FOX Sports Exclusive
Penske, Keselowski past comments
Roger Penske is content to let his alpha driver “just be Brad Keselowski.”
Keselowski drew a rash of criticism this week from two of NASCAR Sprint Cup’s powerhouse owners after he accused Rick Hendrick and Joe Gibbs of poaching a Roush Fenway Racing engineer and crewmen from Penske Racing. Penske said he didn’t reprimand his driver before Sunday’s Quicken Loans 400 for the comments made Thursday during a visit to Ford facilities.
“I basically said, ‘There was a lot of noise about your meeting at Ford,'” Penske said. “And that’s about what it was. I sort of didn’t take him into the principal’s office and have a conversation with him at all. I said, 'Let’s go race.'
“He’s a great driver. He won the championship for us last year. I fully support him and there’s always going to be something, whether it’s your driver, your kid or something’s going to happen where people will think (it) may be odd or maybe misfortunate or something that isn’t what you think.”
Certainly, Keselowski is frustrated. After moving to a new manufacturer this season, the defending champion is winless 14 races into the season. Keselowski has come under fire several times this season for his comments.
“I fully support him,” Penske said. “This situation is way out of context. Hendrick and Gibbs are good friends of mine. We deal in the marketplace. We build our people. The downsizing of the engine company and the downsizing from Dodge to Ford, obviously people moved on. I don’t feel that at this point anything he said was out of line. Maybe Brad saw some of these people leaving and the question he was asked probably provoked an answer that maybe he might not have said after all the mess.”
Penske said he was not aware of comments in which Keselowski implied that Hendrick and Gibbs had more resources and were, therefore, able to outbid a smaller championship team such as Penske Racing for top personnel. Penske added that he had “no issues” with either Gibbs or Hendrick’s hiring practices. He feels Penske Racing is competing on a level playing field.
On Sunday, Hendrick said he had talked to Penske by phone on Friday night but had not yet spoken to his former driver Keselowski. He was surprised by the driver’s tone considering that it was Hendrick who provided Keselowski with his first Sprint Cup ride and the car that allowed him to race when he earned his first series win at Talladega.
“I don’t know where all that came from,” Hendrick said. “It’s unfortunate. It’s really no big deal other than I wanted to get the facts out there because 'poaching' is a pretty big word.
“I didn’t try to call (Brad). He didn’t try to call me. There’s really no need for that. It’s just trying to get the facts straight. Normally, I just don’t even respond to stuff like that but this time it was just a little bit out there. To be blaming somebody for your shortcomings is pretty remarkable to me.
"It's good to speak your mind. It's good to have an opinion — absolutely nothing wrong with that. It's just when you speak and you accuse people of something, you need to be accurate."
Penske said that after his organization downsized the engine shop and went from three Cup teams to two, "people moved on to other teams.
"I think Brad saw some of those people leaving and maybe felt that they were being targeted. I don't think that was the case at all. Basically, I think those are the facts and people were moving in and out. I have no issue at all (with Gibbs and Hendrick). I think it's been blown way out of proportion. Now, it's either my car or my driver that I've had to deal with over the past several weeks."
While Keselowski might have been misinformed before making his comments, that hasn’t stopped Penske from supporting his 29-year-old driver.
“We’re a good race team,” Penske said. “We’ve always supported our employees. Our style is to build our people just like we built him — whether it’s a mechanic, a driver, a car chief or a chief mechanic. To me, this is more about the sport. It’s a hot topic this week, but I’m moving on to the race. I support him.
“I will continue to support him as a driver. He’s done a great job. Look, I want these guys to be themselves. As far as I’m concerned if people take his comment the wrong way, I can’t put my head on everybody’s shoulder to make them say something else. I think he’s a high integrity guy. He’s a great driver and believe me, we all say things from time to time that we wish we wouldn’t have.”
In terms of competition, Penske did find positives from an all-hands meeting involving the teams at Ford before the weekend’s race activities. Although Penske is the defending championship owner, neither of his drivers — Keselowski or Joey Logano — has visited Victory Lane this season.
“We made great progress,” Penske said. “We checked the boxes of where we were. I think Jack (Roush) and I are on the same page — our people are. We’re a new organization (with Ford), we’re both separate but coming together, it doesn’t happen overnight. I think there’s been a lot gained and we’ll see a lot more.
“I’m a business man, Jack’s a business man. I think we understand that. We see the benefits of the Chevrolet people working together, the Toyota people and we have to play the same game. We’ve all got to do better.”
More Stories From Lee Spencer