- Terry Blount, ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter
- 0 Shares
If you were Brad Keselowski, what would you do in 2010?
A third car with Stewart-Haas Racing? Take over the No. 12 Dodge at Penske? Move up with JR Motorsports? A fourth car at Joe Gibbs Racing?
Unless Danica Patrick opts to make the jump to NASCAR, no driver is in better position than Keselowski to weigh the options and secure his future in a quality Sprint Cup ride next season.
Keselowski talked extensively about the process before the race Saturday at Chicagoland Speedway.
In a way, he's NASCAR's No. 1 draft pick.
"But there is no draft," Keselowski said. "There's no system, which is kind of strange. It's just grabbing here and there. It's weird.
"I don't have anything signed and [am] not particularly close, but I feel good about my position. That's probably the best way to put it."
There's an odd kink in Keselowski's No. 1 status. Who has the money to sign him?
A few years ago, sponsors would've lined up to support a guy like Keselowski.
Look what Lowe's was willing to do with an unknown young guy named Jimmie Johnson in 2002.
Keselowski said Cup team owner Rick Hendrick talked about Johnson and how that relates to Brad.
"Mr. Hendrick used it as a comparison," Keselowski said. "The next Jimmie Johnson of the sport might not ever get that opportunity -- a driver like Jimmie, who is brand-new with a clean sheet of paper and got full sponsorship.
"There are no sponsors willing to do that now. If there are, they are a lot harder to come by. So it's a different situation from what the sport has seen in the past, and I'm caught in that right now."
Success in Cup comes with no guarantees, but sponsors were more willing to take a chance in the past for a guy who was young, bright and talented.
They play the odds, and the odds are with Keselowski. He did this the right way. He didn't jump to NASCAR's top series as a teenager. He's 25, still young, but no greenhorn.
Three competitive seasons in the Nationwide Series, racing for a quality team at JR Motorsports, has prepared Keselowski for Cup.
And he has spent enough time in a Cup car to know what to expect and how to adjust to a different car against better competition. Keselowski opted to give up his rookie status and get as much seat time as possible this season in Cup.
Good decision. He won't become rookie of the year in 2010, but he might make the Chase because of the experience he gained in 2009.
Keselowski's victory at Talladega this year -- staying in the gas when Carl Edwards tried to block him -- showed he knows how the game is played and will do whatever it takes to win.
Keselowski was headed to a top-10 finish Saturday night at Chicagoland before getting pushed into the wall on a late restart and finishing 32nd.
Clearly, he's ready to make the move. It's a big decision, the biggest of his career. So let's examine his options.
Option No. 1: Stay in the Hendrick Motorsports family
Chances: Better than 50/50
This probably is Keselowski's first choice if everything falls in place. But the best option here (one of the four Hendrick cars) isn't available.
All four cars are taken and Keselowski isn't waiting around another year for Mark Martin to retire. And he isn't taking over the No. 88 for Dale Earnhardt Jr., despite the ridiculous rumors to the contrary.
Keselowski's Hendrick-related options at the moment are joining Stewart-Haas Racing in a new third car or staying at JR Motorsports if Earnhardt moves up his Nationwide team.
Earnhardt hinted last week that it's doubtful he would have the financing in place to move his team to Cup.
"But I am close on the Nationwide level to driving for JR Motorsports next year," Keselowski said. "So I feel good about that."
This is a key point. It seems to confirm that Earnhardt is keeping his team in Nationwide next year.
I hate to limit any options right now. It's hard to talk about specifics, and I mean that with no disrespect. But talking about specifics seems to sabotage any deal you're trying to do.
”-- Brad Keselowski
More importantly, it could indicate Keselowski is going to sign with a Chevy team in Cup. If he's driving a Chevrolet in the Nationwide Series, he's not going to drive a Dodge or Toyota in Cup.
"I hate to limit any options right now," Keselowski said. "It's hard to talk about specifics, and I mean that with no disrespect. But talking about specifics seems to sabotage any deal you're trying to do.
"That's what's so funny about this stuff. It's not like I can say, 'Well, I'll probably end up playing for the Lions next year.' In racing if you say that, I can guarantee you that you won't play for the Lions next year."
Keselowski is right. We all want drivers to tell us what they plan to do, but if they say too much, they risk nixing the deal.
"That's the way the system is and why drivers are so hesitant to talk about it," he said. "I try to stay open about it and communicate what I can without sabotaging what I'm working on."
We get it, but one option we all know is on the table is a third car for Tony Stewart's team.
