Brad Keselowski emerges on top after classic duel with Kyle Busch in STP 500

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Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch put on arguably the best battle of the NASCAR Cup season thus far Sunday at Martinsville Speedway.

After dueling throughout the final 160 laps, Keselowski pulled away for his second win of the season to capture the STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

It was Keselowski’s first career NASCAR Cup win at Martinsville and his fifth straight top-five finish in 2017. It was also Team Penske’s first win at the 0.526-mile paper clip-shaped track since 2004.

“This is awesome,” Keselowski told FS1. “Martinsville is just one of those champion’s tracks, where guys that run well everywhere, run good here. It’s really an honor to win here and to get to compete here, the history of this track, 70 years old and a lot of legends have won here. Man, it feels great to join them.”

Keselowski becomes the first multirace winner of 2017, having won at Atlanta Motor Speedway in the season’s second race. He led 116 laps, leading the final 43 after grabbing the lead for good on Lap 458. Busch led a race-high 274 laps.

Martin Truex Jr. and Chase Elliott were the respective winners of Stage 1 and Stage 2, but it was all Keselowski vs. Busch in the final segment of the 500-lap event.

“It’s just a frustrating season so far,” Busch told FS1. “We gave it everything we got. We do all we can with what we’re given, and we try to execute.”

MORE: Results, stats for STP 500 at Martinsville

MORE: Kyle Larson retains Cup points lead after STP 500 at Martinsville

Elliott finished third, followed by Joey Logano, Austin Dillon, A.J. Allmendinger, Clint Bowyer, Ryan Newman, Matt Kenseth and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

There was a big crash on Lap 288 that involved several cars. Austin Dillon and Erik Jones got together, collecting Daniel Suarez, Clint Bowyer, Kasey Kahne, A.J. Allmendinger, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kurt Busch and Denny Hamlin.

Kurt Busch was able to get going after that incident on the restart but wrecked again shortly thereafter heading into Turn 3 on Lap 296 and saw his day come to an end, as well.

MORE: Martin Truex Jr. wins Stage 1 of STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway

MORE: Stenhouse punts Busch, Elliott slides by to win Stage 2 of STP 500

On Lap 418, several cars wrecked, including Dale Earnhardt Jr., Danica Patrick, Denny Hamlin, A.J. Allmendinger, Kasey Kahne and Aric Almirola.

It appeared Hamlin started the crash but getting loose and drifting into Patrick’s car. Earnhardt suffered damage to his radiator that ultimately ended his day early, too.

On Lap 433, Martin Truex Jr., who won Stage 1, spun in Turn 3 while running seventh. He suffered minor damage and ultimately finished 16th.

WHO ELSE HAD A GOOD DAY: Chase Elliott almost doubled up. He won Saturday’s Camping World Truck Series race and finished third in Sunday’s Cup race. … Austin Dillon finished a season-best fifth. … Clint Bowyer had his second consecutive top-10 finish. … Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was involved in several fender-banging incidents with fellow drivers but managed to bounce back to finish 10th.

WHO HAD A BAD DAY: Jamie McMurray (38th) and Kurt Busch (37th) both suffered tire issues that led to race-ending wrecks. Busch’s bad luck continues: He’s finished 24th or worse in the last four races, including Sunday, marking his first DNF of the season. … Also having a bad showing was Dale Earnhardt Jr. (finished 34th), who suffered radiator damage that ended his day on Lap 418.

NOTABLE: Howard Miller Co., which makes the grandfather clocks that are awarded to the winners at Martinsville, are built in Keselowski’s home state of Michigan. … Keselowski’s finishes in his last five races: 1st (Atlanta), 5th (Las Vegas, Phoenix), 2nd (Fontana) and 1st (Martinsville).

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “We’re not just not quite getting the finishes we need. We just need to figure out how to finish what we are or where we’re running. So far, we’ve been finishing worse.” – Kyle Busch, who has not won since last summer’s Brickyard 400, to FS1.

WHAT’S NEXT: Sunday, April 9, O’Reilly Auto Parts 500, 1:30 p.m. ET, Texas Motor Speedway. This will be the first race there after a complete repave and redesign of part of the track.

Follow @JerryBonkowski 

Staff picks for today’s Cup race at Kansas Speedway

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Here’s a look at who the NBC Sports staff is picking to win today’s Cup race at Kansas Speedway.

Nate Ryan

Kevin Harvick. His first oval win since Kansas Speedway a year ago validates the team’s 1.5-mile speed in the playoffs.

Dustin Long

Kyle Busch. Mark it down, he wins and advances to the next round to continue his quest for a second title.

Daniel McFadin

Martin Truex Jr. keeps his foot on the throat of the competition and gets his sixth win of the year at a 1.5-mile track.

Jerry Bonkowski

Kyle Larson is starting 13th but expect him to get to the top five within the first 20-30 laps. He needs a strong run to give him momentum heading into the Round of 8 and he gets it Sunday.

Furniture Row Racing crew member dies of heart attack

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KANSAS CITY, Kansas – James “Jim” Watson, a fabricator for Furniture Row Racing, died Saturday night after suffering a heart attack, the team stated Sunday morning. Watson was 55.

