Thursday, January 26, 2012
Brad Keselowski to be 'face' of team
By David Newton
CONCORD, N.C. -- Brad Keselowski's extension with Penske Racing is for two years, with an organization option for a third year in 2015, team sources confirmed Thursday.
Keselowski was entering the last year of his initial three-year deal with Penske. The team had announced Dec. 1 that an extension was signed, but no terms were disclosed.
Crew chief Paul Wolfe and sponsor Miller Lite also have re-signed through 2015, but Keselowski is the cornerstone.
"I want him to be the face of the team," team owner Roger Penske said Thursday during the Sprint media tour. "He has demonstrated his sincerity. His professionalism is key. He's a leader.
"He's not only a leader on the racetrack and around the pits, he's working out with the guys in the training room, he's in the paint shop making sure the decals on the car are right. He can't do enough with the sponsors. So he's the real deal right now."
Keselowski finished fifth in points last season, winning three Sprint Cup races and one pole. The 2010 Nationwide Series champion also won five races in that series.
The Michigan native said it was important to get the extension out of the way so he and everyone around him could focus on the season.
"It gives us the platform to continue to bring in talent, and we have to bring in talent to get to the next level. We have to find the best people," Keselowski said.
"Turnover is inevitable in this sport, whether it's a guy getting fired or a guy coming off the road because he had a baby. You have to replace those people with quality people, and sometimes you have to upgrade. We have that platform now."
Keselowski acknowledged he asked to be in the middle seat for Penske's formal media presentation and deliver the closing comments. He said it's always been his goal to be the leader of an organization.
"I thought there was some important messaging that needed to come across, and I wanted to be the one to give it," Keselowski said. "Sometimes you have to step up in the pocket."
Keselowski is replacing the leadership of Kurt Busch, who reached a "mutual agreement" to split with Penske Racing as the driver of the No. 22 after a tumultuous 2011 season.
Penske said Keselowski played an integral role in helping the organization sign AJ Allmendinger.
"He's a great commodity for us, a great product, and he'll be a great star," Penske said of Keselowski.
Penske hasn't spoken much publicly about what led to the split with Busch, who now is with Phoenix Racing. Penske said Wednesday that it was a business decision for both sides, and he wished Busch well.
"He's one of the very best drivers," Penske said. "I think he felt maybe we weren't delivering everything he wanted. It was just at the end of the day we looked each other in the eye and said, 'Why don't we go our own ways?'
"It was done amicably. There were no lawyers. It was strictly shaking hands and saying, 'You go your way, and I'll go mine.' In fact, I wrote him a letter the other day and said I'm looking forward to shaking his hand when we go to Daytona. I'm not looking back. We're going forward."
David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.