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Brad Keselowski was once on the fast track in the Hendrick Motorsports farm system.
Now he's battling Rick Hendrick's five-time champion Jimmie Johnson for the 2012 Sprint Cup title.
With Nationwide Series team JR Motorsports, a Hendrick Motorsports sister operation owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr., Keselowski finished the 2007 season in the No. 88 Chevrolet. The next two seasons, Keselowski finished third twice in the points standings. In 2009, Keselowski ran a 15-race season in Sprint Cup - splitting his time between Hendrick Motorsports and James Finch's Phoenix Racing.
Five races into Keselowski's Cup career he hit gold with Finch in April 2009, scoring his first Cup win at Talladega Superspeedway.
Unfortunately for Rick Hendrick, this time there really was no room at the inn.
"We didn't have a spot at the time and so that's the way it goes," Hendrick said. "You never look back. I'm happy with what I've got."
While there had been talk of JR Motorsports starting a Cup team, Hendrick said the rules wouldn't allow it. By September 2009, Keselowski had signed with Penske Racing. By November, he was driving a Dodge.
Hendrick has watched Keselowski "mature a ton" since he left the fold. And he believes the nucleus that Roger Penske has built for the No. 2 crew has served Keselowski well.
"He has a heck of a talent," Hendrick said. "I knew that way back when. Again, Roger has put a good team around him. He and Paul Wolfe are extremely good together. So, I'm not surprised they are where they are. He's handled pressure and he's done everything he needs to do to be where he is.
"I remember when Brad came to see me in my office one day. I've never seen a guy more hungry to have an opportunity. Dale (Earnhardt Jr.) gave him an opportunity. I gave him an opportunity and then Roger had an opportunity for him to move into and we didn't at the time. He works hard. He eats, sleeps and drinks that race car. He's awfully sharp on the chassis and that fire he has, he's been able to channel it into being a great race car."
Hendrick spoke with his friend Penske before coming into the media center on Friday. Hendrick reminded him that Keselowski was still "on loan, but he doesn't want to come back now."
"I'm proud of Brad," Hendrick said. "He's done a great job and Roger's a great friend. I'm happy for him."
Although Hendrick reiterated that "timing is everything" Keselowski is definitely one of those drivers that got away.
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