Earlier this week, Brad Keselowski and Roush Fenway Racing confirmed the worst kept secret in the NASCAR garage. Beginning next season, the 2012 Cup Series champion will join RFR as a driver and minority owner.
Keselowski leaves behind 34 Cup Series victories with Team Penske, 33 Xfinity Series wins, the aforementioned Cup title, as well as the 2010 Xfinity Series championship. But it was his lifelong dream of his to be an owner in the Cup Series. Now is the appropriate time to make that move.
“I had no idea this opportunity was gonna happen,” Keselowski said of his move to RFR. “When it came, though, I knew I was ready for it and I feel like, yeah, there are some parts of it that are scary, without a doubt. It’s a challenge and it’s not gonna be easy, but I’ve been studying my whole life to be ready for this moment and I’m ready for the test.”
With Keselowski removing himself from the Team Penske equation after Roger Penske offered him a multi-year deal, the two-time Cup championship winning team is going with a youthful lineup. Austin Cindric, the 2020 Xfinity Series champion, will be slotted into the famed No. 2 car.
Meanwhile, the team chose Harrison Burton to replace Matt DiBenedetto in the No. 21 car at Wood Brothers Racing, as DiBenedetto had his contract option picked up for the 2021 season, with Cindric originally scheduled to take over the No. 21 Ford beginning next year.
Come the Daytona 500 in just under seven months, Team Penske will have Joey Logano, a former Cup champion, and Ryan Blaney as its two veteran drivers steering the ship.
Both realize this offseason — in addition to adding the Next Gen car — will see the most turnover at Team Penske in recent memory. And while that can be worrisome, both Logano and Blaney are taking it in stride.
It was also an order from the boss.
“Joey and Blaney, I talked to them both,” Penske said. “They’re gonna have to take leadership roles within the team supporting both of these young guys.”
“I think there’s a lot of opportunity,” Logano said of the changes to a group of media last weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. “I think we’ve all seen what Austin is capable of doing in the Xfinity Series. Something that I think about him is his work ethic is up where it needs to be. He probably works harder, I wouldn’t say he works as hard as me, but he’s pretty close to it, so I think we’re able to push each other a lot. I think he’s gonna be able to bring a lot to the table.
“I’m bummed about losing my teammate, Brad. Brad has been a great partner throughout the last eight or nine years at Penske.”
Blaney is in the same boat as Logano. The dynamic duo are excited to work with a fresh pair of Rookie of the Year contenders.
The driver of the No. 12 car is also thrilled that he’s not the youngest driver on the team anymore.
“I’m no longer the young guy over there, so that’s nice,” he said. “I don’t get stuck with the shit end of the stick on some things.
“A big shakeup at Penske, but with the circumstances of Brad moving over to Roush and things like that, I think there’s two younger, very talented drivers coming in that I think will do a really good job. I think, right now, next year with the new car is probably the best time to be a rookie coming in because everyone is kind of starting over.”
While Blaney believes he has to step up his leadership role to help Cindric and Burton, he doesn’t look at it as though Penske supports one guy or two guys, but rather have all of its drivers working together collectively.
That’s what he believes has made Team Penske successful over the years.
“I wouldn’t say role model, but more of a leader and trying to help Austin and Harrison as much as I can, as well as Joey,” Blaney added. “We all feed off of each other. I help Joey out, he helps me out. Same with Brad, and it’s going to be the same thing with Austin and Harrison, just all learning from each other.
“Just try to help those guys out the best we can because what’s the point of having pretty much a four-car team if you’re only going to pay attention to two cars? I think that’s what we’ve done well with the Wood Brothers relationship, is we all just feed off of each other.
“But for me, I try to help anybody out when needed. If I can provide that help and information, that’s just a role I’ve always wanted to be in.”
Logano, who next year will be in his 10th season with Team Penske, knows not having Keselowski in the fold will be an adjustment. But it’s also a chance to become even more of a leader than he’s been in recent memory.
“I feel like Brad and I led [Team Penske] together throughout the last few years,” Logano said. “I feel like Blaney has definitely raised his game over the years as you can see, so it’s gonna be up to us to kind of lead the organization around.
“It’s not just the drivers though that do that. It’s a whole team. “I think you look at Travis [Geisler, competition director and vice president of operations] Mike [Nelson, vice president of operations] and Tim [Cindric, president], Roger [Penske, team owner], Walt [Czarnecki, vice chairman], everyone that that’s able to steer the steer the ship, I’m glad to be part of that team. But it’s everyone working together to figure out the right direction from there.”
And though it might take some time, Logano is confident the four-car team will make strides and be a contender.
He said, “We’ll have to figure out our new way and how we do it, but we have so many great people at Team Penske that, honestly, we’ll be able to make the transition. We’ll have to learn from each other, and I’ll be learning a couple new teammates through all of this.”