Brad Keselowski will drive full schedules for Penske Racing in the Sprint Cup Series and Nationwide Series next season, the team has announced.
Fresh from a fifth-place finish in Sunday's NAPA Auto Parts 200 at Montreal's Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, Keselowski, 25, is third in the Nationwide standings as the driver of the No. 88 JR Motorsports Chevrolet. He will drive Dodges for Penske Racing, replacing David Stremme in the No. 12 Cup car and competing as a teammate to Justin Allgaier in the Nationwide Series.
“I want to be the guy who comes to Penske Racing and gets them their first championship,” Keselowski said in a conference call with reporters.
Keselowski joins Kurt Busch, who won a Cup championship with owner Jack Roush in 2004, and Sam Hornish Jr. on Penske's Cup roster.
After collecting his first win in the Cup series at Talladega in April in a car owned by James Finch and supported by Hendrick Motorsports, Keselowski said he had extensive discussions with team owner Rick Hendrick (who also shares ownership in JR Motorsports with Dale Earnhardt Jr.) about possible scenarios for 2010.
“He (Hendrick) worked as hard as he could – he told me something I thought was pretty interesting, that he worked much harder on my deal than he ever had to work on Jimmie (Johnson) or Jeff (Gordon) or any of them – trying to find a way to keep me in the camp. It became obvious it was just not in the cards.
“There were so many things going against us with the (four) team limit and so forth. This opportunity was sitting there.”
Keselowski had negotiated with team owner Roger Penske a year earlier before opting to stay with JRM for another season. Interestingly, Earnhardt encouraged his protégé to take the Penske deal.
“This is the hardest decision I've ever had to make in my life,” Keselowski said. “But I woke up this morning feeling 100 percent certain that I'd made the right one. I went through a lot of stages to make this decision and talked to a lot of different people, as far as teams, friends and family, and it was clear to me that this is the direction I want to head.
“I will say that one of the most important matters of the whole conversation to me – or of the discussions and negotiations—was to have the blessings of Dale and Kelley (Earnhardt, Dale Jr.'s sister) and Rick to come out and to do this. That meant a lot to me. I owe where I'm at today because of their support, and I truly respect everything they've done for me to get me here.
“I took this job, this offer, and it was after some of the words I got from Dale encouraging me to take it.”
Penske Racing president Tim Cindric declined to discuss the terms of the contract. He did say the current plan is to have Stremme, who is free to seek other opportunities, complete the season in the No. 12 Dodge. Penske plans to run Keselowski and Allgaier full time in the Nationwide Series next year.
by Reid Spencer, Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service