MARTINSVILLE, Va. –In Sunday's STP 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway, everything worked – but nothing more than Brad Keselowski’s race-winning No. 2 Ford.
Yes, that’s right, a Ford. The car maker found Victory Lane at the .526-mile short track for the first time since Oct. 20, 2002, when Kurt Busch won at NASCAR’s oldest and smallest premier series track in a Roush Fenway Racing Ford.
Keselowski and runner-up Kyle Busch swapped the lead during the final 64-lap green-flag run, with Busch taking the point on Lap 444 of 500, and Keselowski powering back past Busch’s No. 18 Toyota on Lap 458. From that point, Keselowski pulled away to win by 1.806 seconds, as Busch lost the long-run speed he had demonstrated for most of the afternoon.
"This is awesome," said Keselowski, the season's first two-time winner. "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 champions' 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 (grandfather) clock (trophy). A lot of people don't know this, but those clocks are built in my hometown in Rochester Hills, Michigan, so it's cool to get one of them from back home. I have one as a truck owner, but not as a driver, so I’m glad to bring one back as a driver…
"I don't like to keep trophies at my house, but this one's going to my house. That's how special it is."
The victory was Keselowski’s 23rd in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, and it vaulted him into the playoff points lead with 10. In the series standings, Keselowski leaves Martinsville in fourth place, 34 points behind leader Kyle Larson and 30 behind second-place Chase Elliott, who parlayed a front-row starting position into a third-place finish.
Fourteen cautions for 95 laps punctuated an action-filled afternoon that featured remarkable comebacks, perfect weather, Ford board member and namesake Edsel Ford II in the pace car and a tire combination that started to open up the outside lane and facilitate passing on the high side.
Keselowski had to overcome his own challenges. A speeding penalty under caution on lap 72 sent him to the rear of the field, but pit strategy – staying out under yellow on Lap 109 – got him back to the front. Joey Logano, Keselowski’s Team Penske teammate, overcame both a pit road penalty and a cut tire that put him two laps down to finish fourth.
Austin Dillon ran fifth, posting his first top-five finish since a fourth-place run at Bristol last August.
Busch, who led a race-high 274 laps to Keselowski’s 116, was disappointed that the performance of his Camry fell off after his final pit stop.
"All we did was put four tires on it, and it went to junk," Busch said. "I hate it for our guys. They've deserved all year much better finishes than what we've been able to produce, and here's another one today. Just a frustrating season so far, but we give it everything we got. We do all we can with what we’re given at the particular time and try to execute and do a good job.
"My pit crew did great today. (Crew chief) Adam (Stevens) and the guys did an awesome job on this car this weekend to get it to where it was. We were lights out faster than those guys after 20 laps or so. There on that run it was at minimum at least three tenths slower the entire time, and that's why Brad just was able to drive away there at the end. We were really really, really struggling. I'm surprised I held off the 24 (Elliott), but you know, overall, just not quite getting the finishes we need."
Martin Truex Jr. won the first stage to bring his playoff point total to nine, second only to Keselowski. By the end of Stage 2, which featured a 119-lap green-flag run, the intensity had ratcheted up considerably.
Coming to the green/checkers on Lap 260, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who had just been lapped, gave race leader Kyle Busch a couple of sharp taps with his bumper, sending Busch toward the top of the track. Elliott powered to the inside off Turn 4, edging Busch for the stage win at the stripe.
But Keselowski and Busch dominated the proceedings from then on, with Keselowski winning the clock and Ford finding the winner’s circle after a 28-race drought at the vaunted short track.