Friday, May 1, 2009
Hendrick mulls Keselowski options
By David Newton ESPN.com
RICHMOND, Va. -- Brad Keselowski will give Hendrick Motorsports the first crack to sign him to a full Sprint Cup Series ride for next season, but that doesn't guarantee he'll wind up there.
"As far as opportunities to make that work, there are so many I don't think you guys have time to hear them all," the 25-year-old driver said Friday at Richmond International Raceway. "The basics of it are we still have a few months to work some of this out.
"Specifically, I am working with HMS and owe it to them to make it work out."
Brad Keselowski's Cup win at Talladega has made him a sudden hot property.
Keselowski's stock rose significantly when he won last week's Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway in a part-time ride for Phoenix Racing with a car supplied by HMS.
Keselowski's problem is HMS won't have an open seat unless Mark Martin opts not to run the No. 5 next season. Martin has indicated he would like to run another full season, however, and team owner Rick Hendrick has said he would like to have the 50-year-old driver in the No. 5.
In order to drive for Hendrick, Keselowski initially might have to drive for a team with Hendrick support. One possibility is having JR Motorsports -- the Nationwide Series team co-owned by Hendrick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. that Keselowski drives for -- move up to Cup.
Earnhardt has mentioned on several occasions the possibility of making the jump.
"Sure we'll consider it," Earnhardt said. "We just have to do what's right for the company and the business. It might not even be what Brad wants. He might want to jump into an established program. Being a rookie it would be hard coming into a start-up program. I'm sure he'll have some other opportunities that might be more entertaining."
Another possibility might be Stewart-Haas Racing, which has Hendrick support.
"I would say anything is a possibility," Keselowski said. "I wouldn't write anything off. I'm not sure I understand the entirety of the whole relationship of how it would work with JR Motorsports. I know Mr. Hendrick owns half of that. I know there is some rule where he would have to sell out his half. It'll be interesting to see how it all goes from there.''
To remain in the JR Nationwide car, Keselowski will have to remain in a Chevrolet under the terms of Earnhardt's deal.
"We're not in no hurry," Earnhardt said. "We don't need to get into contract talks now, not after his first win. He needs to concentrate on doing what he can in that Nationwide car for the next several months."
But Keselowski made it clear his first intention is to remain associated with HMS.
"The key part of it is to stick with what got you where you're at,'' said Keselowski, who does not have a Cup ride this weekend. "Having competitive cars and support from Hendrick Motorsports is what got me to Victory Lane at Talladega. It's hard to run from that, but at the same time there isn't a clear opportunity.
"So we have to see how that works out."
Keselowski said he had an opportunity to drive full-time this season for Penske Racing, but didn't take that because he didn't believe "the timing was right."
"I felt like on any given weekend I was anywhere from a 15th- to 30th-place Cup driver," he said. "I feel like I've made some progression toward the end of last year where I am a 10th- to 20th-place Cup driver.
"I know that to make the next step I need to run full-time. It's a matter of making that line up."
Winning at Talladega, he added, doesn't hurt that process.
"I've talked to Mr. Hendrick very briefly," Keselowski said. "I haven't had any detailed discussions with him for next year. That's down the road. I'm not going to try and rush that."
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.