Friday Notebook: Penske says Keselowski has embraced leadership roleOn Sunday at Homestead, Jeff Gordon will make his 689th consecutive start in the Sprint Cup Series, the longest active streak among active drivers and the third longest all-time behind Ricky Rudd (788) and Rusty Wallace (697).
By: By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service, Superior Telegram
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."
THE STREAK SURVIVES
On Sunday at Homestead, Jeff Gordon will make his 689th consecutive start in the Sprint Cup Series, the longest active streak among active drivers and the third longest all-time behind Ricky Rudd (788) and Rusty Wallace (697).
There were some tense moments, however, as Gordon awaited a penalty ruling from NASCAR after Gordon retaliated against Clint Bowyer in last Sunday's Cup race at Phoenix, wrecking himself and Bowyer, as well as Joey Logano and Aric Almirola in the process.
There was sentiment in some quarters for parking Gordon for the season finale at Homestead, but NASCAR chose to levy a $100,000 fine and placed Gordon on probation for the balance of the season.
A suspension would have undone plans by Gordon's sponsor, DuPont, to celebrate 20 years on the No. 24 Chevrolet with a special paint scheme.
"I tried not to think about that," Gordon said Friday at Homestead. "I know the folks at DuPont were worried about it. They put a lot into this paint scheme and planning. This has been out—really we've been talking about this for about 10 weeks, commemorating this moment with this car.
"Until I heard that they were worried about it, I wasn't too concerned about it. I knew there would be fines and penalties, but I felt like I'd be in the seat of that DuPont Chevrolet this weekend."
As it turned out, Gordon was right, and his 689th start will keep him one ahead of Bobby Labonte, who will take the green flag in his 688th straight Cup race on Sunday.
NORTH OF THE BORDER
NASCAR's Camping World Truck Series will venture outside the United States for the first time next year, with the announcement Friday that the series will race Sept. 1, 2013 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Bowmanville, Ontario, Canada.
The race on the 2.459-mile, 10-turn venue is scheduled for the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, the same day as the Sprint Cup night race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
The race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (formerly Mosport Park and Mosport International Raceway) will mark the first time in 13 years that an NCWTS event has been contested on a road course.