A native of Greenfield, Wisconsin, Watson had been a member of Furniture Row Racing since February. He worked for Roush Fenway Racing from 2006-15 and spent last season with HScott Motorsports. He was a long-time racer, competing in dirt late models and asphalt super late models throughout Southeast Wisconsin.

Watson was with the team this weekend at Kansas Speedway.

He is survived by wife Laurie and daughter Brittany.

“On behalf of Furniture Row Racing we extend our deepest sympathies to Jim’s family,” said Joe Garone, president of Furniture Row Racing. “He was an outstanding and talented member of our racing family, whose life was dedicated to racing since his early days as a race-car driver in Wisconsin. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Jim’s wife Laurie, daughter Brittany and to his entire family and friends. Our No. 77 and 78 teams will be racing with heavy hearts today.”

Ryan Blaney ready to prove doubters wrong

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KANSAS CITY, Kansas — Ryan Blaney has a bit of a chip on his shoulder this weekend.

The 23-year-old driver for the Wood Brothers seeks to hold off three former champions today at Kansas Speedway (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) for a spot in the next round of the Cup playoffs.

Even though former champions Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth trail Blaney in the points, some say Blaney won’t hold them off and advance to the Round of 8.

“I’ve heard that all week that we don’t really deserve to be here, so that kind of ticked me off a little bit,’’ Blaney said Friday after qualifying.

“They just say we’ve been kind of overachieving or they didn’t expect us to be here. Those little things kind of make you a little bit irritated because our guys do just as good a job as anybody. They deserve to be here. They work their tails off like anybody else. Hopefully, we can prove that Sunday.’’

MORE: Wood Brothers lifeline started with a phone call

Blaney’s job, though, will be more difficult. He will start last in the 40-car field because his car failed inspection after qualifying. Kenseth (third), Busch (seventh) and Johnson (13th) all start in the top 15 and should be able to work their way into the top 10 to score stage points by Lap 80 when the first stage ends. Blaney will be challenged to do so and could see his advantage on each shrink. 

There’s hope for Blaney because he posted the fastest lap in Saturday’s final Cup practice. But he ranked ninth in average over 10 consecutive laps — behind Busch and Kenseth.

“There’s definitely things we can improve on,’’ Blaney said after placing third in Saturday’s Xfinity race. “(In the Cup race) everyone is going to be kind of married to the wall pretty early in a run. It might be hard to pass. Hopefully, we can work the bottom. I think the Cup cars might wear the top out, might over-rubber it where we have to move down a little bit.’’

With starting in the rear of the field, changing weather conditions (the wind is not expected to be as prevalent today as Saturday) and facing an elimination race, it would be easy for the pressure build on a driver and team.

“I really don’t feel that it’s a different weekend,’’ he said, alluding to the battle for the final playoff spots. “More people are paying attention to it because it’s a big deal. There’s four cars pretty much going for two spots. We try to approach it as any other weekend. It will be more challenging coming from the back.’’

Along with starting at the rear for the penalty, Blaney’s team had to pick last for pit stalls for failing inspection after qualifying.

His team would have had the third pick and he would have had an opening either before or after his stall, making it easier to either enter or exit. Now, he’ll be sandwiched between Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Provided both stay on the lead lap, Blaney could face challenges squeezing into his stall throughout the race.

“It doesn’t help our situation for sure,’’ Blaney said. “Those are two good cars. We’ll kind of be pitched between them all day. Dale actually sent me a text. Teams work well with each other about that. That will be tough for us. That will be another challenge.’’

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Today’s Cup race at Kansas: Start time, weather, TV/radio info

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It’s once again elimination time in the NASCAR Cup Series.

The playoff field will be cut from 12 to eight drivers following today’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.

Pole-sitter Martin Truex Jr. will be looking to earn his sixth win on a 1.5-mile track this year. He won the last visit to Kansas Speedway in May.

Here’s all the important info you need ahead of the race, which will air on NBCSN.

(All times are Eastern)

START: Jay Hernandez will give the command to start engines at 3:07 p.m. Green flag is scheduled for 3:16 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 267 laps (400 miles) around the 1.5-mile oval.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 80. Stage 2 ends at Lap 160.

COMPETITION CAUTION: Lap 30

PRERACE SCHEDULE: Garage opens at 9:30 a.m. Driver-crew chief meeting is at 1 p.m. Driver introductions are at 2:20 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: Angie Rosner will perform the anthem at 3:01 p.m..

TV/RADIO:  NBCSN will broadcast the race at 3 p.m. Coverage begins at 1 p.m. on NBCSN with NASCAR America, followed by Countdown to Green at 2:30 p.m. Motor Racing Network will broadcast the race on radio and at mrn.com, starting with its pre-race show at 2 p.m. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the MRN broadcast.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com site predicts a temperature of 67 degrees and no chance of rain at race time.

LAST TIME: Martin Truex Jr. led the final 19 laps to win in May. He beat Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick. Harvick is the defending winner of this race. He beat Carl Edwards and Joey Logano last October.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for starting lineup