The announcement finally came out that Brad Keselowski will officially be joining Roush Fenway Motorsports as a driver/owner. This has been the biggest shock of silly season; at the beginning of the year, everyone thought the idea of Keselowski leaving Penske was a long shot. The idea of ownership is what truly enticed him to leave the team he won a championship with.
What I found admirable about Keselowski during his press conference on Tuesday was how ready for a challenge he was. RFR is three years removed from a win, and not looking too close to getting one this season. They haven’t had a driver like Brad Keselowski since Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards had left, so the potential for an uptick in performance is likely.
Keselowski is a former champion currently in his prime and on the hunt for a second championship this season. His making this jump over to significantly lesser equipment makes you question if this season is his last chance at a championship. The fact of the matter is, rebuilding RFR probably won’t be an overnight thing.
During the press conference, Keselowski himself made a comparison to Tony Stewart taking over Haas and turning it around quickly. The big difference is that Keselowski’s role in the team seems to be to a lesser extent than what Stewart’s was. Stewart also had key sponsors attach themselves to him, and had major backing from Chevy.
This situation is different because Keselowski is buying a minority stake in the team, it’s not even confirmed if his name will be attached to the team. Keselowski brings no sponsorship. He is funded by Penske affiliate sponsorships weekly and brings no direct funding to the team. Ford also already brings a lot of funding to the table for RFR, so I don’t see Keselowski’s involvement mattering to Ford.
While Keselowski is sure to bring some resources, I’m not sold on this being a championship-contending team in a few years. The road is going to be a lot longer, and the great thing is that Keselowski seems prepared and excited for that challenge. He seems content with where his career is and if he didn’t contend for another championship, he’d be disappointed but seems willing to take that risk.
Realistically, I think you will see RFR take a step up in competition, but probably get on the level of Chip Ganassi Racing this current season. A team that will contend for race wins and a playoff spot, but still too inconsistent to think about a championship. With a driver to the pedigree of Keselowski, it won’t be a ten-year rebuild, but at least five seasons before we see an RFR car in the final four.
The biggest key is going to be if RFR can rebuild while Keselowski is still in his prime. Every driver is different, some start to fall off around Keselowski’s age (this clearly isn’t his case), some fall off around 40, and some are still competitive until 45 like Kevin Harvick. So, realistically we could see almost ten more years of championship-caliber Keselowski which would be ideal for RFR.
Either way, I’m happy for Brad. I think him being able to guarantee a life in NASCAR past racing was his major concern. Now he has a goal beyond driving, and I think it’s clear that is just as important to him.