Brad Keselowski prevailed in a thrilling late-race battle with Kyle Busch to win Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway, the first short-track race of the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.
Keselowski, the 2012 series champion, traded the lead multiple times with Busch over the final 100 laps before making the race-winning pass with 47 laps to go.
The move secured Keselowski’s second victory of the season and his first ever at the 0.526-mile Virginia short track.
It was the first victory for Team Penske at Martinsville since Rusty Wallace won the final race of his NASCAR Hall of Fame career in 2004. It was also the first Ford victory at this track since 2002.
The victory, the 23rd of Keselowski’s career, came in Team Penske’s 1,000th Cup race.
In the process, Keselowski became the first two-time winner of 2017.
“Martinsville is just one of those champion’s tracks,” said Keselowski. “The guys that run well everywhere run well here, and it’s really just an honor to win here and get to compete here.”
By winning the race, Keselowski received one of NASCAR’s most treasured possessions – a Ridgeway grandfather clock trophy that Martinsville Speedway presents to all the race winners.
gallery: Final running order from STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway
“This track is 70 years old and a lot of legends have won here,” said Keselowski. It feels great to be able to join them and bring home a clock. 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.”
Behind Keselowski and the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota of Busch came Chase Elliott in a Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Keselowski’s teammate, Joey Logano and Austin Dillon rounded out the top five.
It was a perfect spring day of racing in Southern Virginia.
Rain washed out qualifying on Friday, so Cup points leader Kyle Larson started from the pole, flanked by Elliott.
Keselowski dominated the opening stage, but a pit-road speeding penalty allowed Martin Truex Jr. to grab the victory in the 130-lap stage.
When the first stage ended, Busch stayed out and led most of the second stage in his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. But on the final lap of the stage, Busch got bumped by the lapped car of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Elliott took the stage victory.
During the third stage, Busch dominated early, but was passed for the lead by Keselowski with 95 laps to go.
But after a caution, Busch went by Keselowski with 85 laps to go.
Keselowski retook the lead 13 laps later, diving under Busch to take the point.
Then it was Busch making the pass for the lead, this time with 57 laps to go.
Keselowski returned the favor with 47 laps to go. But this would be the final pass of the race, as once out front, Keselowski was able to gap Busch and cruise to victory.
With six races in the books in the 26-race NASCAR regular season, the teams will head to Texas Motor Speedway before the first off-weekend of the year.