There were many skeptics that surfaced after Brad Keselowski made the decision to leave his ride at JR Motorsports in August of 2009. Keselowski was the new star in the Nationwide Series. He was brash, unafraid to back down from the likes of Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, and Carl Edwards. He appeared to be in line as the successor to Mark Martin in the No. 5. The problem was that Martin had no intentions of hanging up his helmet.
Rick Hendrick locked in Martin through 2011. After all, Martin was contending for a title at the age of 50. This was one of the best stories in NASCAR, this old man who was supposed to be washed up, whupping these 20 and 30 year old boys.
Keselowski, though, was clearly ready for the Sprint Cup Series. This was clear at Iowa in August of 2009 when I vividly recall him outdueling Kyle Busch for the victory.
It was apparent that there was no room in the ‘inn’ at Hendrick Motorsports, and lack of sponsorship did not allow an opening at Stewart-Haas Racing, an organization with close ties to Hendrick Motorsports.
Keselowski made an impression on the motorsports legend Roger Penske. He expressed interest in 2008 when he was looking for a driver to replace the departing Ryan Newman. When David Stremme failed to capitalize in the No. 12 Dodge, Penske was searching for a driver that would allow him a chance to compete for wins outside of Kurt Busch.
In 2009, Hendrick Motorsports had three teams in the Chase for the Championship. Jimmie Johnson won his fourth consecutive title, and the ageless Martin finished runner up. Jeff Gordon also had a solid season. Meanwhile, Penske Racing was a one-man show despite having three drivers. Busch won twice in 2009, but Stremme and Sam Hornish Jr were off the radar.
So, Keselowski had the option to remain in the Nationwide Series until the No. 5 ride was available in 2012, or jump ship to the inconsistent Penske Racing operation. He chose Penske, and in 2010, it appeared to backfire. Keselowski struggled immensely in the Sprint Cup Series, despite the fact that he was running away with the Nationwide Series title. Was he more focused on the unfinished business of not winning that title in 2009? Perhaps, but he could have won the title in JR Motorsports’ No. 88. He could have repeated that feat in 2011.
Keselowski believed in the Penske organization. He was rewarded with one of the most recognizable rides, the Blue Deuce, despite just scoring two top ten finishes in 2010.
In 2011, Keselowski began the season in less than stellar fashion. However, a fuel mileage gamble at Kansas in June gave this team hope as well as confidence. They flipped and flopped in and out of the top 20 for weeks and when Keselowski broke his ankle in an accident during practice at Road Atlanta, the Wild Card hopes for the No. 2 team appeared all but broken.
Keselowski displayed true grit and determination at Pocono when he held off rival Kyle Busch for the victory, just days after his horrific accident. He followed up the win with a runner up finish at Watkins Glen, a third place finish at Michigan, and then another victory at Bristol on Saturday night.
Imagine if he would have listened to the critics in 2009. Sure, he would probably be running away with another Nationwide Series title with JR Motorsports, but we would all have missed this amazing rise to Sprint Cup stardom despite physical adversities.