AVONDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Brad Keselowski laughed when he said he was relieved Roger Penske didn’t give him the “Fresh Prince” treatment and toss him out of the building on his last day with the race team.
Leaving by his own choice, Keselowski liked where he landed.
The 2012 NASCAR champion with Team Penske is ready to get to work in his new job as driver (with an a ownership stake) at Roush Fenway Racing. Keselowski wanted a fresh start — and ordered a fresh coat of paint — ahead of his Tuesday visit to the RFR complex in North Carolina.
“I want to come in to clean floors, clean walls,” he said. “So they tore the place apart the last month. I’m going to walk into a brand new floor and brand new walls. If that’s not leaving their DNA on something, I don’t know what it is.”
Up first, Keselowski makes one final ride Sunday at Phoenix Raceway for the team he spent essentially his entire 12-year career with. Keselowski and Penske have talked about finishing strong and maybe add one final checkered flag to the collection. Keselowski posted a photo Saturday night of his No. 2 Ford in the garage stall with the caption, “Closing up shop for the night. Looking forward to taking the 2 for one final spin tomorrow.”
He had already posted earlier in the week a tribute video with clips of his greatest moments at Penske.
“We’ve had a strong relationship the whole way. I think our teams are very happy with Brad,” Penske said before Sunday’s championship race. “Overall, I couldn’t have had a better relationship. He wants to build a career and I think he’s landed in a great place. He’s a driver for a while that can help build a team.”
Keselowski won 34 times with Penske and stamped himself as perhaps the best of the Captain’s Cup drivers. Keselowski moves to a Roush Fenway Racing team — soon to receive a new name — that has failed to run for years as a serious contender. Matt Kenseth in 2003 and Kurt Busch in 2004 gave Roush his only Cup titles. With Keselowski onboard, he expected his No. 6 Ford team to immediately contend in the Daytona 500.
“We’ve got to get results next year,” Keselowski said.
One sticking point in Keselowski’s decision was his desire to hold an ownership stake in a Cup team. Keselowski fielded his eponymous team in the NASCAR Truck Series for a decade and the desire to have a piece of a team in the elite Cup Series never went away.
“It’s good to not to be fired and leaving, right? Nobody was grabbing my arms,” Keselowski said.
He’s not the only driver moving on after the finale, and not all of them by choice.
Former Daytona 500 winner Ryan Newman has nothing on the table after he wraps at Roush Fenway Racing. Matt DiBenedetto is out at Wood Brothers Racing. Ryan Preece, Anthony Alfredo and reigning Daytona 500 champion Michael McDowell all have yet to announce 2022 plans.
“Some of them didn’t know where they were going, abruptly, this summer,” Busch said.
Busch is done with Chip Ganassi Racing and signed with 23X1 Racing — also known as Michael Jordan’s race team — and will drive the No. 45 Toyota.
Ganassi sold his NASCAR operation to Trackhouse Racing. All of it belongs to Justin Marks and Pitbull as soon as the race is over.
Ganassi and Busch, the 2017 Daytona 500 champion, had one final lunch together before they went their separate ways. Ganassi gave Busch a framed photo of a blueprint the driver designed for a potential cooling system in the car from their first meeting together. Busch said Ganassi wrote a note that said, “Thanks, Kurt, for always being the leader that you have been for Chip Ganassi Racing.”
“It was a cool moment with Chip,” Busch said. “It’s heavy.”
While Keselowski is leaving the only team he’s known, the 43-year-old Busch is moving on to his seventh team in a Cup career that dates to 2000.
“If we can run top 10 and finish strong and get 10th in points, that would mean the world to me,” Busch said.
Busch forged a career as a survivor, just like Newman. Newman also started his Cup career in 2000, won eight races in 2003, bounced around teams and survived a fiery, death-defying crash in the 2020 Daytona 500.
Life or death pales to the unease Newman feels surrounding his uncertain professional career, but the driver was on the chopping block after failing to win a race since 2017. Newman said he truly doesn’t know if Sunday will be his final Cup race.
His career could start and end at the same track. Newman finished 41st at Phoenix driving for Penske in his Nov. 5, 2000, debut.
“My phone hasn’t rung,” Newman said. “The fact is, there really aren’t any quality rides out there that are available.”