Stewart seems optimistic about adding another car next season, saying earlier that he would consider a third car if the sponsorship was in place.
"If the right situation came along, we would entertain it," Stewart said at Sonoma. "I wanted to make sure we had two cars that were competitive and had a chance to win a championship. I'm proud of the fact that I think we're at that point."
Considering how well Stewart and teammate Ryan Newman are running this season, any young driver would jump at this chance if a sponsor steps up.
GoDaddy.com sponsored Keselowski Saturday at Chicagoland. Could they move full time to Cup, or is GoDaddy waiting for Patrick to make that move? She's the face of their advertising campaign.
"Well, I know she's a lot prettier than I am," Keselowski said. "I don't know for sure what their intentions are, but I have enjoyed working with them and would love to do so in the future."
The one downside at Stewart-Haas is a new ride wouldn't have owner's points, forcing Keselowski to make the field on speed in the first five events. However, Stewart could move his points to the new car because he can use a past champion's provisional to make the field.
Keselowski said the top-35 guaranteed spot won't be a deciding factor for him.
"The most important thing is to have a competitive car," he said. "I would rather be in a car outside the top 35 that is competitive than one inside the top 35 that isn't. I'm just looking for the right deal."
Swapping points has become a common practice, but this could be a unique situation. If Stewart wins the Cup title, would NASCAR let the series champion transfer his points to another car?
Option No. 2: Join Penske Racing
Chances: A little less than 50/50
There is no official opening at Penske. However, David Stremme has struggled in the No. 12 Dodge and doesn't have a top-10 finish. Sam Hornish Jr. is much improved in the No. 77 Dodge, but it is enough to keep him from returning to the IRL?
Keselowski was on Roger Penske's wish list last year when Keselowski decided to stay in the Hendrick family for another Nationwide season.
At that time, Keselowski probably hoped Martin would do a one-and-done in the No. 5 Chevy and leave it for Brad in 2010. But Martin is staying, enjoying one of the best seasons of his career this year.
The advantage of going to Penske would be taking over a car ranked in the top 35, assuming Stremme stays above that mark (he's 32nd now).
The downside is no one knows if Chrysler will stay in the sport. Whether it does or doesn't, Penske will be racing, so it really doesn't matter.
And this might be a plus. If Penske switched to Chevrolet, the problem of running a Chevy in the Nationwide series is solved.
The other problem for Penske is he needs to find a spot soon for Justin Allgaier, but the Penske brain trust probably wants Allgaier to spend one more season in Nationwide.
Option No. 3: A fourth car at Joe Gibbs Racing
Chances: Way less than 50/50
Team president J.D. Gibbs wants to add a fourth car, but again, it depends on sponsorship. See a pattern here?
If the money's there, driving a Toyota for JGR is a golden opportunity for any racer. In this case, JGR might not want Keselowski. The organization probably would opt for a veteran driver since it's already grooming 19-year-old Joey Logano.
A fourth JGR car won't have any owner's points. Unless Busch or Hamlin wins the title this year, the team won't have a driver who can transfer points to a new car and be safe with a champ's provisional.
Option No. 4: The No. 1 Chevy at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing
Chances: Major long shot
Bass Pro Shops is staying at EGR, which makes this ride appealing. It's also a car that will finish in the top 35 in points.
This move would keep Keselowski in a Chevrolet, but could he really work for Earnhardt in Nationwide and Teresa Earnhardt in Cup?
Don't think so.
Option No. 5: Red Bull Racing
This one also requires a lot of things to change for Keselowski to step in.
First, someone has to get fired, namely Scott Speed. It's been a tough rookie season for Speed, but would Red Bull officials give up on him after one year?
Second, Red Bull probably would need to make the switch from Toyota to Chevrolet and an alliance with Hendrick Motorsports, which is being discussed. In fact, all the issues with this team are being discussed this week in Austria.
Red Bull GM Jay Frye is meeting with team owner Dietrich Mateschitz to finalize the new contract for Brian Vickers, make a decision on manufacturers for 2010 and possibly mull over the merits of hiring Keselowski.
So what can we expect for Keselowski in 2010?
If a sponsor steps up, he'll probably remain in the Hendrick stable. If not, he'll have to move on with another organization.
It's nice to be wanted. What would you do?
Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at email@example.com.
A third car with Stewart-Haas? Take over the No. 12 Penske Dodge? Move up with JR Motorsports? Brad Keselowski -- NASCAR's version of a No. 1 draft pick -- is weighing his options for 2010.