Since the first week of May, it has been the worst kept secret in NASCAR that Brad Keselowski would be leaving at the end of the season to take a minority ownership stake with Roush Fenway Racing. I have been reading comments on Facebook, Twitter, and other websites that have covered the story. Honestly, the majority of the fan base is split between this being a good move for him and the other half being a good move for Roush Fenway.
Some see this as a wrong move for Brad, though. He is leaving an organization that plucked him out of Dale Earnhardt’s grips and the titan Hendrick Motorsports. Team Penske took a gamble on a kid that showed promise but had no true credibility, and they won the Cup Title in 2012. Last season, he finished as the Championship runner-up, winning four races at 1.5 miles or smaller tracks. This year, he is locked into the playoffs and looking to capture his second Cup Series Championship. So what made this move an easy decision?
There are two significant factors that I feel made this decision more uncomplicated than you think. The first is the ability to have a decision-making role in his career and the influence to grow a team that he is responsible for. The second, which played a backdrop in at least hearing the offer in the first place, time and becoming replaceable. Sure, there is no way that Roger Penske replaces Brad in the next 3-6 years if he stays on board, but past that, anything is possible. His announced replacement, Austin Cindric, was set to join the Wood Brothers in the number 21 next season, but that was only a quick ride while awaiting a permanent fixture at Penske. Roger Penske has said publicly that he has no intentions of adding a fourth full-time team, so that means one driver would have to either be willing to move or retire in the next few seasons.
If I was sitting in that seat, knowing that there are no guarantees with that kind of money on the table, with the uncertainty of being successful in the future, who wouldn’t pull the trigger and accept an offer as he did. I was shocked that he didn’t get the same request from Roger Penske himself, which may be why Brad is moving on. The writing was on the wall for months, though. There was a scheduled NextGen tire test that Brad was signed up to run for Team Penske, and at the last minute, he was pulled in favor of Ryan Blaney. At the time, it meant nothing, but looking back, the call was made to put a driver behind the wheel that would still be present in the garage next year.
So will Roush Fenway make it back to victory lane next year? I want to think it’s possible but unlikely. The Next-Gen car will debut at Daytona in February, and Roush Fenway hasn’t spent near the money or time that the “Big 3” teams have in research and preparation for that transition. Hopefully, the car is a clean slate to everyone, giving even the small teams a chance to compete for wins at every track. But money talks much louder than fans, and don’t expect NASCAR to mind. I would put a goal on getting Brad into the playoffs next year, win or not, and in 2023 pushing the team to a third-team full time. After all, Brad will bring several big-name sponsors with him, and new companies should be very interested in getting their logo on the new cars.