Hendrick blew it by letting Keselowski go to Penske
You can also call it Rick Hendrick screwing up big time, something he rarely does, by not making sure there was a Hendrick-affiliated seat open for Keselowski in 2010. By doing this, he has thrown away a guy who could have become the organization’s next superstar.
When this is all confirmed (something that should happen very soon), the Hendrick team will say there was nothing they could do. They’ll say Mark Martin’s comeback filled up the last seat and ruined Brad’s chances at making the main team, and they were not able to find him a place at a satellite team.
But that will be a bunch of baloney. Rick Hendrick is so ridiculously rich and has so many sponsors connected to his teams, he has the pull necessary to throw together a deal if it is really needed … as was the case here. Considering how well Brad has done for the Hendrick organization and its affiliates – winning and consistently running up front in both Cup and the Nationwide series – he should have used that pull to help a deal come together at Stewart-Haas Racing for a third car, or even at the #09 James Finch-owned team, for whom Brad won the Cup race at Talladega earlier this year. Worst-case scenario, he should have created a new affiliation with another team, and placed Keselowski there until Martin’s #5 seat opened up.
By not making something happen so he could keep Brad, Hendrick forced Keselowski to do something he did not want to do … go outside the Hendrick organization. Brad turned down an offer from Penske last season to drive the #12 car, thinking he was going to get a Hendrick Cup ride in 2010. Even after Martin said he was coming back in 2010, Brad held out hope for a Hendrick-affiliated ride (with SHR, Jr. Motorsports moving up, Finch’s team, a new affiliate), but it never came to be.
So it appears he did what he had to do, abandoning the team with which he rose to fame in the process. And the team has itself to blame.
Brad was loyal as long as he could be, but it’s clear he belongs in Cup, not Nationwide, next year, and apparently Hendrick just didn’t care enough about keeping him to make that happen.
The #12 car has been pretty weak this year, but that’s likely due in large part to the lackluster driver behind the wheel. While Penske is nowhere near Hendrick as far as overall team strength, Kurt Busch’s success shows the team can produce quality race cars, and a quality driver like Brad is the other piece of the puzzle that will earn a team wins and championships.
The only saving grace for Hendrick is that I could see a scenario where Brad struggles at Penske due to equipment issues, then goes back to Hendrick after Martin retires in a few years. So in the end, Hendrick may get Keselowski back after all. But that’s a tough risk to take, as Brad might take off in that Penske car and get used to his new team, and not want to go back. Also, I have a feeling Penske won’t want to give him up.
The bottom line: I say good for Brad, as he has to think of his future … and I’m glad to see him land at a team that potentially could give him winning cars. He’s a strong driver, and can win if given the right equipment, as he has shown so far in his short career.
And if the #12 car passes a Hendrick car for a victory sometime in 2010, Mr. Hendrick will no doubt be wondering what the hell he was thinking by letting Keselowski go.