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2021 season in review: Brad Keselowski

Editor’s Note: This continues the series of season reviews for the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs drivers.

Driver: Brad Keselowski
Car:
No. 2 Team Penske Ford Mustang
Crew chief: Jeremy Bullins
Final 2021 ranking: 6th
Key stats: 1 win, 10 top fives, 17 top 10s, 331 laps led

How 2021 ended:
Keselowski had his worst season statistically since 2015, earning just one win in his 12th and final season with Team Penske. One of the few bright spots: He made the playoffs for the eighth straight year and 10th time in the last 12 seasons (missing out in 2010, his first season with the organization, and again in 2013).

His overall wins and top fives were his fewest since 2015, and his top 10s were the least since 2013.

Best race:
Keselowski’s best race also proved to be his only win of the season — his spring triumph at Talladega Superspeedway. He didn’t dominate the event, but he wisely stayed near the front throughout the race, and that would prove to be key.

It wasn’t so much what he did to win the race, it was how he did it, capturing the victory by leading just one lap. That’s right, he led just the final lap to capture the GEICO 500, beating William Byron by a mere 0.102 seconds. The 2021 Daytona 500 winner, Michael McDowell, was third, followed by Kevin Harvick and Matt DiBenedetto.

Additional highlights:
The biggest news for Keselowski came off the track on July 20 when he announced he would be leaving Team Penske at season’s end to join Roush Fenway Racing (since renamed Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing) for the 2022 season.

The deal includes securing an equity ownership interest in the team that will eventually grow Keselowski’s share over time. To his credit, Keselowski didn’t coast after the announcement was made, something other drivers could have done. He remained competitive throughout the remainder of the season and left Team Penske on the best of terms.

Stat to know:
Without question, Keselowski did what he does best at his best track, namely, Talladega. He won the spring race there, leading just that one final lap to earn his sixth career win at NASCAR’s largest superspeedway, making him the winningest active driver on the biggest race track in the sport.

Then he almost doubled up and came super close to winning the fall playoff race, barely missing the win and settling for a second-place finish (under caution). Talladega is definitely a super special place for Keselowski — the next-winningest tracks for him are just three wins each at Bristol Motor Speedway, Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Kentucky Speedway.

Quotable:
“That passion that started this team is the DNA that will live on to me forever and that we aim to have. So, it’s with that DNA that we’re reinvigorating and trying to find that next step and making the commitment to the future because we believe – and I believe in the future of NASCAR – and so there’s a heavy emphasis on where we’re going. We’re excited to get racing and prove our worth on the race track.” – Keselowski on becoming part-owner of Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing (also known as just RFK Racing).

RELATED: 2021 Cup Series schedule | See Keselowski’s 35 premier series wins

Looking ahead:
Keselowski will replace fellow veteran driver Ryan Newman in the No. 6 Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing Ford in the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season. As of this writing, Newman’s plans for 2022 remain uncertain. RFKR has admittedly struggled in the last few years. In fact, it has qualified just two drivers in the playoffs in the last seven years: Newman in 2019 (finished 15th) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in 2017 (finished 13th).

Keselowski can be very demanding of his car and team as a driver, and now as a part-owner, he’s likely going to be even more so. At the same time, however, not only will there be more pressure on him, he may be exactly the type of leader RFKR needs going forward. Longtime owner Jack Roush is pushing 80 years old with plenty of glory in the days behind him. Time will tell, of course, but if the organization is willing to spend money in the offseason to hire some significant pit-crew members and talented engineers back at the shop, Keselowski has the driver talent to at least qualify for the playoffs. Anything after that will be a bonus in his first year removed from the strong Team Penske camp.