The historic Martinsville Speedway was the site of Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race, the STP 500. The oldest-operating track in NASCAR, Martinsville played host to the first short track race of the year. Brad Keselowski battled with Kyle Busch for much of the race, coming home with his second win of the season.
Kyle Larson, coming off his second career Cup victory the week before in Fontana, started Sunday’s race on the pole alongside Chase Elliott after qualifying was rained out. Larson led the first 23 laps of the race as Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Jamie McMurray caught up and followed him in 2nd. Keselowski passed Larson, whose car was aptly set up for shorter runs, for the lead on lap 24 as his own teammate Joey Logano joined him in the top-two positions.
The first caution of the day came out on lap 70, when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. made contact with Paul Menard and spun. The two Team Penske teammates dropped down the field during the caution, as Keselowski was penalized for speeding on pit road and Logano’s pit crew was spotted going over the wall too soon. As a result, the Toyotas of Martin Truex Jr. and Denny Hamlin led the field to the restart on lap 76.
30 laps later, McMurray cut a tire and slammed into the turn three wall at high speed to bring out another caution. The green flag waved 11 laps later, though it was short-lived when another yellow flag was flown after just six laps; Dale Earnhardt Jr. made contact with Ryan Blaney on the frontstretch and spun after exiting turn two. This set up a three-lap dash to the green-and-white checkered flag, one in which Truex led all three to win the stage. Behind him were Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Keselowski, Elliott, Larson, Blaney, Jimmie Johnson, Austin Dillon and Clint Bowyer.
During the caution between stages, 14 drivers elected to stay out instead of pit: Kyle Busch, Elliott, Blaney, Logano, Erik Jones, Trevor Bayne, Kasey Kahne, Ryan Newman, Matt Kenseth, Daniel Suárez, Chris Buescher, Earnhardt Jr., Danica Patrick and Cole Whitt. After he pitted, Truex dropped to 15th for the restart on lap 142. Shortly after the green flag waved, Suárez – who was struggling throughout much of the weekend after wrecking in practice and starting at the rear of the field – suffered further problems after sustaining major damage to the left-front of his car.
After Busch led the first three laps of the stage, Elliott passed him on lap 145 until Busch reclaimed the lead seven laps later. Busch dominated the second stage, lapping multiple cars, including the pole-sitter Larson. However, he would not be the stage winner. On the final lap, Busch attempted to pass Austin Dillon and put him a lap down; Stenhouse, who was already a lap down and was in position to lose the free pass if Busch lapped Dillon, caught up to Busch in turn four. As they exited the turn, Stenhouse bumped into Busch, pushing him outside. Elliott remained on the inside line and took the lead and the stage win. Busch, Keselowski, Johnson, Blaney, Earnhardt Jr., Kenseth, Jones, Bayne and Kahne rounded out the top-ten.
Unhappy with Stenhouse’s move, Busch voiced his opinion over the radio. “[Laughs], fucking 17. What a fucking fucker,” he remarked. “All that fucking work for nothing.” Crew chief Adam Stevens, in hopes of calming him down, simply told him to “take a chill pill”.
The final stage began on lap 274 as Busch regained the lead. Five laps later, a caution for debris came out, though Busch elected to not pit. On lap 284, racing resumed until another yellow flag occurred after just five laps when Austin Dillon and Kurt Busch spun, collecting Suárez and stacking up other cars behind them. When the green flag came out on lap 294, Kurt Busch blew a left-front tire and drove into the turn three wall, forcing him to retire from the race and yet another caution.
Green flag racing returned on lap 302. Buescher and Patrick battled for much of the lap and forced Blaney to go wide and make contact with Logano, forcing the #21 and #22 to pit. Buescher and Patrick made further contact with one another as the latter was wedged into the wall. Gray Gaulding spun on lap 309 to bring out the ninth caution of the day. A tenth caution took place on lap 334 when Reed Sorenson spun.
Stenhouse and Hamlin led the field to green on lap 340, though their time at the front was short as Kyle Busch passed both of them. The race continued to run green until lap 391, when Jeffrey Earnhardt hit the wall in turn two. With 101 laps left, green flag conditions resumed as Busch and Keselowski established themselves at the head of the grid. Busch led the first six laps until Keselowski passed him on the inside; upon doing so, another caution came out for Matt DiBenedetto, who cut a left-rear tire and spun, hitting the turn three wall.
With 86 laps to go, Keselowski paced the field to green, though Busch passed him a lap later. On lap 419, Hamlin wheel-hopped his car, lifting it and spinning Patrick, causing contact between Earnhardt Jr. and Aric Almirola, the latter also going around. Another five-lap green flag run began with 74 to go, ending when Truex wheel-hopped his car and collided with Kenseth, causing him to spin.
Lap 437 saw the final restart of the race as Busch and Keselowski reignited their battle for the win. Keselowski led the first four laps before Busch took the lead, holding on for 14 laps until Keselowski passed him. Busch was unable to get back in position as Keselowski went on to win his second race of 2017. Busch finished 2nd, followed by Elliott, Logano and Dillon.
The win is Ford’s first at Martinsville since Kurt Busch won the fall race in 2002 for Roush Racing. It is also Team Penske’s first victory at the short track since Rusty Wallace won in the spring race of 2004.
“This is awesome,” Keselowski stated in Victory Lane. “We’ve ran so good here before, but something always happens and we haven’t been able to bring it home and, you know, Martinsville is just one of those champions’ tracks, where the guys that run well everywhere, run good here and it’s really an honor to win here, get to compete here. The history of this track, a lot of legends have won here, and it feels really great to be able to join them.”
Next week, the Cup Series travels to Fort Worth, Texas, home of the Texas Motor Speedway for the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500. The track was repaved and reconfigured earlier in the year, meaning the drivers will have to become acclimated to a new layout from what they were used to.
Race results (courtesy of Racing-Reference)
Featured image courtesy of @MartinsvilleSwy