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Keselowski dominates to win Martinsville

by Amy Henderson
Sunday, March 24, 2019

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Brad Keselowski dominated
Brad Keselowski dominated

Team Penske put an exclamation point on the organization’s hot start to 2019 as Brad Keselowski conquered NASCAR’s shortest track Sunday to win the STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway in a purely dominant performance, becoming the first driver to win more than one race in 2019. Keselowski led 446 out of 500 laps and swept the stage wins on Sunday in a race that saw long green-flag runs and plenty of on-track action.

Chase Elliott made a power move around Kyle Busch on the final restart to finish second, while Bsuch came home third. Blaney finished fourth while Denny Hamlin drove the No. 11 to fifth place. The rest of the top 10 were Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer (who rebounded from a pair of pit road speeding penalties for seventh), Martin Truex Jr., Aric Almirola and Daniel Suarez.

Keselowski’s teammate Joey Logano led the field to green, but couldn’t hold on for long. Brad Keselowski took over the top spot with Denny Hamlin in tow, and the two separated themselves from the field before waging battle themselves. Keselowski was able to hold Hamlin off, but he could get away from the No. 11 as they worked through lapped traffic.

The first caution of the day flew when Michael McDowell’s Ford had a tire go down and McDowell scraped the Frontstretch wall. Keselowski held point through a round of pit stops, and afterward, it was Chase Elliott he’d have to hold off. Like Hamlin, Keselowski couldn’t shake Elliott off, and things heated up as the first stage came to an end. Elliott got to the inside of Keselowski coming to the green-and-white checkers, but Keselowski got to the line a half car-length ahead.

Stage 2 began the way Stage 1 ended, with Elliott hounding Keselowski for the lead, but a caution for debris after cars got together in Turn 4 quickly slowed things down again. An axle shed by Ross Chastain’s No.15 was the culprit. Elliott was the loser in the exchange as he slid high in grease on the track, allowing Hamlin to get underneath him.

While Elliott eventually got the spot back, Keselowski was busy trouncing the field for the first half of Stage 2. The stage ran green the rest of the way, allowing Keselowski to trap many a lap down, and while he was busy doing that, teammate Ryan Blaney was on the move, moving around Elliott with 20 remaining in the stage. Lapped traffic worked to Keselowski’s advantage, though, keeping Blaney from getting close enough to make a move.

The final leg of the race started off the same as most of the day: Keselowski leading with Elliott dogging him. The caution came out after William Byron spun off the front bumper of Ty Dillon. Kyle Busch inserted himself into the picture, getting off pit road just behind Keselowski and Elliott.

As the field came up to speed on lap 325, Elliott saw the opportunity he’d been waiting for all day and got underneath Keselowski coming to Turn 1, completing the pass for the lead just as Erik Jones lost a tire after getting together with Kyle Larson. Jones made it back to pit road without drawing a caution as Elliott opened up a 10-carlength gap over Keselowski.

It didn’t last, though, as another caution for a Matt Tifft crash at lap 374 allowed Keselowski to retake the advantage on pit road, leaving Elliott to try and hunt him down on track again. This time, Keselowski was able to drive away a bit as Elliott fought for second with Kyle Busch and Blaney.

Ross Chastain slammed the wall in Turn 1 to bring out the final caution on lap 447, changing the complexion up front somewhat. Keselowski held the advantage through pit stops, Kyle Busch bulled his way to second, making contact with Elliott on the way. Blaney got out of the pits in fourth while Kevin Harvick came out fifth.

Chase Elliott
Chase Elliott
Elliott made a power move around the outside to retake second and then set his sights on the No. 2, but Keselowski ended the day in the same dominant fashion he’d begun it.

What developed into the day’s other story was the opposite of domination, as active Martinsville win leader Jimmie Johnson struggled to a 24th-place finish, two laps down, without suffering on-track damage or mechanical failure. Johnson hasn’t found speed this season, but many expected Martinsville to be a turning point for the nine-time track winner.

Keselowski credited his team and crew chief Paul Wolfe for keeping up with the changing track all day. “The temps were cooling off and the track was losing its rubber, and we were just losing grip,” Keselowski said afterward. “We weren’t as good as we needed to be there, 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.”

While Keselowski leaves Martinsville with the grandfather clock trophy, Kyle Busch leaves with the point lead, with a 21-point gap over teammate Hamlin. Harvick, Logano and Keselowski round out the top 5 followed by Almirola, Martin Truex Jr., Blaney, Elliott and Kurt Busch.

Results

PosSt.No.DriverCarLapsStatus
132Brad KeselowskiReese/Draw Tite Ford500Running
279Chase ElliottNAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet500Running
31318Kyle BuschM&M's Chocolate Bar Toyota500Running
41712Ryan BlaneyMenards/Libman Ford500Running
5511Denny HamlinFedEx Ground Toyota500Running
644Kevin HarvickMobil 1 Ford500Running
71014Clint BowyerMobil 1/Rush Truck Centers Ford500Running
8819Martin Truex Jr.SiriusXM Toyota500Running
9210Aric AlmirolaSHAZAM!/Smithfield Ford500Running
10941Daniel SuarezHaas Automation Ford500Running
11293Austin DillonSymbicort Chevrolet500Running
12191Kurt BuschGEARWRENCH/Monster Energy Chevrolet500Running
132213Ty DillonGEICO Chevrolet500Running
141688Alex BowmanNationwide Chevrolet500Running
151421Paul MenardMotorcraft/Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center Ford500Running
161547Ryan Preece #Kroger Chevrolet500Running
172643Bubba WallaceTransporation Impact Chevrolet500Running
18642Kyle LarsonCredit One Bank Chevrolet500Running
19122Joey LoganoShell Pennzoil Ford500Running
202195Matt DiBenedettoToyota Express Maintenance Toyota500Running
211237Chris BuescherKroger Speed Up Your Cleanup Chevrolet499Running
223424William ByronAxalta Chevrolet499Running
23206Ryan NewmanAcorns Ford499Running
241148Jimmie JohnsonAlly Chevrolet498Running
252417Ricky Stenhouse Jr.Fastenal Ford498Running
262538David RaganMDS Transport Ford496Running
27288Daniel Hemric #Bass Pro Shops/TRACKER Chevrolet496Running
282700Landon CassillCGS Imaging Chevrolet494Running
293136Matt Tifft #Surface Sunscreen/Tunity Ford494Running
301820Erik JonesDeWalt Toyota491Running
312334Michael McDowellA&W All American Foods Ford491Running
323577DJ Kennington(i)Go-Parts Chevrolet489Running
333232Corey LaJoieCorvetteParts.net Ford489Running
343015Ross Chastain(i)Rim Riderz Chevrolet365Engine
353652Jeb Burton(i)Muzzy Bowfishing Chevrolet163Brakes
363351Cody Ware #Jacob Companies Chevrolet55Brakes

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