Rick Hendrick: Puppet Master, Genius, or Both?

David YeazellSenior Analyst IAugust 27, 2009

Brad Keselowski has turned a few heads this year with his performance on the track. Now he’s turning heads off the track with his decision to leave JR Motorsports for Penske Racing next year.

While there are still many unanswered questions surrounding this move, the biggest question could be this: Did Keselowski make this decision, or was it Rick Hendrick?

Keselowski is expected to replace David Stremme in the unsponsored No. 12 Penske Dodge. Rumors say it is a short-term move.

Why Penske? Why short-term?

Stewart-Haas, a Hendrick affiliate, has plenty of room to add another driver.  

Why would a driver ensconced in the Hendrick organization give it all up and move to a troubled manufacturer and a race team that hasn’t had much to crow about lately?

Because he’s not really giving it up.

Enter Rick Hendrick.

Hendrick could easily loan Keselowski to Penske for a year or two. During that time Hendrick could also reach into his arsenal of sponsors and provide a primary sponsorship for Keselowski’s Dodge.

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This situation is a win-win for Hendrick. It provides valuable seat time for Keselowski, even if it is in a Dodge. This also allows Hendrick to see how Keselowski will progress in the Sprint Cup Series. If Keselowski shows the talent and promise everyone expects, then Hendrick can make good on his earlier comments and pull Keselowski back in.  

The most valuable asset to come from this situation is time. Hendrick needs time to open up a ride for Keselowski.  

Mark Martin has said he will run a full schedule through 2010 and then retire. Does Keselowski fill that seat?

What about Jeff Gordon? Is that what Hendrick is really looking at?

Gordon has said he doesn’t want to drive past the age of 40. Chronic back problems could hasten that decision.

DuPont has been a staple of the Hendrick organization for two decades. It’s rumored they will scale back sponsorship once Gordon retires.

What if Hendrick put Keselowski in the No. 24? Would that keep the DuPont cash flowing?

There is one caveat to this convoluted plan: What if Keselowski fails? What if, like so many other promising drivers, he fails in the Cup series?

We should know the answer to this, and other questions posed here, in about two years.