Did You Notice? … Brad Keselowski will reportedly purchase an interest in Roush Fenway Racing? First reported by Motorsport’s Jim Utter, the deal would make the 2012 NASCAR Cup Series champion part owner and driver of the No. 6 Ford in 2022. The rumor has been around for a few weeks but public support of the story has come quickly, with Bob Pockrass of FOX Sports reporting Tuesday night (May 18) he expects the deal “will happen.”
The move would end Keselowski’s 12-year tenure with Team Penske, the only full-time team he’s competed with on the Cup level. 34 of his 35 victories have come in the iconic No. 2, the flagship program brought to prominence by Rusty Wallace in the 1990s. His departure would open up one of the most coveted rides in the sport.
So what does the first domino in Silly Season mean for all involved? Assuming this deal does, indeed, come through, here’s a look at the winners and losers from Keselowski’s big decision.
WINNER: Roush Fenway Racing. Once upon a time, RFR was the premier team at not only Ford but NASCAR itself. Established in 1988, the organization challenged for titles throughout the 1990s with Hall of Famer Mark Martin. Expanding throughout the decade, they peaked shortly after the turn of the century, producing back-to-back titles with Matt Kenseth (2003) and Kurt Busch (2004). A year later, in just the second year of NASCAR’s postseason format, RFR placed all five of its full-time drivers inside the top 10 in points.
But as the decade went on, Martin left the program and Roush entered a slow decline. By 2009, NASCAR created a four-team rule and forced Roush to shut down one of its cars. A 2010 plane crash in Wisconsin left Jack Roush with serious injuries, costing the owner his left eye. Two years later, Kenseth chose to leave the program for Joe Gibbs Racing; Carl Edwards followed suit after 2014.
Since Edwards left, the program has won only twice, failing to place a single one of its drivers inside the top 10 in points. It’s shrunk to just two full-time teams despite additional funding from Fenway Sports Group, an investment partnership that now includes LeBron James. And Roush, at age 79, has no clear succession plan for his program, unlike other aging owners like Roger Penske and Joe Gibbs.
That changes with Keselowski coming on board. Suddenly, RFR is relevant again, employing its most accomplished driver since Edwards (or arguably Kenseth). A former champion brings credibility, both in the boardroom and on the racetrack. Was a presence like Keselowski needed in order to keep the Fenway investors on board?
Roush now has a chance to go out on top, or at least in a better position than he appeared even with Chris Buescher in playoff position this season. That’s a huge win.
WINNER: Austin Cindric. The reigning NASCAR Xfinity Series champion is at it again this season, leading the points while earning a series-best three wins in the first 10 races of 2021. Success has already guaranteed him a promotion next season in the form of Penske’s satellite team, Wood Brothers Racing.
A move to the No. 2 car is a much bigger step in 2022. Could Cindric handle it? Some may cry nepotism and say, with father Tim the president of Team Penske, that it’s unfair to put the son in the team’s top ride.
I say why not. At age 22, he’s blossomed quicker and more effectively than anyone expected. A self-proclaimed road course expert will be moving up just as that track type has expanded to occupy almost 20% of the schedule. Cindric was in contention at the season-opening Daytona 500, running a part-time Penske car, and could snag a top-10 finish or better in Cup before this year is out.
Most importantly … if not Cindric, who? Rick Hendrick made clear at Dover International Speedway Sunday (May 16) all four of his drivers are signed over the long term. Penske’s other big rival this season, Joe Gibbs Racing, is in the same position with their quartet. Kevin Harvick? He’s signed at Stewart-Haas Racing through 2023.
That leads to slim pickings in a Silly Season with limited prospects (The strongest Cup driver left standing? I’d go with Tyler Reddick). At Cindric’s level, compare him to the NXS prospects who have won this year: Josh Berry, Jeb Burton, Ty Gibbs and Myatt Snider. Do you see any of them driving for Penske? (Certainly not Joe Gibbs’ grandson). 2020 Cup rookie John Hunter Nemechek is leading the points in NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series but seems tied to Kyle Busch Motorsports and Toyota.
