Keselowski overpowers field at Martinsville

MARTINSVILLE, Va. –Brad Keselowski thoroughly dominated the race while Kyle Busch saw his two-race win streak snapped and that’s about all you need to know about Sunday’s STP 500 from Martinsville Speedway.

The bumping and banging and close quarters competition fans are accustomed to witnessing on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series’ shortest venue wasn’t missing entirely, but it was surprisingly limited.

That will occasionally happen at places such as Martinsville, a .533-mile gem of a layout, just as it will happen on the bigger circuits of Texas and Talladega, Darlington and Daytona.

Blame any shortcomings Sunday on Keselowski, who led 446 of the race’s 500 laps. Or his Team Penske pit crew, which got him off pit road with the lead time and time again. Or his No. 2 Ford, which was overtaken only once all afternoon.

Chase Elliott, the only driver to pass Keselowski on the track, finished second in his No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

“The stats made it look a little bit more dominant that I think it really was,” Keselowski, 35, said. “I thought Chase was probably the best car most of the day. He passed me there with 150 or so to go and I thought that might be the end of our day, but I was able to learn a few things from him and kind of dissect his strengths and weaknesses.

“We made some adjustments of our own, came back out and were a little bit better. The pit crew did an excellent job all day gaining or retaining our position, which is critical here at this race track.”

The younger Elliott did keep it interesting, pressuring Keselowski throughout the day. Only once, though, was he able to drive around the leader and take control.

That came shortly after the day’s fifth of seven cautions – and Elliott led 49 laps, from 325-373. Keselowski won the subsequent race off pit road during another yellow-flag break, and held serve for the remainder of the race.

“When I did get the lead, I felt like there was a little advantage to being out front and being able to work traffic your way and play off it,” Elliott said. “I tried to move up there (off the bottom) at the end and I don’t know if I could have gotten to him. Maybe if I moved up a little sooner.”

“It’s hard to be good here for 500 laps,” said Paul Wolfe, crew chief for the winner. “Pit road was a big part of it. The … guys were flawless all day.”

Busch entered Sunday’s race after back-to-back wins at ISM (Phoenix) Raceway and Auto Club Speedway but finished third in his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Ryan Blaney and Denny Hamlin completed the top five.

It’s been that kind of season for NASCAR thus far – Keselowski’s win was the third of the year for Team Penske while JGR drivers have accounted for the other three victories

There’s been no sighting of anyone else in victory lane.

For now, it seems those are the two groups to beat.

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