Keselowski comes up just short in runner-up effort in Atlanta, his thoughts with my essay on his journey

Brad Keselowski is a dreamer. He’s also a big thinker. One that is relentless and won’t stop working until he gets those goals in his head accomplished. That’s why even when some folks called him crazy for leaving an established seat with a storied organization to join a team that hasn’t won a Cup race in 6 years now. It was a task that Keselowski wanted to take on firsthand.

The win by Chris Buescher last Fall in Bristol gave Keselowski confidence that his decision was the right one. Sunday in Atlanta was nearly icing on the cake.

Keselowski qualified his No. 6 Ford in fourth place for Sunday’s Ambetter Health 400. He was up front all day long including leading 2 times for 47 laps. He positioned himself nicely to take over the lead in the final stage to where he led 47 of the final 51 laps.

In fact, when Keselowski took the lead on Lap 231, he’d lead 29 of the last 30 laps. It just wasn’t the final one.

Joey Logano made a veteran move and used drafting help from Christopher Bell to get by Keselowski for the win on the final lap. Keselowski was .193-seconds away from his first win as a driver and team owner in NASCAR’s premiere series.

This would have ended not only his 66 race winless streak, but a 419 race drought for this 6 car too.

“Yeah, the bottom came with a huge run,” Keselowski said of the ending. “I don’t know how. I thought I had it blocked. Joey just kept shaking. His car didn’t stall out. I couldn’t get the push down the back. I thought just get a push down the back. The 20 car just hauled down there.

“But great run all in all for the RFK King’s Hawaiian Ford Mustang. Glad a Ford won. A heck of a battle.

“The coolest thing about this race is two veterans showed you can run a race here side by side, bump-drafting, and not wreck the field. It can happen if you race respectfully. I thought everybody did a great job.

“We were right there. Proud of my team and the effort. Nothing much we could do there at the end.”

Still, Keselowski is holding his head high after being so close to ending two droughts that span years. This team is so much further along now than it was at this time last year. It was this race to which they got penalized a week later for being the first big penalty in his Next Gen era. Now, they’re looking closer and closer to being a weekly contender.

“Yeah, night and day from where we were a year ago. 100%. Keep running like this, the good finishes and the wins will happen,” Keselowski said.

HAMPTON, GEORGIA – MARCH 19: Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Autotrader Ford, and Brad Keselowski, driver of the #6 King’s Hawaiian Ford, lead the field during the NASCAR Cup Series Ambetter Health 400 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 19, 2023 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Keselowski isn’t built on just being complacent. Most people in this world would be okay with their job in winning awards, making lots of money and just staying in their comfort zone. Leaders though? Well they don’t settle. They always stive for more and stive to be the greatest at everything they do.

Winners want to be challenged. They think long-term and not what’s happening in the moment. Keselowski isn’t a person that’s worried about the right now. He’s about leaving a legacy for his name, for his family, for his wife and kids. Sure, he could have won many more races with Team Penske and even taken another championship or two in the process.

But what about a decade from now? Where would he be then?

In the summer of 2021, a Michigan born race car driver bought into an organization owned by a Michigan man. Keselowski came from the same mold as Jack Roush. They just took different paths to come together. Now two Michigan men sharing the same goal with one able to finally bring the other what he’s long been chasing since his team was left for ruin.

At one point, Jack Roush was one of the teams to beat. Then a change over occurred. It was a place to where drivers came to leave. Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth, Jamie McMurray, Kurt Busch, Greg Biffle, all had success with Roush before they each left for new teams.

There was that lull that some wondered when the tidal wave was going to come over. They went from annually competing for championships to just trying to get by.

Keselowski knew what it took to be a successful owner. He groomed several Cup drivers now in his Truck Series team. From Daniel Hemric to Tyler Reddick to Ryan Blaney you name it, they all were groomed under Keselowski’s tutelage.