Bottom line, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone out there beating Cindric’s resume who isn’t already signed to a long-term deal. Moving him from the No. 21 to the No. 2 makes sense. Which means ….
WINNER: Matt DiBenedetto. DiBenedetto likes driving for the Wood Brothers, and they seem to like him. Ending the partnership after 2021 always seemed like a mistake for both parties. Matty D is one of the sport’s more popular drivers, on the precipice of victory lane after his first-ever postseason bid in 2020. After a shaky start this season, the No. 21 team has stabilized and could easily make the playoffs again. Paul Menard’s hand-picked replacement has embraced his role there and has chemistry with crew chief Greg Erwin.
Bottom line, an underdog driver is a good fit for a single-car program propped up by Penske connections. And if Matty D got kicked out? Where would he go? Perhaps 23XI Racing would expand, but there appears to be a spot waiting for Harrison Burton or Ty Gibbs down the line. Stewart-Haas Racing? It feels like a weird fit, even if a spot becomes available at Aric Almirola’s ride. Chip Ganassi Racing would appear to be little more than a lateral move.
Keselowski could leave one of the sport’s unique personalities in position to build a long-term future with the Woods. And I think both sides could be very happy with that. We’ll see.
WINNER: Brad Keselowski. Back in 2017, Keselowski shocked observers by closing his Truck Series program. In a decade of competition, the team racked up 11 wins while developing future Cup full-timers like Ryan Blaney, Chase Briscoe and Reddick. (Cindric, too!) When pressed about his long-term plans, Keselowski insisted it was short-term pain for long-term gain as he plotted his post-driving future.
“I can only be a racecar driver for so long,” Keselowski said then. “When that time comes up, my business would have had to shut down because I don’t have a profit center, and having that profit center is what helps you get through the ebbs and flows that every race team has, so I need to have one of those profit centers.
“That doesn’t mean that I’ll be a Cup owner one day, but that means when the time is right if we achieve the goals that I have, I’ll have the opportunity to make that decision myself and not have it made for me.”
I’ve covered Keselowski for over a decade, having the privilege of following him closely through a Driver Diary for SI.com. What I’ve learned is he’s one of the smartest drivers inside the garage, a decisive thinker who’s typically two steps ahead on the chessboard. What I took from those comments then is he didn’t want to risk losing money on Trucks when he had an eye on much bigger fish over the long-term.
The time to strike is now. Yes, Keselowski will compete against his former boss and Tony Stewart at Ford, but at age 37, he could be the next-generation owner that the manufacturer needs. His innovative ideas on how to grow the sport can only help RFR, and his past experiences will help in collecting sponsorship and building a program. Remember, he was at the forefront of rebuilding Penske’s culture and structure after the boss poached him from Hendrick in 2010.
Owning a Cup team is the logical next step in the process, where Keselowski can utilize those lessons to build a contender. He’d accomplished everything he set out to do with Penske and leaves the program in good hands with Joey Logano. It’s time.
LOSER: Ryan Newman. Honestly, this deal feels like a win-win for everyone involved. But if there’s a loser at all, it’s Newman, seemingly forced out of his ride after this season.
I’m just not sure it’s that big a deal for the 43-year-old who cheated death after his crash in the 2020 Daytona 500. When Newman signed with RFR, after the 2018 season, I was told the plan was to run there for three years and then retire.
But Utter mentioned on SiriusXM NASCAR that Newman could potentially stay at the Keselowski/Roush team in a third part-time car.
For a guy who turns 44 in September, that’s right around the age others have chosen retirement lately: Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr., to name a few. One thing’s for certain: options might be scarce for a driver who has just one top-five finish in his last 46 starts on the Cup level.
About the author
The author of Did You Notice? (Wednesdays) Tom spends his time overseeing Frontstretch’s 40+ staff members as its majority owner and Editor-in-Chief. Based outside Philadelphia, Bowles is a two-time Emmy winner in NASCAR television and has worked in racing production with FOX, TNT, and ESPN while appearing on-air for SIRIUS XM Radio and FOX Sports 1's former show, the Crowd Goes Wild. He most recently consulted with SRX Racing, helping manage cutting-edge technology and graphics that appeared on their CBS broadcasts during 2021 and 2022.
