Roush Fenway Racing. Henry, who also owns the Boston Red Sox and Liverpool Football Club, and Roush have stuck together through some recently dark years; the typically high-performing group have recently slipped to the back of the pack.
Keselowski’s partnership injects new life to the struggling operation, and it’s safe to say Roush and the 2012 Cup Series champ are kindred spirits, right down to their Michigan roots. “He came from outside the southeast, where NASCAR was born and operates most traditionally,” says Roush of Kes, “but he fought his way in and he earned the space to compete. He figured out what he needed to do to be a factor and he competed for winning races successfully and he competed to win a championship.” The same thing could be said about Roush.
Around the news swirled the question of Roush’s retirement. “There are no retirement plans for me in my immediate future. I intend to keep going to the racetracks the way I have, and to be as much of a nuisance and distraction as I have been to my drivers and crew chiefs in the past,” said Roush playfully during yesterday’s press conference. “Over a period of time Brad will earn his independence and he will gain a significant position of ownership in the team.”
While Keselowski typically sells t-shirts thanks to his performance behind the wheel, accumulating 75 NASCAR wins and leading more than 14,000 laps across NASCAR’s top three series, the Cup veteran is no stranger to ownership. For years, his father Bob owned teams across multiple divisions, and in 2007 Brad started his own team. Brad Keselowski Racing (BKR), which primarily campaigned two entries in NASCAR’s Camping World Truck series, helped launch the careers of current Cup stars Ryan Blaney, Ross Chastain, Tyler Reddick, and Chase Briscoe.
During the ten-year-span BKR was a perennial powerhouse, notching multiple victories with Keselowski’s fleet of future stars. Austin Cindric was one of those winners, and because NASCAR seems to serve up daytime-television levels of irony, it is in fact Cindric, the son of Team Penske president Tim Cindric, who will replace Keselowski in the #2 Ford Mustang.
Until then, Keselowski aims to win a title for the team he plans to leave in November. “I’m still competing with them [Penske], of course, through the 2021 season with the goal of winning a championship,” he says. “I want to leave Team Penske with a championship … so full commitment to finishing the year out as strong as possible.” Amidst the throes of silly season, it appears Brad Keselowski is laser-focused on his future, both immediate and eventual.