The first phase of Roush Fenway Racing’s transition to a new ownership dynamic with Brad Keselowski begins next season. The next phase, which would entail a Keselowski shift from driving to a greater leadership role with the organization, still lacks a fine point on it.
Team owner Jack Roush and Keselowski detailed the framework of their new partnership Tuesday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, with Keselowski becoming a minority owner and driver of the team’s No. 6 Ford. Those roles begin after the 2021 campaign, when Keselowski’s long-running duties with Team Penske end. As for when an ownership torch-handing between the two Michigan natives might occur, neither is ready for their current roles to end any time soon.
“I’ve been asked to say that I’m passing my baton to him, which I am,” Roush said, “but I still have one hand on the thing, so I’m not gonna give up completely for a while.”
In the short term, Roush Fenway is getting a proven winner at the Cup Series level, one who has been reliably counted on for multiple victories each year. Keselowski has been in the Championship 4 field in two of the last four seasons and at age 37, he stands to have several productive years left in his driving career.
Just how many driving years isn’t a finite amount just yet. When Roush spoke in terms of just how long, he invoked the name of fellow Hall of Famer Mark Martin, a bell-cow driver for Roush Racing’s early years who competed in his final Cup Series race at age 54. Following that model would make the ownership transition less of a five-year plan and more like 10 or 15.
“The good Lord willing, right?” said Keselowski, who stood by a Roush No. 6 Ford driven by Martin in 1998 during his Tuesday media session. “There’s some things I control, some things I don’t control with respect to that. If my mind and body are sound to do it, we’re able to make the right moves with the team on and off the track to be competitive, then I’ll go as long I can.”
The future is certain. The exact timing of it, less so. And that’s all OK by Roush Fenway president Steve Newmark.
“It really is fluid, and it makes it easier because he’s an owner from Day 1, right?” Newmark said. “So he’s buying in Day 1 and he drives for us until he retires. As you guys can appreciate, it’s hard to pick, say, for any athlete, ‘you’re going to retire this date’ because you have no idea what’s going to happen the intervening years. As long as he’s still running competitively, competing for wins and championships, he’ll stay in that seat. And it’ll be a collaborative discussion if it looks like he’s ready to transition — for family reasons or otherwise — and when he does that, it’s all set up for him to take a greater and more daily role on the leadership side of the competition group.”
Roush isn’t ready for the full transition to kick in just yet, either. At 79, the venerable team owner remains a popular fixture on pit road and in the garage, with direct oversight of his two-car operation.
Roush has been at it on the NASCAR side of things since forming his Cup Series team in 1988, and his involvement in drag racing and sports-car series predates that. As he expressed interest in the sport’s influx of new owners and the advent of the Next Gen stock car for 2022, Roush said he intends to be ever-present amid the changing landscape.
“There are no retirement plans for me in my immediate future,” Roush said. “I intend to keep going to the race tracks the way I have and to be as much of a nuisance and distraction as I have been to my drivers and crew chiefs in the past. Over a period of time, Brad will earn his independence and he will gain a significant position of ownership in the team.
“One of the things that’s been a challenge for me is to answer the questions I’ve gotten over a period of time — ‘When are you going to retire? What is your succession plan?’ Well, Brad Keselowski and the Next Gen car and the things that we can do together in the near term and the future that we see long-term is my retirement plan, and I just hope I can take lots of green flags and lots of checkered flags before we get there.”