There’s domination, then there’s the show Brad Keselowski staged at Martinsville Speedway. Keselowski was “Penske Perfect” leading 446 of the 500 laps Sunday at NASCAR’s shortest track to score his second win of the season.
The Penske driver took the lead on lap 6 after starting third and never looked back beating Chase Elliott to the line by .594 of a second for the 29th win of his career and earning him his second grandfather clock at Martinsville. While his lead was up to just over a second at one point no one seemed to have much for Keselowski as he won both stages in route to the victory.
“The car was really good,” Keselowski said. “This Ford Mustang, Ford worked really hard in the off‑season to build these cars and make them real strong, and so far, so good.”
The only driver who came close was Chase Elliott. Elliott led 49 laps, but once Keselowski got by during pit stops on lap 371 had nothing for Keselowski and had to settle for second. Elliott later admitted he may have beaten himself.
“I felt like we were about as even with him as we could be,” Elliott said. “There was a little ‑‑ I felt like when he did get the lead, there was a little advantage to being out front, being able to work traffic your way and kind of play off it and whatnot.”
Elliott said he tried a slightly different line in the final laps but came up just short.
“I don’t know if I could have got to him,” Elliott said. “Maybe if I moved up a little sooner maybe. But I tried to get to him there in 3. I was pretty well content on moving him out of the way. But maybe next time.”
Much of the success for Keselowski came in the pits. Over the course of six pit stops his Penske crew was flawless. Crew chief Paul Wolfe ordered only small changes to the car early in the race, then left it alone.
“As the temps are cooling off, the track was losing its rubber, and we were just losing grip,” Keselowski said. “We weren’t as good as we needed to be there, and so Paul was working on it to do the best we can, and that’s what this team does, they never give up, and I’m really, really proud of them.”
Kyle Busch started 14th and fought his way forward putting himself in contention late in the race and coming home third.
“Fast pit stops got us a lot of track position today,” Busch said. “It was hard to pass, besides rooting a guy off the bottom, and even when you tried to do that, they just cut your nose off and you lose a spot.
“But overall, just we fought hard for today’s finish. Not a finish that we wanted to get. Thought we had a chance to win actually but could have been a whole lot worse.”
Ryan Blaney was fourth followed by Denny Hamlin who rallied back from a pit road uncontrolled tire penalty to finish fifth.
“He put it on them today,” Blaney said of his teammate Keselowski. “It looked like from the drop of the green flag he was great. Him and the 9 looked like they had some really good racing going on for a while. They swapped back and forth, so that was good for him. He’s great here. He’s proven to be one of the best guys out here. They were on it all day.
“He was better than me short run and I was a little bit better after 50 laps, but it didn’t come down to that. It’s nice for him to get the Penske group another win and get Ford back to Victory Lane.”
Kevin Harvick was sixth followed by last year’s Martinsville winner Clint Bowyer who was penalized for speeding on pit road twice and fought back to finish seventh. Martin Truex Jr., Aric Almirola and Daniel Suarez rounded out the top 10.
Polesitter Joey Logano never had the speed to repeat his win here last fall and finished 19th.
For Keselowski, the short time he wasn’t in the lead he was learning while riding in second.
“Well, I ain’t gonna tell you what I did learn,” Keselowski said smiling. “But I’ll tell you who I learned it from: Mark Martin. He used to be the best at that, and I follow him too much on Twitter. So I give Mark a lot of credit.
“But Chase I think was just a little bit faster than us all race long, at least on the short run, and when it came down to it, not a super short run but kind of I would say a half a run or at best at the end, and I knew I had to be a little bit better to beat him. He was certainly faster on that short run, and when he passed me I learned just enough, and the pit crew got me back in front of him on the next‑to‑last pit stop, and I seemed to kind of apply the lessons.”
The series heads to Texas Motor Speedway next Sunday for the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500.
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Race Results STP 500
Sunday, March 24, 2019
1. (3) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 500.
2. (7) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 500.
3. (13) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 500.
4. (17) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 500.
5. (5) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 500.
6. (4) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 500.
7. (10) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 500.
8. (8) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 500.
9. (2) Aric Almirola, Ford, 500.
10. (9) Daniel Suarez, Ford, 500.
11. (29) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 500.
12. (19) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 500.
13. (22) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 500.
14. (16) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 500.
15. (14) Paul Menard, Ford, 500.
16. (15) Ryan Preece #, Chevrolet, 500.
17. (26) Bubba Wallace, Chevrolet, 500.
18. (6) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 500.
19. (1) Joey Logano, Ford, 500.
20. (21) Matt DiBenedetto, Toyota, 500.
21. (12) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 499.
22. (34) William Byron, Chevrolet, 499.
23. (20) Ryan Newman, Ford, 499.
24. (11) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 498.
25. (24) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, 498.
26. (25) David Ragan, Ford, 496.
27. (28) Daniel Hemric #, Chevrolet, 496.
28. (27) Landon Cassill, Chevrolet, 494.
29. (31) Matt Tifft #, Ford, 494.
30. (18) Erik Jones, Toyota, 491.
31. (23) Michael McDowell, Ford, 491.
32. (35) DJ Kennington(i), Chevrolet, 489.
33. (32) Corey LaJoie, Ford, 489.
34. (30) Ross Chastain(i), Chevrolet, Engine, 365.
35. (36) Jeb Burton(i), Chevrolet, Brakes, 163.
36. (33) Cody Ware #, Chevrolet, Brakes, 55.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 78.158 mph.
Time of Race: 3 Hrs, 21 Mins, 54 Secs. Margin of Victory: .594 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 7 for 56 laps.
Lead Changes: 4 among 3 drivers.
Lap Leaders: J. Logano 1-5;B. Keselowski 6-324;C. Elliott 325-373;B. Keselowski 374-500.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): Brad Keselowski 2 times for 446 laps; Chase Elliott 1 time for 49 laps; Joey Logano 1 time for 5 laps.
Stage #1 Top Ten: 2,9,10,11,12,14,22,19,18,3
Stage #2 Top Ten: 2,12,11,9,19,10,4,14,41,22