Martinsville, Va. — Brad Keselowski gave Team Penske and the new Ford Mustang its third Cup victory through the first six races of the season by routing the field at Martinsville Speedway.
Keselowski (Rochester Hills) led 446 of the 500 laps around the shortest track on the NASCAR schedule and was only challenged a handful of times by Chase Elliott – the only driver to pass Keselowski on the track Sunday.
Although Elliott led 49 laps, a late caution sent the field to pit road and Keselowski beat Elliott back to the track. Elliott could never get close enough to challenge Keselowski for the win again.
“The car was really good. Just a great day for a team,” Keselowski said. “Just one of those days you dream of as a race car driver, where you’ve got a great car.”
The 446 laps led is the most for a winning driver since Kyle Petty led 484 to win at Rockingham in 1992. It was the most laps Keselowski has ever led in a single race, passing the mark of 312 laps out front at Texas Motor Speedway in 2015.
He credited the offseason work by Ford, which rolled out a new Cup car at the start of the season, and the Team Penske pit stops that got him off pit road first every time he came in for service.
“Ford worked really hard in the offseason to build these cars and make them real strong and so far, so good,” said Keselowski. “It’s just a great day for our team, awesome execution on pit road. Those guys work really hard.”
Ford has three wins this season, all from Team Penske, while Toyota won the other three races.
Martinsville, a paperclip-shaped track at 0.526 miles, typically forces drivers to gouge each other out of the way. The tight confines of the tiny Virginia track raises the aggravation levels for most of the field and usually leads to bumping, banging and busted-up race cars. But NASCAR’s new rules package, in its first stop at a short track, seemed to hamper drivers’ ability to close on the leader and it limited passing opportunities.
The one time Elliott did pass Keselowski, he studied Elliott’s lines and took notes for when he was back out front.
“He was certainly faster on that short run, and when he passed me I learned just enough,” Keselowski said. “The pit crew got me back in front of him on the next to last pit stop, and I seemed to kind of apply the lessons.”
Keselowski started the race third behind teammate Joey Logano, who led the first five laps of the race. Keselowski briefly nudged Logano out of the groove on the sixth lap and took off for the rout that earned him his second Martinsville grandfather clock.
Elliott finished second in a Chevrolet from Hendrick Motorsports – the first top-five finish for a Hendrick driver this season.
“I felt like we were about as even with him as we could be,” said Elliott, who second-guessed the timing of one of his attempts to pass Keselowski.
“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.”
Kyle Busch was third in a Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing. Busch had won two consecutive Cup races before Sunday, the Truck Series race Saturday at Martinsville, and was seeking a weekend sweep. Busch notched his fifth top-five finish of the season while making his 1,000th career NASCAR national series start.
“We fought hard for today’s finish, not a finish that we wanted to get,” Busch said. “Thought we had a chance to win actually, but could have been a whole lot worse. We’ll go on.”
Penske driver Ryan Blaney was fourth, while Gibbs driver and five-time Martinsville winner Denny Hamlin was fifth.
Stewart-Haas Racing drivers Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer were sixth and seventh, Gibbs driver Martin Truex Jr. was eighth, then SHR drivers Aric Almirola and Daniel Suarez completed the top 10.
Ford drivers took six spots in the top 10, while Gibbs and Toyota claimed three of the slots.
Herta, 18, wins Indy race
Everything went Colton Herta’s way, from the victory on the race track to the sparkling wine on the podium instead of apple cider.
The 18-year American rookie became the youngest winner in IndyCar history when he captured the IndyCar Classic after a late-race crash near the entry to pit row helped him steal past the leaders to the checkered flag.
Flanked on the podium by 28-year-old Joseph Newgarden and 38-year-old Ryan Hunter-Reay, Herta was handed a bottle of sparkling wine for the victory celebration while someone handed Newgarden the cider.
Glug! Herta, still well under the legal drinking age of 21, took a big drink.
“I didn’t switch back,” Herta said. “I took a swig and said, ‘This is real!”
Newgarden was impressed.
“They gave me his drink, and gave him mine. Which is very cool of Texas,” Newgarden said.
Herta’s win also delivered the first victory for Harding Steinbrenner Racing , where George Steinbrenner IV — yes, of the Steinbrenner baseball family — is the youngest co-owner in series history and the youngest owner of a race-winning car at age 22. After the victory, the New York Yankees tweeted congratulations to the victors.
“In this sport it takes perfect execution and a little bit of luck,” Steinbrenner said. “We caught the little bit of luck … and Colton did the rest.”
Herta was running a distant third behind Team Penske’s Will Power and Andretti Autosports’ Alexander Rossi until James Hinchcliffe bumped rookie Felix Rosenqvist into a spin and then the wall near the entry to pit lane.
Power, who started from pole position and dominated through 45 laps, lost his big lead when the caution flag came out, and then had his race end with a driveshaft failure during his last pit stop for a late tire change. Rossi finished ninth.
Power started from pole position and could have earned a $100,000 bonus if he had won the race.
“Massively disappointed man. (To) lead so many laps,” Power said. “The yellow didn’t get us, the drive shaft did.”
Herta still had work to do to stay ahead of Newgarden and Hunter-Reay, both former IndyCar champions. Herta dialed up the speed that made him so quick on the track in preseason testing.
“He’s been quick since he hit the track,” Hunter-Reay said. “At first sight I wouldn’t trust that guy with my Honda Civic, but he’s very talented. This is the big league and he just won an IndyCar race.”
The previous youngest race winner was Graham Rahal in 2008 at age 19. Herta turns 19 on Saturday.
“One race win isn’t enough. I want to get another,” Herta said.