You can find Tom’s writing here, at CBSSports.com and Athlonsports.com, where he’s been an editorial consultant for the annual racing magazine for 15 years.
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Keselowski Advanced Manufacturing, Roush Industries, Roush Fenway, Penske all are connected through Ford. The more I look at this, I believe this is a plan developed and orchestrated by Ford to help their entire on-track as well as off-track operations.
The off-track business is what I am most curious about. I can see KAM being a sub contractor to Roush Industries to produce parts for Ford Racing, as well as the NASCAR NEXGEN car.
The timing of all parties is too convenient to just “happen” for the timing of all parties to materialize. IMO this plan was developed last season, which resulted in the 1 year contract for Kes, Matt’s option being picked up, Austin running partial season for Penske, and Ryan’s contract expiring.
Cindric will go to the #2
Matt D will stay in the 21.
If this happens, I see Busher and the 17 being big beneficiaries. He’s ran well this year, especially by recent Roush standards.
Inject BKs extra money and sponsorship attention and he will make the chase comfortably
That makes the most sense. Although I am not sure about them “making the chase comfortably” since comfortably means winning a race. And until they can win somewhere besides Daytona and Talladega, there will be no comfort zone.
Brad is definitely smart. KAM is doing fantastic in the space and defense industries because everyone wants to go to space. RFR will have to make $ sense to him for sure. He’ll make a great deal or he won’t do it.
When I first heard about this deal, I was skeptical. Fenway money hasn’t meant more race wins for Roush, so why would Keselowski’s money make a difference? The more I read about it, though, it does make sense, especially if Ford is fully behind it.
I do wonder if Denny and Brad will benefit long-term from this business model. Time will tell.
I can’t help but feel this is a step down for Keselowski. Roush Fenway isn’t anywhere near Penske. The part ownership thing may feel good, but what does it really mean – except that Brad may actually lose money in the deal? Denny Hamlin may be making money off Bubba’s sponsorship and merchandise sales, but he certainly isn’t successful on the track, and none of that will apply to Keselowski who probably ranks near the bottom in salability. We have three or four top organizations (with SHR seeming to fade) and I don’t see that changing.
Haas was viewed as a step down from Joe Gibbs when Stewart left as well.
Brad may not be investing any money, he’s the commodity. Sure it’s a step down, but what if the captain already told him we’re bringing the kid up. This is probably right. So Brad gets this offer, looks around at his options since Roger is letting him go and says, mmm, maybe I better leak this story to Utter and see what other offers come up by fall. As I said, Brad is not dumb.
I guess people don’t realize that there are at least 2 interviews with Penske where Roger maintained he want to keep Brad and that with covid-19 restrictions they couldn’t do it face to face. AS BRAD as developed young talent in the past his interest in ownership could be because he wants TO LET CINDRIC develop further in the future with Penske. With RFR, Brad can help build a race team into a contender again, as I am sure sponsors will come on board for the #6 (and hopefully a car for Newman). Remember the Viagra Mark Martin years? Those were his “weakest” but Roush came back and will eventually come back again. SHR isn’t going away, they are just focused on the Next-Gen car and lost side force because of a new NASCAR rule over the winter. I am in agreement with Dale Jr, who says that he wished the new car was OFF the ground with body panels more similar to production cars so that downforce and drag would be minimalized–putting that car back into the driver’s hands. But I personally think the Next-Gen is gonna change the game and what better time for Brad K to make a move? However, he has announced nothing, nor has Penske, nor has Roush. So this may just be the internet stirring up an interesting storyline. Great article.
I wouldn’t leave Pen for nothing.Are you kidding me. Roush hasn’t done nothing in years! Brad stay with who believed in you !Don’t jump the ship! You will become a has been driver like the other big name Drivers,Don’t Do It! To many ownership in Roush blo blo blo!