Team Penske driver Brad Keselowski raced to Victory Lane on Sunday, posting his sixth career win at Talladega Superspeedway. The win locked him into the NASCAR playoffs for the time being and set him up to chase the second championship of his career. It also created questions about his free-agent future.
Keselowski entered the 2021 season as a pending free agent after inking a one-year extension in August 2020. The deal kept him in the driver’s seat of the No. 2 Ford Mustang and provided extra time for negotiations to take place. However, he remains a top target for several teams considering his 11 straight seasons with at least one win, as well as his championship in 2012.
Keselowski, 37, is older than other pending free agents, such as Alex Bowman, but he still has several years of prime production ahead of him. Stewart-Haas’ Kevin Harvick showed that drivers can still win over the age of 40, making nine trips to Victory Lane in 2020 at the age of 44.
Keselowski nearly tested the free agency waters prior to COVID-19
According to Autoweek, the Team Penske driver entered the 2020 season on a one-year deal. He had the option to test free agency after reaching the Final Four once again, but the pandemic changed any potential plans. He signed a one-year extension with Team Penske.
While Keselowski has remained quiet about his contract status other than saying that it’s not prudent to negotiate through the media, team owner Roger Penske has taken a different approach. He publicly expressed a desire to keep Keselowski in the No. 2 Ford Mustang as NASCAR transitions to the next gen car in 2022.
“We’re in discussion with all of [the Team Penske drivers],” Penske said in March. “I think that with COVID, we haven’t been able to get together, but we’ve had conversations with Brad before. I think that we’re moving in the right direction. There’s no reason we wouldn’t renew, for sure. I mean, I guess it’s just a matter of us sitting down and putting it together, but with everybody not being able to move around, you don’t do that over the phone and you don’t do it by Zoom, so we want to do that face-to-face with all of them.”
While Keselowski started his Cup Series career with limited races in a Chevrolet, he moved over to a Team Penske Dodge for his full-time race car. Hendrick Motorsports did not have a Chevrolet available for the rising star, but Penske had a spot. Keselowski joined the team for the first of 12 seasons, later transitioning to a Ford Mustang.
Multiple teams may be in the market for drivers
Penske publicly stated that there was no reason to not renew with Keselowski, but there may be other teams in contention for the driver’s services. The free-agent list includes multiple veterans and youngsters alike, including two who may opt to retire instead of transitioning to a new car.
For example, Alex Bowman is a pending free agent after agreeing to a contract extension with Hendrick Motorsports. He moved to the No. 48 Chevrolet after seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson retired and took the stock car back to Victory Lane. However, the No. 48 does not have a confirmed driver just yet.
Two other potential options are Aric Almirola’s No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford Mustang and Kurt Busch’s No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet Camaro. Busch is competing in his 22nd Cup Series season and remains competitive despite mechanical issues disrupting several races. Though he released a video prior to the Daytona 500 hinting at retirement.
One unique option for Keselowski is a seat that does not yet exist. Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin and NBA Hall of Famer Michael Jordan created 23XI Racing for the 2021 season, adding a new Toyota car to the mix. The duo picked Bubba Wallace to be the sole driver for the first year, but Hamlin has since talked about expanding as soon as they can find a sponsor, a crew chief, and a driver for the second ride.
“We are trying to be the team that Toyota feels like they have a place for their young guys to go,” Hamlin said, per Forbes. “Or maybe we go after an established veteran who’s got a great résumé.” Keselowski is a proven veteran with 35 career Cup wins to his name, so he would fit Hamlin’s description.
While questions continue to circulate about Keselowski’s future, he will move forward in the Cup Series season after winning the Geico 500. The next challenge will be the Buschy McBusch Race 400 at Kansas Speedway. The race will take place at 3 p.m. ET with Fox Sports 1 providing coverage.