Brad Keselowski led for nearly the entire race on his way to picking up a dominant victory in the STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday.
Keselowski held the lead for 446 of the race’s 500 laps, the most laps led by a driver in any race since Kyle Petty held the lead for 484 laps at Rockingham back in 1992.
Elliott, Keselowski Duel for Lead
While Keselowski dominated for most of the race, it wasn’t a lock that he would win even heading into the final laps. Chase Elliott – who led 49 laps himself – was a constant thorn in the leader’s side, chasing down Keselowski before ultimately finishing in second place, .594 seconds behind.
Keselowski took control of the race after a restart on Lap 380. Coming off the restart with the lead, he would never relinquish his advantage, something Keselowski credited to his No. 2 Ford.
“The car was really good,” Keselowski said after the race. “Ford worked really hard in the offseason to build these cars and make them real strong, and so far, so good. Just a great day for our team.”
But Elliott also had a strong car on Sunday, with the two dueling for the lead for most of the day. Unfortunately for Elliott, the new competition package appeared to hamper the ability for drivers to make moves from behind on the short track at Martinsville.
“I felt like we were about as even with him as we could be,” Elliott said after the race. “When he did get the lead, there was a little advantage to being out front, being able to work traffic…I tried to move up there at the end, and I don’t know if I could have got to him. Maybe if I moved up a little sooner, maybe next time.”
Busch Suffers First Defeat in Three Weeks
The win marked Keselowski’s second victory of the season, as well as his second career win at Martinsville. The Team Penske driver now has 29 career NASCAR wins.
The victory also ended the winning streak of Kyle Busch, who was looking to make it three straight weeks with a NASCAR Cup Series title. Busch kept up his great form, but finished in third place, 1.335 seconds behind Keselowski.
“We fought hard for today’s finish,” Busch told reporters after the race. “Thought we had a chance to win actually, but could have been a whole lot worse. We’ll go on.”
Ryan Blaney and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top five finishers.
Busch, who is the only driver to finish in the top 10 of every race so far this season, remained on top of the NASCAR Cup Series driver standings, 21 points ahead of Hamlin, while Keselowski sits in fifth place. Both Busch and Keselowski are safely in the year-end playoffs even at this early stage with their multiple wins on the season, and are among the favorites to win the NASCAR Cup Series championship this year.