All too often, NASCAR’s most promising young stars fail at the highest level, the Sprint Cup Series. We consider them the best talent, the next Jeff Gordon. Then, they advance to Cup, produce lackluster results, and disappear.
Why? They’re doing it wrong.
Brad Keselowski, however, is doing it right. Allow me to explain.
The problem with the drivers who don’t succeed is coming up to Cup too fast, or not waiting for the right opportunity. We’ve seen this on many occasions.
Casey Atwood was the youngest winner in the Nationwide Series, but came to Cup in 2001 with Evernham Motorsports, a brand new team. Casey and Evernham were going through growing pains together, which never turns out very well. Finally, by the end of the season, they started to get through the growing pains and started running well, but by then it was too late, and Casey got the boot.
In 2002 and 2003, Scott Riggs was racing in the Nationwide Series with PPC Racing, a team that had won the championship with Jeff Green the year before. Riggs had a pair of wins each year, and finished in the top ten in points both years. We all thought Scott Riggs was going to be successful.
Then, Riggs moved to Cup with MB2 Motorsports, regarded as a second-tier team, propped up only by Valvoline’s partial ownership. Riggs had only a handful of good runs, outnumbered by his DNQ’s. Goodbye Scott Riggs.
JJ Yeley was highly touted for a number of years while he was tearing things up on the open-wheeled circuits. He signed a development contract with Joe Gibbs Racing, and ran a few seasons in Nationwide. However, he was moved up to Cup before showing anything special in Nationwide.
After two seasons in Gibbs No. 18 car, he was shipped off to then-Gibbs satellite team Hall of Fame Racing, and was cut loose after half a season. The only time we have seen him around the NASCAR garage since then was when he served as an analyst for one of SPEED’s Truck Series races earlier this year.
And, do I need to mention Dario Franchitti, who jumped straight from an IndyCar into Sprint Cup?
I could list more than a few other names, too: Jacques Villeneuve, Scott Pruett, Patrick Carpentier, Chad McCumbee, Jason Leffler. You can probably name some more.
Fortunately, Joey Logano has the long-term support of his team and sponsor, Joe Gibbs Racing and Home Depot. He intended to race longer in the Nationwide series before coming up to Cup, but Tony Stewart’s sudden departure necessitated Logano’s early promotion. But, even “Sliced Bread,” as in “the best thing since...” has struggled at NASCAR’s highest level.
Brad Keselowski, however, will be different. He has raced in the Nationwide Series for the past few seasons, the last two with Junior Motorsports, one of the best Nationwide teams. Here, he had the opportunity to cut his teeth, develop his skills, his style, and deal with the pressure of racing all year and pleasing high-profile sponsors.
Sure, he could have defected at the end of last year to some underfunded Cup team (it was never publicized, but one would be crazy to think no one offered it to him). He’s run just a handful of Cup races this year, to get used to the car, the longer races, and the higher competition level.
And next year, he will be with Penske, arguably one of the best teams across all forms of motorsports. He waited patiently, realizing he was with one of the best teams in Nationwide, until he had an opportunity to be in a good ride with long-term stability next year.
This is why Brad Keselowski will not fall off the map any time soon.
Other NASCAR Notes
Speaking of rookies, I don’t think there is anyone in line for the Raybestos Rookie of the Year competition next year. The only rookie I can think of is Brad Keselowski, but he has run too many races this year to be eligible. Unless Dexter Bean suddenly figures out how to qualify his car, we’ve got no one. The last time there were no eligible rookies was 1983.
It’s not like there aren’t any qualified drivers, it’s just that no teams have openings. No drivers are retiring, and sponsors are hard to come by to expand.
Also, the way things are looking right now, there won’t be enough Dodge cars to fill their allotment in the Budweiser Shootout at Daytona. The season opening exhibition race used to be for the previous season’s pole winners, but was changed to the top six cars in owner points for each manufacturer, plus the most recent past champion not already included or the seventh car in owner points.
I compiled a list based off what we already know for next season, and Penske’s three cars are the only entries for Dodge so far. Unless Dodge adds at least four more teams, Budweiser will, once again, have to change the rules to have a decent car count.