June 26, 2009
By Nick Blake
Special K some call him, but his real name is Brad Keselowski.
And at this time two years ago, very few knew who he was. Even less people thought he had a future in NASCAR racing as it was. When the Nationwide team he drove for, Keith Coleman Racing, shut down mid season, in 2007 due to lack of sponsorship and funds, chances were slim that Keselowski would ever get another ride unless it was his own.
Then, a champion suffered a rare misfortune. Ted Musgrave, then driving the #9 Team ASE Toyota for Germain Racing in the Truck Series, got upset after he was spun by Kelly Bires in a race at the Milwaukee Mile. Musgrave retaliated by slamming Bires straight into the wall, and as a result, was parked for the remainder of the race, then suspended for the next weekís race at Memphis Motorsports Park.
Enter Brad Keselowski.
Needing a replacement for the upcoming weekends race, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide guys were in New Hampshire, and unavailable to use. So it became Keselowskiís time to shine, getting his first real opportunity to race in competitive, race winning equipment. And he didnít disappoint, qualifying on the pole, and was in position to win when he was spun out late in the race, resulting in a tough to swallow 16th place finish.
Still, his one race deal provides for some great water cooler talk amongst sports writers and team owners. Weeks later, Shane Huffman was released from his ride with Jr. Motorsports, leaving an opening that was filled by Keselowski in what Dale Jr. said would be a ďweek to week basisĒ.
Without showing much emotion, Dale was impressed with the youngsterís performance, earning five top tens in 14 starts to finish off the season, and decided he was worthy of representing the U.S Navy for the upcoming 2008 season.
In a season of ups and downs, Keselowski surprised many by running so consistently with the two biggest names in Sprint Cup Series battling for the Nationwide Series championship, Clint Bowyer and Carl Edwards. At times, Keselowski was often second in the standings, and was very animated when he talked about his teamís chances to win the championship. After all, JR Motorsportsís equipment was never really put to the test.
Drivers Mark McFarland and the aforementioned Shane Huffman never reached a high level of achievement with the team. Huffman only had two top fives in 28 career starts with Juniorís team, McFarland on the other hand, had zero top fives in 22 starts. Keselowski shrugged off any doubt of the teamís performance by consistently running in the top ten throughout the season. In the 15th race of the season, Brad broke through for his first career win at Nashville Superspeedway. It was a triumph for a driver that was jobless exactly one year ago, and a team that after í06 and í07, were having their doubts of winning a race.
Bradís first win on a current track raced by the Sprint Cup Series came at Bristol in August. In the closing laps, he showed that he wasnít intimidated by Bowyer, the championship leader and six time Nationwide Series race winner, by utilizing the bump and run to win his second race of the season, and first with Dale Jr. in victory lane to celebrate. A late charge by Carl Edwards resulted in him bumping Keselowski back to third in the championship standings, but in reality it was Keselowski that won everyone over with his driving style, similar to that of his boss, Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Juniorís business relationship with Rick Hendrick also opened Bradís eyes to a Sprint Cup opportunity, running 2 races late last year in the #25 car for Hendrick Motorsports. In the off season, Brad signed an informal agreement with Hendrick Motorsports, an agreement that included 10 races in the #25 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet.
It was another opportunity however, that sprung Keselowski to new heights. In an effort to run the full season, James Finch, owner of Phoenix Racing decided he would field a full time team, and Rick Hendrick offered a package that included Brad Keselowski, Hendrick cars with Hendrick engines and support for 7 races and possibly more. The remaining races would be filled by veterans Sterling Marlin and Mike Bliss in a Dodge Charger that, lets just say, isnít that competitive.
After Missing the Daytona 500, Bradís next start with the #09 came at Talladega Superspeedway. The odds seemed to be against the team all weekend, Mike Bliss blew an engine in the Nationwide race, and Keselowski started from the back after changing an engine in practice. Still, on race day, he put himself in the right position at the right time by pushing Carl Edwards to the front on the last lap, and made the pass seen Ďround the world' when Carl spun in front of Brad, and flipped into the catchfence. It was Bradís first ever Sprint Cup Series win and James Finchís first Sprint Cup Series win as an owner.
The win sparked talk that the 25 year old from Rochester Hills, Michigan should be in a full time Sprint Cup ride in 2010, but shortly after Bradís win, Mark Martin announced heíd come back to the #5 car full time in 2010, Leaving Bradís options blank, until now.
There are three possible destinations for Brad Keselowski in the 2010 Sprint Cup Season, not to mention heís always welcome back in the #88 Nationwide Seat with JR Motorsports. One possibility could a merger of sorts between JR Motorsports and Phoenix Racing. The team can still be run by James Finch, with Junior as a majority owner, like with Tony Stewart is with Stewart Haas Racing. Hendrick support would be increased, and sponsorship would double, with GoDaddy.com taking some of the strain off of Finchís longtime sponsor, Miccosukee Resorts & Gaming.
Itís an idea at most, but itís logical.
The second option could be just JR Motorsports, stand-alone. The number would likely be #83, and sponsorship would be the same as whatís already sponsoring Keselowski in the Nationwide series. Hendrick support is a given, itís doubtful that the team could be competitive with their own engine package. Lastly, Stewart Haas Racing is the most talked about destination for Brad. The team has had instant success, and has made a contender out of him and teammate Ryan Newman.
Stewart Haas is a hot spot to be in right now, but what does Tony Stewart want for the third team? Another young veteran, or a Rookie Of The Year candidate? What about Brad? Does he want to make Stewart Haas a permanent home, or is he sticking to the plan of driving the #5 at Hendrick Motorsports in 2011, and only driving for a year at Stewart Haas? My guess is that wherever Keselowski ends up, thatís his permanent home. If Keselowski left JR Motorsports, it could be the end of that team as we know it. With the Nationwide COT on itís way, it may be too expensive for Junior to keep running in that series. And if Keselowski made the jump to Cup for only one season with JR Motorsports, whoís the 2011 replacement?
Now the summerís here, and we should hear about Bradís plans soon, but the man called Special K shouldnít be under any pressure, because whatever move he makes is sure to make him a winner, not that he already isnít one.
The thoughts and ideas expressed by this writer or any other writer on Insider Racing News, are not necessarily the views of the staff and/or management of IRN.