NASCAR & Auto Racing

Opportunity knocks; Keselowski answers

Brad Keselowski was introduced at Lowe's Motor Speedway on Tuesday as “the future of Hendrick Motorsports.”

It's a stark contrast to his job prospects just over a year ago, which were, well …

“Quite honestly, I thought I was dead,” Keselowski said of the months last season before he was picked by Dale Earnhardt Jr. to drive for JR Motorsports' Nationwide Series team. “I was very fortunate.

“I always thought I could make it at this level, but it's about opportunities, about timing. It takes so many things to go right. Most important, it's about being surrounded with the right people – people that believe in you and you believe in them.”

At Hendrick Motorsports, Keselowski will find no shortage of the right people. In the short term, he will remain in Nationwide this season and next.

Keselowski, 24, a native of Rochester Hills, Mich., will also add to his schedule and enter two Sprint Cup Series races for Hendrick Motorsports this season, at Charlotte and Texas. He is testing this week at Lowe's Motor Speedway in preparation for his Oct.11 debut.

“Right now, I feel like I'll be able to look back at this moment 10 years from now and want to remember it for the rest of my life,” he said. “A lot of things have happened in a very short period of time.”

Keselowski debuted with JR Motorsports in the 2007 Nationwide race at Chicagoland Speedway with a 14th-place finish. He earned his first top-10 two weeks later at O'Reilly Raceway Park in Clermont, Ind., and his first top-five this season at the March race at Bristol, Tenn.

He has since made two trips to Victory Lane – June 7 at Nashville and Aug. 22 at Bristol – and is third in series points entering Saturday's race at Kansas Speedway.

Keselowski's meteoric rise in such a short span shows even drivers who aren't fortunate to start their NASCAR careers with the best teams and the best equipment can still be noticed.

“I think my situation gives hope to all young drivers out there who got somewhere and stumbled and fell – that's how I felt my career went – that if you keep your head down and keep fighting, you'll catch a break,” he said.

“You've got to be here, work on it, keep fighting and not give up on it. It's all about making the most of all of your opportunities.”

Team owner Rick Hendrick, no slouch when it comes to evaluating driver talent, said Keselowski has stood out among his peers.

“Watching Brad this year in the Nationwide Series even before he won a race and how competitive he was, the talent he had, everyone in our organization has been blown away by his talent and his feel for the car,” Hendrick said. “We think it's time to give him some seat time in the real deal.”

Hendrick minced no words, repeatedly calling Keselowski the “future of Hendrick Motorsports.” Although he would not commit to a timetable for Keselowski's move to Cup, it appears likely he will move to the team's No.5 Chevrolet – at least part-time – in 2009.

“This is a learning seat-time experience for Brad and our organization. We want to take our time, for him to have some fun, and we look forward to bringing him along,” Hendrick said.