Brad Keselowski became the first repeat winner of the 2017 NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series season Sunday.
Keselowski overcame a pit road speeding penalty and survived a furious battle with Kyle Busch over the final 160 laps to score his first career win at Martinsville Speedway.
The win in the STP 500 was the first for Team Penske since 2004, and the first for Ford at NASCAR’s shortest track since 2002.
“This is awesome,” Keselowski said. “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.”
Busch who led a race high 274 laps had nothing for Keselowski after Keselowski took the lead for the final time on lap 457 and came home second.
“I was just grasping for straws,” Busch said of his final run. “He 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, who won Saturday’s Truck Series race, finished third.
“We’ve got a little work to do, but it was much improved,” Elliott said. “We hopefully have a good direction and we can build on this for the fall. This was an important race and we’d love to have a good run then.”
Joey Logano rallied back from two laps down thanks to a pit road penalty and a flat tire to finish fourth, Austin Dillon was fifth.
“The tire just rubbered-up this race track so much, it was crazy to see how high we were getting,” Logano said “We were pushing the edges of concrete. You’ve never seen that here at Martinsville in a long, long time. The tires were chunking on the race track and rubbering up. It kept it interesting for everyone. It was an eventful Martinsville, like normal. Just a little wider race track and, I’m not going to complain about that.”
Polesitter Kyle Larson led until lap 24, but Keselowski had charge from his fourth-place starting spot and took the lead from Larson on lap 24. He would be in control until pit stops during the races first caution for a spin by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on lap 71. Keselowski was penalized for speeding while his Team Penske teammate Joey Logano was penalized for crewmembers over the wall too soon. Both were sent to the rear of the field.
Martin Truex Jr. led for a time, and won the first stage, but Kyle Busch stayed out during the ensuing pit stops and took the lead. Busch nearly won the second stage but contact with Stenhouse, who was trying to avoid going a lap down, on the final lap of the second stage allowed Elliott to charge by and win the stage.
From that point, Keselowski never lost touch with the front and in the last 160 laps the duel was between Busch and Keselowski for the win. Keselowski took the lead for the final time with 43 laps to go and winning by 1.8 seconds over Busch.
AJ Allmendinger was sixth, Clint Bowyer seventh, followed by Ryan Newman, Matt Kenseth and Stenhouse who rallied back for an impressive 10th place finish.
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series heads to Texas Motor Speedway for next Sunday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 500. Live coverage will be on Fox starting at 1:30 p.m.
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