Brad Keselowski has unfortunately been in this position before. That position being a contract year. See, in most other sports, a driver of Keselowski’s caliber usually doesn’t make it around to see the final year of their contract. They typically either have their contracts extended early before they ever make it that far, or at the very least, traded.
Well, you can’t trade drivers in NASCAR and with how contracts are structured in the sport, more and more times you’re going to be in shorter term deals which means you’re going to be put in the contract year position.
Keselowski, was here last year. His contract was up with Team Penske and with Miller Lite not returning mixed with a not very favorable driver market in terms of getting deals done, it took until basically the end of summer before he got a new deal signed to remain at Penske for another season. The thing is, that contract was for just one year.
So, he’s in this position all over again. This time, Keselowski and team owner Roger Penske hope that the deal is completed earlier. The only hold up so far as to why a deal hasn’t been reached yet is because of COVID.
See, Penske likes to do his deals in person. It’s not ideal to do so over the phone or via zoom. There’s a reason this guy is a brilliant mind and a billionaire. So, when the Captain wants to do a contract in person, well you sit down face-to-face.
“We’re in discussion with all of them,” Penske said on Monday about the status of Keselowski, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud’s contracts for 2022. “With COVID we haven’t been able to get together.”
Penske also noted that he and Brad have talked before though and that they’re moving in the right direction.
“There’s no reason we wouldn’t renew for sure,” Penske continued regarding Keselowski’s status. “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.”
Keselowski is the all-time winningest driver at Team Penske with 66 trips to victory lane. He’s had 33 a piece in Cup for Penske as well as Xfinity competition. He won the 2012 championship with them and hasn’t skipped a beat much since.
The Michigan native won four times a year ago with 24 top 10’s in 36 starts. That helped him march all the way to the Championship 4.
So far this season, he’s already amassed three top five results in six races and is looking like a contender for another final round appearance. With Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney already locked in for the future and Austin Cindric racing for the Wood Brothers now in 2022, a return to his seat in the No. 2 Ford would appear certain already. Mix in the fact that his performance hasn’t dipped and you can see why the two sides should work this agreement out whenever they can finally sit down.
The only other hold up moving forward outside of sitting down in person would be the terms of the contract. Last year, Keselowski noted that the pay to play drivers are ruining the market for the seasoned veterans.
As costs to operating a Cup team grow and the sponsorship dollars shrinking, its causing a shift in business models. No longer is just one or even two sponsors needed for an entire Cup season. The days of that are unfortunately long gone. Now, you need to piece the 36 races together by several companies.
When Keselowski came to Penske, he took over a car mainly donned by Miller Lite. Now, there’s several sponsors for Keselowski during the course of a season.
So, in order to sign Keselowski to what he deserves, the team needs high sponsorship dollars.
Hence a big pay cut or an incentive based pay. That hurts drivers like Keselowski who know they are worth millions and know they actually deserve a raise and not a demotion. How can one willingly make $10 million, again just a made up number here, be a championship contender each year and win multiple races in a season, then take a huge pay cut to continue on? Shouldn’t they deserve a raise?
On top of that, the landscape is changing because drivers want top rides still and some are not only saying that they’ll drive for far less, they even bring money via a sponsor too.
That hurts the value of the top end free agents like Keselowski.
“It’s certainly been much different than years previous in my career,” said Keselowski of silly season last year. “Nobody likes it. There’s nobody really winning, I can tell you that. You try to keep perspective.
“I still have a great job. A lot of people don’t have a job at all. I don’t think what they want to do is hear me whine about mine.
“But then again, I do recognize if my contract had fallen differently, I would probably be in a much better place with respect to when it ran out time-wise. It’s part of it.
“The landscape is very strange, not just because of the virus, but I think one of the things that really stands out that’s changed the landscape is the threshold or the bar, so to speak, you have to pass as a driver to be eligible for the Cup Series. It’s been lowered significantly since I’ve been a part of the sport.
“That’s starting to bring a wave of kind of paid drivers, so to speak, drivers that pay for their ride. That really does a lot of damage to the contract market when there’s drivers out there that are willing to pay for your ride, let alone you getting paid. They’re willing to pay to take your ride. That really changes the marketplace pretty dramatically. So that’s been part of it, too.
“But all in all, again, I’m thankful to have a spot in the sport. Hoping it will last for a long time. If it doesn’t, I know I did all I could do.”