AVONDALE, Ariz. — Everyone knew it was coming. It was just a matter of time. Brad Keselowski turned his last laps as part of Team Penske in the NASCAR Cup Series championship race on Sunday at Phoenix Raceway.
Nearly four months ago, Keselowski announced he would depart Team Penske at the conclusion of the 2021 season to join Roush Fenway Racing as a driver and partial owner starting in 2022. The time has come for the duo to go their separate ways.
All week, the countdown was on. First, Keselowski shared a LinkedIn post of his last day walking out of the Mooresville, N.C. headquarters. He then posted two tribute videos, reflecting back on his time with the race team, which dates back to late 2009.
On Sunday morning, Penske returned the favor, as its digital team put together a 3:30 video, with drivers Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney and Austin Cindric thanking him for the friendship and mentorship. Team owner Roger Penske chimed in, sharing his thoughts of what Keselowski brought to the team.
After all, Keselowski joined Team Penske back when it was running Dodges. That same year, he won the Xfinity Series (then Nationwide Series) championship. He had an ongoing feud with Carl Edwards, and his Cup Series efforts weren’t going as planned, finishing 25th in points.
In 2011, Keselowski earned his first Cup win with Penske at Kansas Speedway, stretching his fuel mileage. A hot summer gave him a momentum boost entering the playoffs, ending the season fifth in points. The next year, though, the No. 2 team won it all, bringing Team Penske its first Cup Series championship.
As time went on, Keselowski would collect a total of 34 wins, 137 top fives, 223 top 10s, 17 poles and 8,674 laps led at the Cup level. He won 33 times at the Xfinity Series level.
On Sunday, that chapter closed in Keselowski and Team Penske’s lives.
“You always remember the wins, those are the fun things,” Keselowski said following the 2021 season finale. “The wins, success and good runs, those are something I really cherish.”
Keselowski finished 10th in Sunday’s race, capping off a solid postseason run. He brought the No. 2 Ford home sixth in the championship standings — highest of the three Team Penske drivers.
Over the final laps, Keselowski gained 13 positions after getting an unlucky break because of a late caution.
“I wanted to finish as high up as I could to finish the season,” Keselowski stated. “[Kevin Harvick] was right in front of me and I really wanted to finish fifth in points, and if I could pass him and one or two other cars, I would have finished fifth in points. I was like, ‘come on, come on, come on,’ cracking the whip as hard as I could and just didn’t have enough.”
When Keselowski drove his No. 2 Ford down pit road for the final time, his pit crew was waiting for him. Upon exiting his car, he spoke with members of his public relations team, notifying them he wanted beer brought to his car. And the famed 2012 Miller Lite cup that he drank beer from live on SportsCenter.
The driver who was sponsored by Miller Lite for several years, including his championship season, wanted one final toast with Team Penske.
— Dustin Albino (el-bee-no) (@DustinAlbino) November 8, 2021
Ryan Blaney walks over. Here comes Joey Logano. Jeremy Bullins, Todd Gordon and the entire No. 2 pit crew. The team wanted to celebrate the milestone accomplishments together.
“It’s special,” Keselowski said of the moment. “It’s good to see these guys; every one of them means something to me and my career, not just professional life but personal life. They’ve been there for me, keep me safe and help me make a living, feed my kids and take care of my family. I’m proud of them and seeing them succeed as well at everything they do.”
Bullins, who took over as Keselowski’s crew chief ahead of the 2020 season, was front and center. Together, they won five Cup Series races and raced for a championship last year.
“It’s a little surreal,” Bullins said. “Brad is one of the guys that I was excited to work with when I came to Team Penske back in 2012, and I got to work with him in the Xfinity Series for a couple of years. He just brought a lot to the table for our company and he meant a lot to everybody, so it’s nice to celebrate what we’ve done over the years for a few minutes.”
Leading up to Phoenix, Keselowski didn’t want to overthink the day. That included Sunday morning, just hours before strapping into his hot rod.
“I tried not to think about it to be honest, I tried to go out there and do my best and leave a lasting impression of running well,” he added. “We definitely gave it our all and I’m proud of that. Left it all out on the racetrack today. I’m sure it will probably soak in a little more every day afterwards. You get little reminders every now and then.”
As Keselowski transitions to Roush Fenway Racing this week and works on solidifying 2022 sponsorship, he’s not going to forget his history with Team Penske. Over the last 12 years, he’s been one of the most relevant faces in the garage, always with a fighter’s chance of winning on any given weekend.
And he looks forward to competing against what is now his former team.
“I’m not going anywhere, I’m still going to be at the racetrack,” Keselowski stated. “Won’t be in all the [team] meetings with all these guys and the day-to-day grind, a different grind. Still wish everyone here a lot of success.”
Keselowski, however, does have one request to Roger Penske. He wants to acquire a couple of the cars he’s had recent success in.
Fresh on his mind is the same chassis that won three races in 2020. Another is his final win with the team, which came in April at Talladega Superspeedway.
No matter what, it was the perfect ending.
“Roger Penske has a saying of, ‘Good goals, make one plus one equal three,” Keselowski stated. “He, I and his son Greg (Chairman and CEO of Penske Motor Group), we joked that we made it equal five. We came together and it was much more than we could have ever dreamed of and I think we’re really proud of that.”