BRISTOL, Tenn. — Brad Keselowski may be moving to Penske Racing next season, but team owner Rick Hendrick said Saturday he’ll find a way to bring the talented young driver back to his organization.
“I’m not saying he’s going to be with us next year and I’m not saying he won’t be,” Hendrick said at Bristol Motor Speedway. “But wherever he goes, he’ll always be close enough for me to get him and bring him back.”
Hendrick then asked to “make sure all the other car owners know I said that.”
The 25-year-old Keselowski is the hottest young prospect in NASCAR, in large part to his surprise victory at Talladega in April. He currently drives in the Nationwide Series for JR Motorsports, a team co-owned by Hendrick and Dale Earnhardt Jr., but he’s been hoping for a promotion to the Sprint Cup Series.
He thought it would come in 2010 when Mark Martin relinquished the No. 5, but Martin decided to stay on for another season.
That left Hendrick with no room to place Keselowski, who went through a brief period of exclusive negotiations with Hendrick to determine if a seat could be found with one of the many teams affiliated with HMS.
As time ran out, rival team owner Roger Penske asked for and received permission to speak to Keselowski.
Although Keselowski declined several times at Bristol to discuss his future plans, he’s widely believed to have worked out a deal to move to Penske next season. It would presumably be in the No. 12 Dodge, a ride that went to David Stremme when Keselowski turned it down last year.
“He’s a heck of a talent,” Hendrick said. “He’ll never be far enough away that I can’t find him and bring him back.”
A short deal between Keselowski and Penske might actually work for all parties. Penske has 23-year-old Justin Allgaier in a driver development deal and likely wants him to receive more seat time before promoting him to Cup. Penske also fields cars for Kurt Busch and Sam Hornish Jr.
Hendrick, meanwhile, has a NASCAR-maximum four drivers already under contract: Earnhardt, Martin, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson. It’s assumed Martin will scale back in some capacity after the 2010 season.
Keselowski has three Nationwide wins this season for Earnhardt and five overall. His win at Talladega, when he used a dramatic last-lap pass in a James Finch-owned car, was his only Cup victory.