Brad Keselowski was the first across the finish line at Talladega earlier this year, and seemed to immediately start grousing that he was ready to move up to the Cup level, and was ready to sell himself out to whomever would write the biggest check. Never mind that he was driving for Hendrick Motorsports Nationwide team, and was the highest driver in the standings who was not running full time in the Cup Series. After a few weeks of posturing and grandstanding, Keselowski has landed a full-time ride with Penske Racing South, replacing David Stremme in the No. 12 after Stremme ran 24 races in the car this year to try and prove he could still compete at the Cup level. Now we’re going to get to see if it is the car or the driver in Mr. Keselowski’s case.
Roger Penske is a proven winner in open-wheel racing. He’s won the Indianapolis 500 15 times. 15 TIMES!!!!! That is just sick. He has won the IRL championship, the CART championship, and a multitude of races in several series. While he has had success in stock car racing, he’s never brought home the big prize. Penske has run 1,105 Cup races to date, with 60 wins, 278 top fives and 467 top 10s. That translates into a winning percentage of 5.43%. Penske has also run 89 Nationwide races with three wins and 10 truck races without reaching victory lane. Winning one out of every 20 races is an impressive feat, until you compare it with the success of Hendrick Motorsports.
Hendrick has taken to the Cup track with his teams 2,634 times, registering 183 wins, 716 top fives and 1,182 top 10s. The winning percentage for Hendrick is 6.95%, which is slightly higher than Penske’s and the top fives and 10s are equally similar, with Hendrick scoring generally 2% higher than Penske. While those numbers might sound relatively equal and the allure to Keselowski might be understandable, until you look at more recent history. A huge amount of Penske’s success came with Rusty Wallace at the wheel of his car. Since Wallace retired at the end of 2005, and Keselowski seems so focused on the “what have you done for me lately” mindset, we’ll look at the last four years.
In the years 2006–2009, Penske has visited victory lane six times in 325 individual race team starts. That would translate into a 1.8% winning percentage. By contrast, Hendrick teams have visited the promised land of racing 43 times over that time period, out of 545 races. Working out the numbers means that Hendrick has won 7.89% of the races run by his teams over that time. Mind you, that is total races run by his teams. When you consider that he is running a four-car team, for the most part, his teams have run 132 races over those four years, which means they have won 32.58% of the races run over the last four years. One third of the time, Hendrick is in victory lane. Whereas Penske has hit the jackpot just 4.55% of the time, close to his historic average.
Mind you, Keselowski might very well go to Penske and capture lightning in a bottle similar to Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus or Ray Evernham and Jeff Gordon. However it may end up more like Jamie McMurray or Casey Mears, where the have a multitude of potential but can’t seem to ever realize it fully. Keselowski is a very good driver, and he has the potential to be a champion, if he keeps his head about him and doesn’t let his ego get the best of him. However his recent actions have shown that very well may be just what brings him down.
There’s no question that Kes isn’t getting any younger, and in today’s NASCAR, where drivers are over the hill if they aren’t in the top echelon by the time they reach their early 20s, he’s on the verge of being too old to be relevant. He’s already probably too late to threaten many of the NASCAR records for career accomplishments, which won’t matter much because Kyle Busch is on pace to break most of those records anyway. His impatience is understandable, but when you get right down to it, making this jump is solely about Keselowski’s need to feed his ego. He thinks he is a Cup-caliber driver and should be in a Cup car. He probably is at that point in his career, but he didn’t have an open seat to slot into next year in Hendrick equipment. So instead of biting his tongue and going out to try and be the first non-Cup driver to win the Nationwide Series in years, Keselowski went shopping and found the Sugar Daddy to write him the big check. Now we’ll just have to see if he has the ability to cash it.