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 

ThorSport Racing partners with Ford in Truck Series

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ThorSport Racing has partnered with Ford in a multi-year deal in the Camping World Truck Series, the team announced Monday.

The team’s announcement comes a week after it revealed the mutual decision to part ways with Toyota.

“With 23 years in the NCWTS, we look forward to our new partnership with Ford Performance in NASCAR,” team owner Duke Thorson said in a press release. “Our pursuit of wins and championships remains at the forefront of our objectives.”

ThorSport, based in Sandusky, Ohio, had been paired with the Toyota for six years, winning two titles with Matt Crafton.

“We’re excited that ThorSport Racing has decided to switch to a F-Series truck for the 2018 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series,” said Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance Motorsports in a press release. “ThorSport is a proven championship-level team in the series, and we look forward to providing them the aero and simulation technical support that will ensure they remain at the top level of the Truck Series.”

In 2017, Brad Keselowski Racing fielded the only two full-time Ford entries in the series. That team shut down following the end of the season.

Crafton will be returning to ThorSport for his 17th season – and 14th consecutive – with the team. The rest of the team’s driver lineup will be announced at a later date.

The Truck Series season begins Feb. 16th at Daytona International Speedway.

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D.J. Kennington to attempt to qualify for Daytona 500 with Gaunt Brothers Racing

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Canadian driver D.J. Kennington will try to qualify for the Daytona 500 with Gaunt Brothers Racing for the second year in a row, the team announced Monday.

Kennington, a native of St. Thomas, Ontario, will drive the No. 96 Toyota sponsored by Lordco Auto Parts and Castrol.

The team, sponsor and driver combination made the 2017 edition of the race, making Kennington the first Canadian driver to compete in the Daytona 500 in 29 years.

Kennington started 28th and finished 36th following a multi-car crash at the start of Stage 2.

“Last year was an awesome experience for my sponsors, Lordco and Castrol, and me,” Kennington said in a press release. “We knew once it was over, we wanted to do it again. (Team owner) Marty (Gaunt) and everybody at GBR is pulling out all the stops for us this year. I’m looking forward to getting back behind the wheel of the Lordco/Castrol Toyota Camry and seeing the difference a year makes.”

The 40-year-old driver has five Cup starts with a best finish of 26th in last November’s race at Phoenix.

Gaunt Brothers Racing does not own a charter, meaning Kennington is not guaranteed a starting spot in the Feb. 18 Daytona 500.

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Love’s Travel Stops returns as Front Row Motorsports sponsor

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Front Row Motorsports and Love’s Travel Stops have extended their relationship into a sixth year, the team announced Monday.

The company will sponsor the No. 34 Ford of Michael McDowell in 18 races, including the Feb. 18 Daytona 500.

It will also be on the No. 34 for both races at Texas Motor Speedway, the night race at Bristol Motor Speedway and the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

“We look forward to kicking off another great season in Daytona with Front Row Motorsports and welcoming our new driver of the No. 34 Love’s Ford, Michael McDowell,” said Dave Frankenfield, vice president of marketing for Love’s Travel Stops, in a press release. “(Team owner) Bob Jenkins and (General Manager) Jerry Freeze continue to provide great value and flexibility in our partnership while working tirelessly to put a competitive car on the track each week. They also help create a unique race-day experience that allows our customers and employees to be a part of the Love’s race team.”

The team also announced McDowell, entering his first year with FRM, will be paired with crew chief Derrick Finley. The veteran crew chief has been with the team since 2011 and worked with David Ragan last season.

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New car buoys hopes for Chevrolet to avoid ‘unacceptable’ Cup result last year

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A Chevrolet executive calls it “unacceptable” that the manufacturer did not have a car racing for the Cup championship last year at Homestead-Miami Speedway but says he expects Chevrolet to have “at least a car or two” in the title race this season with the new Camaro ZL1

Pat Suhy, Chevrolet’s NASCAR Group Manager, made the comments Sunday after a luncheon at the National Motorsports Press Association Convention.

Chevrolet had no Cup car finish higher than fifth (Chase Elliott) last year and did not score a win in the 10-race playoffs — Toyota won eight races and Ford two. Toyota won the championship with Martin Truex Jr. and Furniture Row Racing.

“If you look at the car count and just do a ratio of the car count, we were (seven) out of 16 going into the playoffs last year and to not have one make it in the final round was not good,’’ Suhy said.

“I expect us to have at least a car or two in the Final Four this year. There’s no reason we shouldn’t.’’

Suhy and others at Chevrolet are buoyed by the Camaro ZL1 and look to repeat the success Toyota had last season (16 wins in 36 races) with its updated Camry.

Suhy said a key to the Camaro ZL1 is that Chevrolet engineers found ways to move more downforce from the front to the rear of the car.

“As teams make more downforce, they tend to make more and more front downforce, they don’t gain rear downforce as much,’’ Suhy said. “With the old car, as they made more and more front downforce, it got more and more aero loose, so it got harder to keep the car from being too loose and unstable going into the turns.’’

Suhy said that while there were some Chevrolets that were strong last season — Kyle Larson won four races to lead the manufacturer — many teams had a challenge with the setup.

“I would say the loose to relative looseness of the car didn’t feel as comfortable getting into the corners,’’ Suhy said of last year’s car. “So I think a lot of it is really about driver comfort and how they feel going 210 mph down the frontstretch at Michigan and lifting and turning left and having the confidence that the car is actually going to turn left and not lose the front end. I think those are the things this car will help feel more settled, more stable and less twitchy.’’

Any new car can have its struggles. Despite its dominance last year, Toyota won only two of the first 17 races before winning 14 of the final 19.

“I think some of the things that we’ve done with our car and what we’ve done since it was approved, working together with our teams and with the teams working separately, I’d like to think that we’re not going to struggle that badly that early,’’ Suhy said. “I guess we’ll see. We’re prepared. If we do struggle, it’s not because of the fundamental design of the car, it’s really just a matter of more time development needed. We’re ready to address that if needed.’’

Chevrolet enters this new era without its NASCAR program manager. Alba Colon joined Hendrick Motorsports earlier this month to oversee the team’s competition systems group. She was among those from Chevrolet at the track most weekends who worked with the teams.

Suhy said he’s temporarily filling Colon’s job, along with his other duties, until a replacement can be found. Suhy said the team that developed the car remains and that Kevin Bayless, Chevrolet Racing NASCAR Chassis and Aerodynamics Program Manager, will play a greater role. Bayless will be at the organizational test Jan. 31-Feb. 1 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Each Cup organization is allowed to have one team test. 

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