Golden Boy gets win amid threats of lawsuit

Sunday, April 9, 1961 – Fred Lorenzen scores his first career victory in NASCAR’s premier series when he is declared the winner of the Virginia 500 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. The win comes in his 20th career start and in the No. 28 Holman-Moody Ford in which he captured 27 of his 28 career victories.

Lorenzen’s first NASCAR victory came in a rain-shortened race. Only 171 of the scheduled 500 laps had been completed when the event was halted due to rain. However, because the final 23 laps, from lap 149-171, were run under caution, the official length of the race is listed as 149 laps.

After the race, NASCAR president Bill France announced that the race would be rescheduled for April 30; the race would be considered official, however, and another Martinsville race was simply added to what was previously a 51-race schedule.

The “rescheduling” brought threats of a lawsuit from Darlington (S.C.) track president Bob Colvin who contended that his track’s contract with NASCAR forbid any race being scheduled or re-scheduled for April 30, which was one week prior to the running of Darlington’s Rebel 300. France told the Associated Press that it was his understanding that the contract with Darlington did not take into consideration rain dates.

Colvin said he told NASCAR to “hire some lawyers for I will go to court. … I guarantee you one thing. If this (Martinsville) wasn’t France’s track, there wouldn’t be any argument at all.”

At the time, the Martinsville track, which began hosting NASCAR-sanctioned races in 1949, was co-owned by founder H. Clay Earles and France.

Martinsville postscript

It’s hard not to be impressed with Brad Keselowski’s performance Sunday at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. The Team Penske driver led 446 of 500 laps in winning the STP 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race.

Leading 400 or more laps in a single race is a rare occurrence. Keselowski’s achievement was the 12th time in 141 races dating back to 1949 that a driver has done so at Martinsville.

His laps led count checks in at No. 5 overall.

Topping the list is Fred Lorenzen, who led 493 of 500 laps in the fall race of ‘64. The only laps he failed to lead were paced by Richard Petty (5), Junior Johnson (1) and Ned Jarrett (1).

That rout capped a three-race Martinsville run that had already seen the popular racer lead 421 laps in winning the fall race of ’63 and 487 in winning the spring race of ’64. Three races and Lorenzen led 1,401 of 1,500 laps.

The 400-plus laps led list for Martinsville:

1. Fred Lorenzen                493           1964 (F)

2. Fred Lorenzen                487           1964 (S)

3. Junior Johnson                481           1965 (F)

4. Richard Petty                  480           1970 (F)

5. Brad Keselowski             446           2019 (S)

6. Bobby Isaac                     445           1971 (F)

7. Bobby Allison                  432           1972 (F)

8. Bob Welborn                   435           1957 (F)

9. Jeff Gordon                     431           1997 (S)

10. Fred Lorenzen              421           1963(F)

11. Rusty Wallace               409           1993 (S)

12. Ernie Irvan                     402           1993 (F)

All were race winners with the exception of Allison, who finished second to Petty. (F) Fall race & (S) Spring race designation.

Only one other facility, Bristol Motor Speedway, hosts 500-lap Cup races. Thirteen of its 116 races have seen a driver lead 400 or more laps, including the 1973 spring event that saw Cale Yarborough lead all 500.

It was interesting to hear Keselowski mention the NASCAR Hall of Fame when he was asked about milestones he hoped to accomplish. I don’t know that I’ve heard any competitor put win numbers to induction before.

“I would like to hit the 30-win mark before the season is over, which looks like we’ve got a great shot at that,” Keselowski said after career win No. 29. “I … look at a few markers for the Hall of Fame and one of the markers to me as a Cup driver is probably that 30-win mark. Championship is one of them. Kind of adding that 30-win mark in there and I think that’s kind of – you’re there.

“I think anyone who has 30 wins on the Cup level is going to eventually be in the Hall of Fame. So that’s a good mark for me.”

