Brad Keselowski’s decision on where to drive in the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season has affected far more than his own future.
News broke in May that Team Penske NASCAR Cup Series driver Brad Keselowski had been offered a deal to not only drive for Roush Fenway Racing but serve as a co-owner of what would be coming RFK (Roush-Fenway-Keselowski) Racing for the 2022 season.
The consensus was that this is a move which the 2012 champion would end up confirming some time later this year, and multiple sources indicated that it is was already effectively a done deal.
Keselowski, who has only ever driven for Team Penske as a full-time driver in the Cup Series, is believed to be in line to take over behind the wheel of the #6 Ford for the team. He is also setting himself up for a future in Cup Series ownership, something that he has never been shy about wanting.
It is certainly a blockbuster move for the 35-time race winner. But it will also have/has already had other major knock-on effects throughout the garage.
Three drivers are directly implicated by the 37-year-old Rochester Hills, Michigan native’s situation. First and foremost is Ryan Newman, the current driver of the #6 Ford. Newman could easily opt to hang up his helmet after the 2021 season, and nobody would blame him.
If he opts to sign a new contract, however, it could be with one of multiple teams. Would he drive a third car for Roush Fenway Racing? Would he move to a team such as Trackhouse Racing Team, which acquired Chip Ganassi Racing and are looking to add a driver to pair with Daniel Suarez? What’s next for him?
Chris Buescher, who drives Roush Fenway Racing’s #17 Ford, is not under contract for 2022, but he is seen as a long-term option and likely isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, especially given how solid he has been through the first 22 races of the 2021 season.
And then there is Matt DiBenedetto, who again finds himself in a precarious situation. It was announced last October that DiBenedetto wouldn’t be back with Wood Brothers Racing behind the wheel of the #21 Ford for the 2022 season. But that “confirmation” wasn’t really official.
Due to Wood Brothers Racing’s technical alliance with Team Penske, Austin Cindric had been slated to drive the #21 Ford in 2022 as DiBenedetto’s replacement.
But with the #2 Ford vacated upon the departure of Keselowski, Cindric has instead been promoted straight to Roger Penske’s team, given the fact that he has competed part-time at the Cup level this year and the fact that he already has an Xfinity Series championship to his name.
So DiBenedetto will obviously not be given the best opportunity of his career as Keselowski’s replacement.
Yet even with Cindric moving to Team Penske, DiBenedetto won’t be back in the #21 Ford next year, as Harrison Burton has been announced as his replacement.
We always knew that Cindric would be staying in the Team Penske fold; we just didn’t know how, exactly, that would unfold for 2022.
This whole situation with Keselowski has played a key role in determining that, and it has made DiBenedetto’s future even more interesting. His future was always going to be up in the air, but who expected this?
With Keselowski out, Team Penske are clearly building toward the future, and DiBenedetto was evidently not a part of that vision, unless he ends up competing for the team in the Xfinity Series as Cindric’s replacement. Along with the 22-year-old Cindric, both the 31-year-old Joey Logano and the 27-year-old Ryan Blaney are under contract in the Cup Series for several more years.
With Keselowski set to officially announce his move to Roush Fenway Racing later today, where will Newman end up? And what does DiBenedetto’s future hold with Cindric and Burton set to take the two rides he had been linked to for 2022?