Jimmie Johnson may be driving his last full-time NASCAR season in 2020 – Brad Keselowski is a hot candidate for the cockpit at Hendrick Motorsports
Jimmie Johnson has announced that he will leave the NASCAR stage after the 2020 season as a full-time driver. The seven-time champion leaves a huge gap in the Chevrolet Team Hendrick Motorsports that urgently needs to be filled with a strong driver. Brad Keselowski is a hot candidate for the cockpit due to his past relationship to the team, if he doesn’t extend his contract with Team Penske.
There are already some signs that Keselowski really belongs to the inner circle of potential Johnson successors. The 2012 champion has not yet signed a new contract with Penske, which is why the working paper will currently expire at the end of 2020. There has also been a massive personnel restructuring in the team: His long-time crew chief Paul Wolfe is now working for his team mate Joey Logano.
In his early career Keselowski was already closely involved with Hendrick Motorsports. In the 2008 season, the now 36-year-old race driver from Michigan competed in the NASCAR Xfinity Series for JR Motorsports, the team of Dale Earnhardt Jr. At the Nashville Superspeedway, Keselowski scored his first victory in the second NASCAR league. Of course, the plan was to let the talent step up into the Cup Series with Hendrick Motorsports one day.
In the same year Keselowski made his Cup Series debut for Hendrick Motorsports at the Texas Motor Speedway. In the #25 Hendrick Chevrolet, the race driver from Rochester Hills ended up 19th. Keselowski drove his second Cup race for the Chevrolet team at the Homestead-Miami Speedway, where he finished in 23rd place. The 2009 season saw another full-time program in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and a part-time program in the NASCAR upper house – with races for Hendrick Motorsports and Phoenix Racing by James Finch.
In his second year as a part-time driver in the Cup Series, Keselowski grabbed his first victory in the Phoenix Chevrolet, which went down in NASCAR history because of Carl Edwards’ hard crash, in what Edwards was thrown into the fence of the Talladega Superspeedway. He left his wrecked car unhurt, only to run across the finish line – a scene that is still one of the absolute NASCAR highlights today. By the way, the last lap that brought Keselowski victory was his first lead lap on Cup level.
From Hendrick to Penske
Back to Keselowski, who sent a decent application to Rick Hendrick with his first Cup win. James Finch, the boss of Phoenix Racing, made sure that the young talent was allowed to spend even more time in the Cup Series. Actually, everything was perfect, because Hendrick Motorsports would have had a cockpit for Keselowski next season if NASCAR legend Mark Martin had stuck to his decision to retire as a full-time driver.
However, Martin suddenly won the race at Phoenix Raceway in 2009 in the #8 car. That was a week before Keselowski’s first victory in Talladega in a Hendrick customer Chevrolet and out of nowhere Martin announced his interest in racing full-time in the 2010 season. There was no place for Keselowski in Rick Hendrick’s Chevrolet top team.
Then everything happened very quickly: Roger Penske and Keselowski agreed, teamed up and together they won the 2010 NASCAR Xfinity Series title. This was followed in 2012 by the championship victory in the NASCAR Cup Series. Penske and Keselowski, that seems to work very well, but still Keselowski could take over the Hendrick Chevrolet wheel in 2021. An important fact: Penske had already contacted Keselowski in 2008, but the driver was loyal to Hendrick and refused contract talks.
Now the big question is whether the personnel decisions at Penske and ongoing negotiations with Keselowski are already a sign of the 36-year-old’s departure. If no new contract is signed between Keselowski and Penske – a contraxt extension can occur any time – joining Hendrick Motorsports is at least an obvious move.
Growing up with motorsports
But who is Keselowski actually, who has established himself at the top of NASCAR with his tough driving style and 32 Cup victories to date? He was born on 12th February 1984 in Rochester Hills, Michigan. He is the fifth child of the Keselowski family, which was already deeply rooted in motorsport back then.
His father Bob Keselowski competed in one Cup race and 86 truck races during his career. His uncle Ron Keselowski drove a total of 86 Cup races in the 1970s. His older brother Brian Keselowski was also active in the NASCAR circus until 2016, so the younger brother was born with a passion for stock car racing.
After gaining experience in the local championships, Brad Keselowski first entered the big NASCAR stage in 2004. At that time he competed in two races of the ARCA Series and eight races of the NASCAR Gander & RV Outdoors Truck Series for the family team K-Automotive Racing. He made his breakthrough in 2007 together with JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series.
In 2018, Keselowski founded Keselowski Advanced Manufacturing, a company specialising in the production of parts using CNC machines, 3D printers and other applications or solutions.
Keselowski also founded his own racing team in 2007, which entered cars in the Truck Series. With Tyler Reddick at the wheel, the racing team grabbed the second place in the 2015 championship. In total, Keselowski Racing celebrated eleven race wins in seven seasons. At the end of 2017 the team’s operations were ended and the team closed its doors. The racing team also entered cars in Late Model series and the ARCA Series.
Keselowski himself is one of the top drivers in the NASCAR Cup Series. With currently 392 race starts, one championship victory, 32 race wins and 197 top 10 results, the Michigan-based race driver is an integral part of the Cup Series. Which car the 36-year-old will drive in the coming season is written in the stars.