NBC Sports’ four analysts on Monday’s edition of NASCAR America agreed that the turning point in Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway was when Chase Elliott passed Brad Keselowski on Lap 324 of the 500-lap event.
“In my eyes, the turning point happened when Chase Elliott took the lead from Brad Keselowski,” Jeff Burton said. “This was the beginning of Brad and his team having to do something different.”
Added Dale Jarrett: “That was the textbook way to make a pass at Martinsville by Chase Elliott. But this had not happened all day. Okay, so what is going to happen from this point on? Is Brad going to be able to recover from it?”
Elliott would go on to lead the next 49 laps, while Keselowski bided his time and watched the young driver’s tendencies, all of which Keselowski took advantage of when he regained the lead on Lap 373 and held on for the remaining 127 laps.
“And this happens,” Burton said of Matt Tifft hitting the wall on Lap 373 to bring out the caution, which allowed Keselowski to exit pit road first and regain the lead. “Always something happens that changes the game. And now, the pressure gets put on the pit crews and who can get that track position and make it happen when pressure is high.”
But all four analysts – including Rick Allen and Kyle Petty – agreed that while it may have seemed like Sunday’s race was a two-horse race between Keselowski and Elliott, there was one other wild card that both drivers had to worry about in the final laps.
But the way our analysts saw it, Busch was more of a threat to Elliott than Keselowski.
“That’s the hardest thing as a driver at Martinsville, knowing a guy like Kyle Busch is willing to stick his nose in there,” Jarrett said. “You didn’t want to take too much of a chance, but Kyle Busch made life a little more difficult for Chase Elliott in that respect at that point in time.”
Added Petty: “I thought Chase showed great patience beyond his years because he did know he had a good car. He got hung on the outside, left Kyle to roll on the inside, but would put himself in position to accelerate off and eventually cleared Kyle and took that position.”
One other thing to note: As dominant as Keselowski was, leading 446 of the race’s 500 laps, one stat jumped out that potentially was the biggest key in Sunday’s outcome.
“Check this out: (Keselowski) entered the pits first all but one time and left the pits in first each time,” Burton said. “Track position at Martinsville is king and Brad was able to take advantage of it and do his job.
“But if not for (Keselowski’s) pit crew, we might be talking about a different winner today.”