Keselowski takes STP 500 for 2nd win of season
MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Brad Keselowski became the first multi-race winner of the 2017 NASCAR Cup season on Sunday with his victory in the STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway, adding to his win at Atlanta Motor Speedway on March 5.
"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."
He also posted his fifth consecutive top-five finish, with his 27th-place result in the Daytona 500 at the start of the season remaining his only finish outside the top five.
"I'm really proud," Keselowski said. "You hear it all the time about the 'boys back at the shop,' but Team Penske has put so much effort in these Martinsville cars the last three or four years, because we knew it was one of our weakest tracks, and finally, we got the result they deserve. Thank you, guys, so much. And thank you to the fans. There's a lot more people these last two weeks wearing 2 gear, and it's really cool to see. I'd like to say 'thank you' to them that are watching and home and in the stands. It's an amazing day."
Kyle Busch took runner-up honors after leading more than half the race distance.
After Busch dominated the second stage of the race and continued to run up front in the third stage, he and Keselowski battled for the lead after a restart following a lap-431 caution. The two traded the lead back-and-forth multiple times before Keselowski took command of the race by lap 460 of the 500-lap event and began to pull away.
"Just needed a normal set of tires," Busch said. "We put on a set of tires there at the end that weren't the same as the ones that we took off, and it just slowed the car down a minimum 0.3 that whole entire last run. We just had no speed in the center of the corner and couldn't maintain the drive off that we needed to on the long runs, either. We just were hurting it really, really bad, there.
"Adam (Stevens, crew chief) and everybody on this team did a great job giving me a car capable of winning. It's just frustrating when you come down pit road and you don't make any changes and you bolt a set of tires on it and it goes to junk. I hate that happened. We still haven't finished where we should have this year. We haven't gotten any finishes that are indicative of where this team's been running or where we're capable of running or finishing, and that's just frustrating, so we'll continue on."
Chase Elliott finished third. Keselowski's Team Penske teammate, Joey Logano, drove from the back to the front of the field twice to finish fourth after being two laps down at one point in the race, giving car owner Roger Penske two top-fives in his 1000th NASCAR Cup Series race.
Austin Dillon rounded out the top five.
"It's really big for our team and for everybody at Dow and Okuma," Dillon said. "Our pit crew did a really good job today. We had a fast car on restarts and could really take off. The middle of the run was shaky for us, but that last run we held on, which was really nice. That's why I was worried about on older tires, there, but it worked out for us."
The yellow flag waved 14 times during the race, with nine of those cautions coming after the restart at the beginning of the third and final stage of the race. The 13th caution, coming out with 80 laps to go, was for an eight-car incident involving Denny Hamlin, Danica Patrick, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Aric Almirola, AJ Allmendinger, Trevor Bayne, Ty Dillon and Paul Menard.
"They just stopped, and I couldn't," Earnhardt said. "I got into the back of the No. 5 (Kasey Kahne). His bumper knocked the top of the radiator off of it; knocked the fitting off the top of the radiator. We don't have much of a bumper on there to begin with, keeping the cars as light as we can, and that is about the second or third time I've knocked the top off the radiator here. I wish they were a little tougher than that, so we could beat and bang and keep going."
Martin Truex Jr. and Elliott were winners in the first two 130-lap stages of the race, with Truex taking the stage win and Elliott winning stage two.
Busch led most of the second stage after staying out during the caution that separated the first two stages. But Ricky Stenhouse Jr. made contact with Busch on the final lap of stage two in an attempt to stay on the lead lap. Stenhouse managed to finish the stage on the lead lap, but the move cost Busch the lead. Elliott was able to get by to take the green and white checkered flag to take the stage win, while Busch was relegated to second.
Busch retook the lead from Elliott on the restart at the beginning of the final stage, but his car still had a significant tire rub from the Stenhouse contact. Despite the rub, Busch stayed out when the yellow waved again for debris a few laps later and was able to maintain his lead.
While the second stage ran caution free, aside from the scheduled yellow flag at the start of the stage that, actually, signaled the end of stage one. But the yellow flag waved three times in the opening stage, all in the second half of the stage.
After Kyle Larson started on the pole and led the first 23 laps of the race, Keselowski took the lead, and about 20 laps later, his Team Penske teammate, Joey Logano, moved into second. The two teammates got off pit road first and second during the first caution on lap 70, but both were assessed pit-road penalties, Keselowski for speeding and Logano for having a pit crew member over the pit wall too soon, that sent them outside the top-20.
Keselowski and Logano both drove back toward the front and were battling for third on lap 233 when contact between them cut one of Logano's tire, forcing him to pit road for an unscheduled stop. He got back on the lead lap by getting the free pass during a lap 309 caution.
The late-stage cautions in the first stage resulted in varying pit strategies. Truex was the race leader when the yellow flag waved for the second time on lap 107. He, along with Jimmie Johnson, Keselowski and Dillon stayed out to restart in the top-four. After staying out during that caution, though, they pitted while others stayed out during the caution at the end of the stage.
Most of the race field got back on the same pit strategy when the second stage ran caution-free.
NOTES: Chase Elliott won the NASCAR Truck Series race at Martinsville Speedway on Saturday after being one of only three race leaders. ... Kyle Larson's pole at Martinsville came as a result of being the points leader, since rain forced the cancellation of pole qualifying. It was Larson's second-consecutive pole start. ... Kevin Harvick was without crew chief Rodney Childers. Childers was suspended by NASCAR when the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford failed post-race inspection at Phoenix International Raceway, two races ago. The suspension originally was deferred because the team appealed, but SHR dropped that appeal prior to the Martinsville race. ... Brad Keselowski was reunited with crew chief Paul Wolfe. Wolfe, like Childers, was suspended after Phoenix. Wolfe served the first week of a three-race suspension last weekend at Auto Club Speedway, but the team has since decided to appeal the penalty, deferring the remainder of Wolfe's suspension until the appeal is heard. ... Kyle Busch won the 2016 STP 500.