There’s an old adage in auto racing that the best car doesn’t always win the race.
It’s a lesson Kyle Busch has learned time and time again over his career, but Sunday afternoon at he got a refresher course, as the defending race winner got pushed, knocked around and just plain shoved out of the way, with a final parting shot delivered by Brad Keselowski on a pass for the lead with 43 laps to go.
Keselowski ducked under Kyle Busch and held the point the rest of the way to win the STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway to collect his second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory of the season and his first ever at Martinsville.
Kyle Busch held on the finish second, followed by Chase Elliott, Joey Logano and Austin Dillon.
After a pair of runner-up finishes in his previous four starts, Keselowski finally broke through to score his first Grandfather Clock trophy and give Team Penske their first Martinsville win since Rusty Wallace took the checkered flag back in 2004.
“This is awesome,” Keselowski said in Victory Lane. “Martinsville is just one of those champion’s tracks. The guys that run well everywhere run well here, and it’s really just an honor to win here and get to compete here. This track is 70 years old and a lot of legends have won here. It feels great to be able to join them and bring home a clock.
“I don’t like to keep trophies at my house, but this one’s going to my house. That’s how special it is.”
Keselowski had led early in the race but fell to the rear of the field after being nabbed for speeding on lap 72. He then fought his way back to finish fourth in the opening 130-lap stage behind Martin Truex, Jr., Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch.
Kyle Busch led the opening laps of the second stage before Elliott bumped his way past on lap 145 – a sign of things to come for Kyle Busch. Just seven laps later, Busch returned the favor and took back the lead from Elliott.
Kyle Busch held the lead for the next 108 laps before coming up on Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and Austin Dillon who were both fighting to stay on the lead lap.
After falling behind Kyle Busch with one lap to go in the second segment, Stenhouse, Jr. moved up and put the bumper to Kyle Busch and powered past to get his lap back while Elliott to advantage and dived to the inside to take over the lead and win the second stage, with Kyle Busch finishing second, followed by Keselowski.
“All that work for absolutely nothing!” Busch yelled on his radio.
To start the final stage, Kyle Busch restarted on the outside and wasted little time re-claiming his lead – cutting in front of Elliott as soon as they got into turn one. Elliott tried to keep pace with Kyle Busch, but soon had a mirror-full of Brad Keselowski, who got past Elliott to take second on lap 285.
Once Keselowski moved into the second behind Kyle Busch, the fight was on, with Busch and Keselowski trading the top spot five times over the next 120 laps while working their way through eight caution flags.
After beating on Kyle Busch’s bumper for the better part of a quarter of the race, Keselowski was finally was able to get under Kyle Busch one last time on lap 458 to retake the lead.
Once out in clean air, Keselowski checked out, and led the final 43 laps to beat out Kyle Busch by a half-straightaway at the finish.
It was the second-straight week that Kyle Busch had led the most laps by couldn’t make it pay off. Following the race, Busch said his car just wasn’t the same after taking four fresh tires on his final pit stop.
“All we did was put four tires on it and it went to junk,” said Busch, who led 274 laps on Sunday. “We put on a set of tires there at the end that weren’t the same as the ones that we took off and it just slowed the car down a minimum three tenths that whole entire last run.
“We still haven’t finished where we should have this year. We haven’t gotten any finishes that are indicative of where this team’s been running or where we’re capable of running or finishing and that’s just frustrating, so we’ll continue on.”
Chase Elliott, who won Saturday’s truck series race, led his first laps ever at Martinsville the Cup Series, a marked improvement from his previous best finish of 12th last season.
“I was really proud of our improvements this weekend,” said Elliott. “I was way much improved than I’ve ever been here in the past, which I thought was great.
“I hope that it wasn’t just a fluke deal and we didn’t just get lucky today and run good. We hopefully have a good direction and we can build on this for the fall. This was an important race and we’d love to have a good run then.”
Joey Logano fought his way back to a fourth place finish after going two laps down when he cutting down a tire early in the race, marking his third top-five finish in the last four races and his fifth top-10 of the year.
Points leader Kyle Larson came home 17th – his first finish outside the top five in his last five starts – and stays atop the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series but lost 25 points to Elliott who now trails by just four points. Truex, Jr. is third in the standings, followed by Keselowski and Logano.
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
Martinsville Speedway – Martinsville, VA
STP 500 – April 2, 2017
1. (4) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 500.
2. (10) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 500.
3. (2) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 500.
4. (5) Joey Logano, Ford, 500.
5. (20) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 500.
6. (30) A.J. Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 500.
7. (8) Clint Bowyer, Ford, 500.
8. (11) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 500.
9. (25) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 500.
10. (24) Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., Ford, 500.
11. (33) Chris Buescher, Chevrolet, 500.
12. (15) Erik Jones #, Toyota, 500.
13. (16) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 500.
14. (13) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 500.
15. (17) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 500.
16. (3) Martin Truex, Jr., Toyota, 500.
17. (1) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 500.
18. (18) Aric Almirola, Ford, 500.
19. (22) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 500.
20. (9) Kevin Harvick, Ford, 500.
21. (31) Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, 499.
22. (23) Ty Dillon #, Chevrolet, 499.
23. (29) Danica Patrick, Ford, 499.
24. (34) David Ragan, Ford, 498.
25. (7) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 498.
26. (26) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 497.
27. (27) Landon Cassill, Ford, 497.
28. (35) * Corey LaJoie #, Toyota, 496.
29. (37) Gray Gaulding #, Toyota, 495.
30. (12) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 493.
31. (32) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 492.
32. (19) Daniel Suarez #, Toyota, 489.
33. (38) * Timmy Hill(i), Chevrolet, 486.
34. (21) Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Chevrolet, Accident, 418.
35. (28) Matt DiBenedetto, Ford, Accident, 401.
36. (36) Jeffrey Earnhardt, Chevrolet, Accident, 385.
37. (14) Kurt Busch, Ford, Accident, 295.
38. (6) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, Accident, 105.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 70.139 mph.
Time of Race: 3 Hrs, 44 Mins, 59 Secs. Margin of Victory: 1.806 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 14 for 95 laps.
Lead Changes: 18 among 7 drivers.
Lap Leaders: K. Larson 1-23; B. Keselowski 24-71; J. Logano 72; M. Truex Jr. 73-88; D. Hamlin 89-108; Kyle Busch 109; M. Truex Jr. 110-135; Kyle Busch 136-144; C. Elliott 145-151; Kyle Busch 152-259; C. Elliott 260-272; Kyle Busch 273-336; D. Hamlin 337-340; Kyle Busch 341-405; B. Keselowski 406-415; Kyle Busch 416-428; B. Keselowski 429-443; Kyle Busch 444-457; B. Keselowski 458-500.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): Kyle Busch 7 times for 274 laps; B. Keselowski 4 times for 116 laps; M. Truex Jr. 2 times for 42 laps; D. Hamlin 2 times for 24 laps; K. Larson 1 time for 23 laps; C. Elliott 2 times for 20 laps; J. Logano 1 time for 1 lap.
Stage #1 Top Ten: 78,11,18,2,24,42,21,48,3,14
Stage #2 Top Ten: 24,18,2,48,21,88,20,77,6,5