Welcome to your future, Brad Keselowski. It just got a lot more challenging.
Keselowski, 37, has a new number, a new team and the new Next Gen car to wrangle this season. And as of the checkered flag of last season’s finale at Phoenix Raceway, the Michigan native is also one of the newest team owners in the NASCAR Cup Series garage.
Keselowski is now a minority owner at the renamed Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing and the new driver of the team’s No. 6 Ford Mustang GT, replacing Ryan Newman. His new seat in the NASCAR Cup Series breaks off a run of 12 full-time seasons as a Team Penske Cup driver after 34 wins, 137 top-5 finishes and the 2012 series championship — the first for Penske at the Cup level.
The move is the fruit of Keselowski’s unrelenting streak of ambition and self-confidence. He loves to bet on himself — look at how he first landed opportunities in NASCAR or his recent launch of an advanced manufacturing business — and those wagers generally pay off.
“It’s a dream come true to be on the team owner side,” Keselowski says. “And I’m really having a lot of fun with it right now.”
At RFK Racing, Keselowski finally has something he’s long dreamed about: both a place to drive and a place to lead. While driving, his primary ownership role will be leading the team’s competition committee.
“The fact that I can just get things done and I don’t feel like I have to kind of beg and play all the political games to get things done is really, really fun,” Keselowski says. “And that’s not meant to be a knock on Team Penske. That’s with any team when you’re not the owner. You ask for something to happen, and people will look at it, right? But when you’re the owner, (they say) ‘Alright, we’re going to do this, boss.’ And it’s like, ‘Wow, they’re really going to do it.’”
It’s that type of leadership that the ownership of Roush Fenway Racing, including legendary owner Jack Roush, 79, and Fenway Sports Group’s John Henry, were seeking for the team when they started discussions with Keselowski last year.
Keselowski says the chance to become an owner at the Cup level — after previously owning a Camping World Truck Series team that he shuttered after it became unprofitable — was only appealing because NASCAR was transitioning to the Next Gen car.
“Without the Next Gen car, I would have never took this opportunity,” Keselowski says. “There’s no way I could have justified it. This was a reset for the entire industry, and in the reset was the opportunity.”
That reset also has Keselowski convinced, for now, that he can be competitive as a driver at RFK Racing — even though the Roush operation has won just two races and earned two total postseason appearances since 2015. The team hasn’t had a driver with a season average finish better than 14.6 since Carl Edwards in 2013.
“(RFK Racing’s) rate of development is really the challenge,” Keselowski says. “With the Next Gen car, that’s going to become even more critical. Some of that was due to processes, and some of that was due to the talent. I think we’re in the process of upgrading both of those.”
It’s a challenge that Keselowski appears ready to embrace for the long haul.
“I cannot see a day where I’m done driving and I don’t want to be a part of this sport,” Keselowski says. “This opportunity allows me just that — the ability to have a role in this sport past my driving career.”