Keselowski out-duels Kyle Busch to win at Martinsville

by Tucker White On Sun, Apr. 02, 2017

Brad Keselowski celebrates victory in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway. Photo: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Brad Keselowski passed Kyle Busch for the race lead in the closing stages to win at Martinsville Speedway.

Busch led the field to the final restart with 64 to go, but Keselowski took the lead the following lap. Busch regained it with 56 to go, and the battle was on. From that lap until 42 to go, Keselowski kept the pressure on the rear bumper of the 18 car, barely leaving room to breathe. He finally got under Busch going into Turn 1, took the lead with 42 to go and drove on to score the victory.

“This is awesome,” Keselowski said in victory lane. “We’ve ran so good here with the Miller Lite Ford, but something always happens and we haven’t been able to bring it home. Martinsville is just one of those champion’s tracks. The guys that run well everywhere run well here, and it’s really just an honor to win here and get to compete here. This track is 70 years old and a lot of legends have won here. It feels great to be able to join them and bring home a clock.”

It’s his 23rd career victory in 275 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series starts.

Busch finished second after leading 274 laps.

“I was just grasping for straws,” Busch said in his post-race media availability. “(Keselowski) was way better than we were at that time. Just wasn’t the same. Our car definitely changed there for the last run of the race, and we just didn’t have what we needed in order to have the speed that we had all the rest of the day. We were able to drive away from the field. We led a lot of laps. We really had no contention there from a lot of people, just passed halfway the rest of the way to the end, and then you put a set of tires on and you lose three‑tenths. That was pretty shameful, but we come home P2. So that’s all we had.”

Chase Elliott, Joey Logano and Austin Dillon round out the top-five finishers.

Kyle Larson led the first 24 laps before Keselowski passed him on the backstretch to take the lead on lap 25. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. spun out in Turn 3 and brought out the first caution of the race on lap 69. Keselowski, and teammate Logano, restarted from the tail end of the field for speeding on pit road, giving the lead to Martin Truex Jr.

He lost the lead to Denny Hamlin on lap 89, regained it on pit road — following a caution that stemmed from Jamie McMurray blowing a heavily-rubbing left-rear tire and spinning into the wall in Turn 3 — and won the first stage.

Busch exited pit road the race leader.

After the restart on lap 141, he lost the lead four laps later to Chase Elliott, then regained it seven laps later (lap 152) passing Elliott in Turn 2.

Unlike the first stage, the second stage was mostly tame and orderly. It changed at the end of the stage when race leader Busch came up on the lapped car of Stenhouse. He made contact with the 17 with three to go in the stage and Stenhouse put his bumper to Busch’s rear in Turn 3. As a result of getting loose, Busch lost the lead to Elliott and Elliott won the second stage.

During the third stage was when the race turned caution-heavy, with 10 of the 14 cautions coming in the final stage. One flew for debris and nine flew for cars spinning and/or wrecking.

Eight of the race’s 18 lead changes took place in the final stage.

The race lasted three hours, 44 minutes and 59 seconds at an average speed of 70.142 mph.

Larson leaves Martinsville with a four-point lead over Elliott.

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