Brad Keselowski sparked the ire of Rick Hendrick and Joe Gibbs on Friday.
When a story appeared on USAToday.com with accusations from the Sprint Cup champion of “stealing away” employees and technical data from his Penske Racing team and Roush Fenway Racing, the two owners fired back.
While Keselowski addressed Ford’s sluggish start to the season he told reporters specifically, “Gibbs stole the Roush aero director and took all the information and Hendricks took three employees from our Chase-winning team last year."
“Roger Penske and I are great friends and have raced together for years,” said Rick Hendrick in a release. “We’ve always competed with the utmost respect, and I have immense admiration for his organization. You won’t find anyone at Hendrick Motorsports who feels differently.
“The comments Brad reportedly made were misinformed. The truth is that we hired one tire changer, who was a backup for Penske and whose contract was up. We also brought over one mechanic from their Nationwide program and, when the Penske engine shop was closing, added a few of those people. What Brad left out was that his organization also hired one of our tire changers.”
Hendrick added that the acquisitions were “aboveboard” and commonplace “in a competitive environment.”
Gibbs echoed Hendrick’s sentiments.
“We were surprised to read the recent comments and accusations made by Brad Keselowski,” Gibbs said in a statement. “Clearly those comments are misguided and irresponsible. Brad’s candor is well documented, but he would do well to only speak to subjects on which he is properly informed.
“Obviously NASCAR is a very competitive environment and we take our hiring processes seriously at JGR. The individual he referenced in his comments was working outside of the sport of NASCAR at the time we hired him.”
The engineer Keselowski mentioned is Vojin Jaksic, who quit Roush Fenway Racing and waited out his contract before he went to JGR. While fellow Ford racer Greg Biffle feels that Jaksic’s departure “maybe set us back” and possibly “helped the competition” there is more to their issues than the loss of one individual.
“We don’t like to see that,” Biffle said. “We don’t necessarily do that ourselves, which I’ve been vocal about that in the past. We could go hire one of the best guys from somebody else. It’s a free market, right?”
Although Gibbs added he still has “a great deal of respect” for Keselowski’s owner Roger Penske and Penske Racing. As for Keselowski?
“We look forward to competing with Brad on the racetrack,” Gibbs said. “But hope that he will use better judgment in the future before making such misinformed claims and accusations.”
Keselowski, 29, is currently ninth in the point standings but he has yet to win this season. On Friday, Keselowski backed off his comments a bit before qualifying 16th at Michigan International Speedway. When asked about hiring practices, he simply replied, “We were just talking about Ford and specifically the relationship between Penske and Roush, and how strong it was, and I just commented on there will always be limitations to our relationships company to company because of those transactions.”
Although Keselowski was once under Hendrick Motorsports employ, he’s likey off of Mr. H’s Christmas card list as well.
“Brad misrepresents the facts and spends a lot of time making insinuations and accusations about other teams when he should be focused on his own program and competing at a high level,” Hendrick said. “I hope he figures that out and begins representing himself and the sport with more class.”