Keselowski has fingers crossed
The 25-year-old Keselowski raised eyebrows with his unexpected Sprint Cup series win at Talladega in April, taking the checkered flag as Carl Edwards went airborne in a spectacular crash at the finish. And that win doesn’t appear to be a fluke: Keselowski is having consistent success in his regular gig with Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Hendrick Motorsports-affiliated team in the second-tier Nationwide series.
Still, Keselowski says he’s “not one inch” closer to knowing where he might drive next season. Concerned about his future, Keselowski wants to hear something solid from team owner Rick Hendrick.
“I’d agreed with Mr. Hendrick on a personal level to give it a month or so, see what we can come up with,” Keselowski said. “And that time period has dwindled down, and we’re about to the end of that. Just waiting to hear back from him on if he’s working on it or not. And I haven’t heard back from him, heard anything positive or negative. So there’s a lot going on right now.”
Coming off a third-place finish at the Milwaukee Mile on Saturday, Keselowski is third in the Nationwide standings—making him the highest-ranked driver who isn’t also a Cup regular.
So far, that success hasn’t brought him firm plans for next season.
“Certainly that’s going to weigh more heavily on my mind the next 30 to 60 days,” Keselowski said. “This is the time period where you have to have set in stone what you want to do, and what you’re going to do. And if you wait much longer than this, all the premier rides and premier sponsors kind of choose a path.”
Hendrick said he intends to meet with Keselowski this week and is considering placing him with a Hendrick-affiliated Cup team. Possibilities include a third car at Stewart-Haas Racing, a ride with James Finch’s team or staying at Earnhardt’s JR Motorsports and moving that team up to Cup.
“I like his intensity,” Hendrick said. “He really wants to do well. He’s aggressive when he needs to be, smart when he needs to be. He reminds me a lot of Mark (Martin), and his dedication.”
n and determination.” to do that. And that goes a long way with me. I’m just really impressed with how smart he is.”
To some, though, Keselowski’s concerns are simply a sign that the next generation of NASCAR drivers have been spoiled by the recent success of young drivers such as Jimmie Johnson, Ryan Newman and Kasey Kahne—resulting in unrealistic expectations about how quickly they should be moving up to Cup.
“He’s making it sound worse than it actually is,” Nationwide veteran David Green said of Keselowski. “I guess that’s OK. But at the same time, if he’s worried about a job for next year, what about the rest of us? We’re worried too. I think Brad has many opportunities.”
Green has served as a mentor to young drivers such as Landon Cassill, David Gilliland, Stephen Leicht and, most recently, John Wes Townley.
And Green sees a common theme developing among the next generation of up-and-coming drivers: Most of them think they should have been racing in the Cup series yesterday. But Green points to the success of Martin, who is still winning at age 50.
“That means you’ve got 30-something years,” Green tells younger drivers. “What is the hurry? And the point I’m simply trying to make is take your time learning, because you only get basically one opportunity, or a couple, and when you do get that opportunity, make it work.”
But, as Green has discovered, that’s not what young drivers want to hear. When NASCAR considered raising the minimum age for Cup series drivers to 21, one of the drivers he was coaching was ready to hit the roof.
“He thought he was in line to take over one of those guys’ rides,” Green said. “And I said, ‘Listen, that’s really a good thing. Because the (best) thing that can happen here is you would win several races in Nationwide, maybe win a championship or two. Then when you became 21, and got a Cup ride, you’d have a lot more credentials behind you. Whereas now, you don’t have any credentials. Are you really seriously thinking you need to go to Cup? Because (Nationwide) is a tough division—Cup is like 100 times tougher in a lot of different areas.’
“So I think it was misleading to a lot of younger drivers.”
Keselowski, though, clearly has his sights set on the Cup series next season. Now he’s just hoping to find a major corporate sponsor—or several midlevel sponsors—willing to back him.
“In order to be with a premier ride, you have to have a premier sponsor,” Keselowski said. “And those sponsors are, not only are they not getting any bigger, they’re starting to somewhat dry up. So that adds a lot of pieces to it.
“There’s really only one or two major sponsors out there that are even looking around. So I think those are probably all set. It’ll be interesting to see how that plays out, and it looks like in order for me to get a full-time Cup ride, it’s going to have to be five or six or multiple sponsors to do it.”