He has a point. Of the 21 drivers with 30 or more wins who are no longer competing, 19 are in the Hall of Fame. Tony Stewart, with 49 wins, is a 2020 nominee. Matt Kenseth, with one Cup title and 39 career wins, was not among this year’s list of 20 nominees.

In case you were wondering: A Martinsville tidbit. The track was the site of the final career Cup win for several drivers – Jeff Gordon, Rusty Wallace, Nelson Stacy, John Andretti, Earl Ross and Red Byron.

Keselowski has 29 career wins, 28 coming with Penske. Career win No. 1 came in 2009 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway while driving for car owner James Finch and Phoenix Racing.

The win broke a three-way tie for 27th on the all-time win list, a mark he shared with Carl Edwards and 1960 series champion Rex White.

Will Keselowski wind up with more victories for Penske than Wallace, who remains tops in Cup competition with 37 victories for the team owner?

As impressive as Keselowski’s Martinsville run was, the effort from runner-up Chase Elliott was equally noteworthy.

How many laps was Elliott’s No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet in second place, pursuing Keselowski?  Is there a record for laps completed while running second?

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.

It’s a Logano, and a Ford day, at Martinsville

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Defending Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Joey Logano will start from the pole Sunday when the STP 500 gets underway here at tiny Martinsville Speedway.

The 28-year-old pushed his No. 22 Team Penske Ford around the .526-mile oval at a speed of 97.83 mph, to nudge fellow ford driver Aric Almirola (97.643 mph) off the top spot in the final round of qualifying for the series’ sixth race of the season.

Logano won here last fall, securing a spot in the Championship 4 where he ultimately won his first Cup championship. He’s already won this season to likely secure a berth in this season’s 16-team playoffs and he finished second a week ago at Auto Club Speedway.

To say he and his team, led by crew chief Todd Gordon, are running well would be an understatement.

But Martinsville, the only track that has hosted NASCAR’s top series since its debut in 1949, has been a bit of a mixed bag for the New England native. Logano has finished in the top 10 in nearly one-half his starts here (nine of 20) but he’s also finished 20th or worse five times.

In qualifying Saturday, he and his team’s efforts were short and sweet … and fast. Logano needed just two laps to land at sixth quickest in the first round and one lap in the second round to remain sixth best. That sent him into the third and final round with remarkably fresh tires.

“That really paid a reward as we got to the third round,” Logano said, noting his team chose not to make any mock qualifying runs during practice. “It’s important to win a pole here – to start up front is obviously safer, but you can also run your (race) pace and (it’s) a safer place on pit road as well.”

Tire conservation in qualifying isn’t exactly the norm at most tracks – but at Martinsville it can be a deciding factor.

“It’s not just one lap like most tracks we go to,” he said, “(where) you lay down one and you’re done. Here, you’ve got to run quite a few laps to be able to lay down a fast one, which makes me run out of breath, by the way. It’s like the most intense qualifying session for me. … We go slower here than anywhere else we go and I’m breathing harder than anywhere else we go, so there must be something to it.”

Ford teams swept the first four spots with Team Penske teammate Brad Keselowski third fastest and Kevin Harvick, Almirola’s teammate at Stewart-Haas Racing, fourth.

Denny Hamlin (Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 Toyota) was fifth in the final round, after posting the quickest times in the first two rounds.

Logano, who has 22 career wins, hasn’t won a Cup race from the pole since 2016 (at Michigan International Speedway).

No driver has won a Cup race from the pole since Martin Truex captured the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway last summer.

Seven-time series champion Jimmie Johnson will carry a 64-race winless streak into Sunday’s event. A nine-time winner at Martinsville, Johnson will start 12th.

Kyle Busch could muster only a 14th-best qualifying time for Sunday. Busch, driver of the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota in the Cup Series, has won the last two Cup races – at Phoenix and Fontana, Calif.; he also has two wins in the Xfinity Series this season and a win Saturday at Martinsville was his third consecutive Truck Series win.