HOMESTEAD, Fla.—When Brad Keselowski signed on with Penske Racing, he was a follower, not a leader.
Kurt Busch was the No. 1 driver in the Penske camp and remained so for Keselowski’s first two seasons of full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup racing. But Busch’s abrupt departure, after a vitriolic tirade against an ESPN camera crew a year ago at Homestead-Miami Speedway, left a leadership vacuum Keselowski was eager to fill.
“Well, obviously, (Busch’s) departure, we hadn’t planned on that,” team owner Roger Penske said Friday during a question-and-answer session in the Homestead media center. “But as things worked out, it happened, and when it did, I sat down with Brad and said, ‘You’re going to have to be the leader on this team.’
“He said to me many times when he was racing with Kurt, he said, ‘I’ve got to get better so I can help Kurt,’—interesting when you think about it. He said that to me not once but many times. Once Kurt left, and he stepped into the leadership position, he’s just taken it over.”
Penske said Keselowski communicates with him every day, usually by text.
“I’d have to say that Brad has not only pushed me as an individual, he’s pushed the team in a positive direction, and he’s delivering,” said Penske, who will claim his first Cup championship as an owner if Keselowski can make a 20-point lead over Jimmie Johnson stand up in Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400.
“It’s one thing when someone is pushing you and they don’t deliver, but he seems to be able to give us that extra push but deliver on race weekends—and that’s what we’re expecting him to do this weekend.”