Running a Truck team became too expensive, so Keselowski had to sell it all off. He turned his focus back to full time Cup Series driving but always had his eye on the future and wanting to get back in the ownership game.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t an option with Team Penske and Keselowski didn’t want to do what Denny Hamlin is doing by racing for one team and owning another. That’s why he signed a one-year deal in 2020 to come back in 2021 but look elsewhere for a driver-owner role in 2022.

Roush made the perfect sense.

They needed help too. Keselowski could bring his talents over as a driver. He can bring what he learned from a Truck Series owner as well as watching Roger Penske every day for the last decade with him for the front office.

Together, two Michigan men with a Michigan run manufacturer (Ford) can take this blue-collar team from the basement to at least the ground level.

So off Kesselowski went. But you have to think that this wasn’t an easy decision still. He is a father. He is a husband. He’s human. He built a name for himself with a top team in NASCAR and he was taking a massive risk by leaving everything that he’s accomplished to build something new.

To do so, challenges were going to lie ahead. He wasn’t going to be home quite as often. He was going to be on the phone more. Those daily routine activities with his wife and kids were going to go by the wayside while he built this thing up.

There’s moments where little kids want their dad but their dads mind may be elsewhere. He may be stuck at the office. Some people have those big dreams and goals but stop short when they realize that it was going to affect family time at home.

Keselowski took the risk. He jumped in anyways.

At Penske, you have the resources to win races weekly and championships annually. Going to Roush Fenway (formerly), an organization that’s last win came in July 2017 at Daytona, it was going to be a challenge ahead.

Heading into 2022, Roush Fenway had 2 victories in the last 252 races. In that span (since 2015), RFR had just 29 top five finishes, 86 top 10’s and 620 laps led since the start of the 2015 season. In that same span, Keselowski had 19 wins, 88 top fives, 148 top 10’s and 5,584 laps led. He had almost as many top five finishes (26) between 2019 and 2020 than RFR has had in the last seven years.

This wasn’t necessarily about making this team competitive again, that’s the easy goal, it was having to completely undo a culture that had settled into RFR and build a new mantra for RFK Racing.

That’s not an easy task. It’s hard to see through good people that may not be great people for this job. There’s some likeable personalities that were already established with that organization that had families, but Keselowski knew that while he liked them, they may not fit his criteria on what it takes to be great.

That’s the hard part of this job that no one realizes. To go from bad to good is one thing, but to go from bad to great is a whole different story.

There’s good people in this world that are okay with being okay. There’s also people in this world that aren’t okay with mediocre. They want greatness. They want to be on top and they’ll do everything in their power in the meantime to get there.

That’s what Keselowski was facing when he walked into the doors of the shop on Day 1. Who’s ready to work? Who’s ready for challenges ahead? Who’s ready for uncomfortable conversations and being put in uncomfortable situations to be great? Remember, there’s people that are with RFK Racing when he started that got content like Keselowski could have been with Penske. He had to see who can get outside of that comfort zone and follow where Keselowski was trying to lead them.

You can quickly tell who is and who isn’t and unfortunately some of the “who isn’t” may be great people personally but may not have what it takes to be at a championship level. So you first have to establish who that is and work with them and weed out the ones who aren’t.

Not everyone is built for greatness. Keselowski is, but he had to find who he can trust to go with him on his journey back to the top. After all, he left comfort to build this and he was going to do it the right way.

When 28 races go by and you’ve not made the playoffs, you’re not winning and you see people that were there a while going out the door and new people coming in, the burden starts to rise. Am I doing this right? Did I get in over my head? Do these people trust what I’m building here?

It’s easy for the ones looking up at Keselowski to say, we’ve done all this but the results aren’t coming. Then the Bristol win hits and you see all that hard work rewarded. It’s gratification that yes, all this was worth it. Yes, I can lead you in the right direction. Yes, this is what it takes to be successful.

With how 2023 has started, it’s more proof that this was the right call..

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