HAMPTON, Ga. – If you were stunned by Stewart-Haas Racing’s decision to Ford Performance in 2017, you’re in good company – one of the manufacturer’s most recognizable stars had no idea, either.
“I was kind of blown out of the water because it’s such a big move,” Brad Keselowski said Friday after qualifying 18th at Atlanta Motor Speedway. “I’ve got to be honest, I didn’t see that one coming. Maybe my first thought was, and I texted (Ford Performance global director) Dave Pericak this, is ‘ballsy.’ I thought it was a ballsy move.
“To go after a team that has had the success that they’ve had over the last three to four years at Stewart-Haas Racing, you better bring your cojones to the table. To pull it off is even that much more.”
Stewart-Haas Racing co-owner Tony Stewart said Wednesday that the move had been in the works for six months, but Keselowski said he didn’t learn until Tuesday night and had no inkling beforehand.
Though it’ll provide some stiff in-house competition for his Team Penske (the only Ford team to qualify for the 2015 playoffs), Keselowski views it as a positive for NASCAR.
“I haven’t really put together all my emotions or thoughts on it, but I think the strongest one at this point is it’s good for the garage whenever the manufacturers are more involved,” the 2012 Sprint Cup champion said. “There’s really only two needles in this sport that you can move that have the ability to lift the tides of all ships: That’s a stronger, more connected fan base, and OEMs (original equipment manufacturers, commonly used to describe the manufactures in racing).
“Fans, because of course if we have bigger attendance, higher TV ratings, it just drives their value, and OEMs because anytime an OEM strengthens their commitment, it forces the others to review theirs, and more than 90%, I’d say, of the time, they raise their allocations. So in that sense, it’s always a good thing when an OEM gets deeper into the sport, whether it be with a team, more activation, name whatever metric you want. So I guess probably my predominant thought at the moment, subject to change, is that an OEM further engaged in the sport is a great thing.”
Though next season will mark the first time Penske has competed against a four-car team under the Ford banner, Keselowski doesn’t envision it being a major change for the drivers..
“I don’t think it’s a big deal for me,” he said. “I think it’s a huge deal for the executives at Penske. Trying to define that relationship to the advantage of all. But for me, at this point, I don’t see it as a big deal.”
And would Brad Keselowski Racing build a truck for Kevin Harvick?
“Absolutely,” Keselowski said with a laugh. “Absolutely. I wouldn’t bat an eye.”