What Drivers Said after Martinsville

Leave a comment

Brad Keselowski had just enough to hold off a late charge by runner-up Chase Elliott and third-place finisher Kyle Busch to win Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

Here’s what drivers had to say about their day:

Brad Keselowski – winner: “The car was really good – this Ford Mustang. You know, Ford worked really hard in the offseason to build these cars and make them real strong and so far, so good. It’s just a great day for our team, awesome execution on pit road and big credit to Doug Yates and all the engine guys. Those guys work really hard and it’s just one of those days you dream of as a race car driver, where you’ve got a great car. I don’t know if we were as good as the 9, Chase Elliott. He was really strong, but he passed me there with about 200 to go and I watched him and studied him and kind of broke it down and knew what I had to do to hold him off with that fast of a car and we were able to pull it off that last run with the Reese/Draw Tite Ford.”

Chase Elliott – finished second: “It was really tough. Our NAPA Camaro was good. I felt like we were about as even with him (Keselowski) as we could be. When I did get the lead, I felt like there was a little advantage to being out front and being able to work traffic your way and play off it and whatnot. But, yeah, 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. But, I tried to get to him there in (Turn) 3, but maybe next time.”

Kyle Busch – finished third: “I had a nose underneath the 2 (Brad Keselowski) there in the middle of (turns) three and four and he just chopped my nose off. Normally when you hit a guy, they move out of the way. Instead it seemed like my car had to move out of the way and then the 9 (Chase Elliott) got by me so we ended up finishing third. That was a lot better day then we probably should have had and we made the most of our opportunity with our M&M’s Camry. … (We needed) more raw speed. We were just kind of off a little bit. We didn’t qualify good and I didn’t think we were very good in practice. Not as good as we typically are here. Just lacking a little bit of something. From where we ran midway point of the race to where we finished there, that was a really good turnaround. I’m thankful to have Adam Stevens and all of my guys that work so hard for me and give me everything I need here for this M&M’s Camry to stay up front and be up front and come home with a top five again here at Martinsville.”

MORE: Click here for race results

MORE: Click here for points report

Ryan Blaney – finished fourth: “Long runs, that’s what I needed. I needed long runs and I didn’t want to see that last caution. For like a110-lap run to the finish is what it was gonna be, 120, I was like, ‘Man, that’s perfect. We’re gonna get them here.’ Our car was just starting to come to us. We just got to third and the caution came out and I was like, ‘I don’t know if we’re gonna be able to fire off alright,’ and we didn’t and we kept losing spots on pit road and you can’t have that. We would lose at least one or two spots every time we’d come down pit road and you can’t win races like that. We’ve got to clean that up, but, overall, a solid day, it’s just that those guys had a good short-run car and that’s just what it came down to. I was more 50 laps or more, but the last three weeks have been pretty smooth for us. We just have to keep having weekends like this and maybe we’ll be able to win one of these things. … (On teammate Brad Keselowski’s win) He put it on them today. It looked like from the drop of the green flag he was great. Him and the 9 looked like they had some really good racing going on for a while. They swapped back and forth, so that was good for him. He’s great here. He’s proven to be one of the best guys out here. They were on it all day. Like I said, we were kind of swapped. He was better than me short run and I was a little bit better after 50 laps, but it didn’t come down to that. It’s nice for him to get the Penske group another win and get Ford back to Victory Lane.”

Denny Hamlin – finished fifth: “It’s just one of those days where one guy hit it and was just a little bit better than everyone else, and everyone else was chasing. It seemed like we were the next car in line after the 9 (Chase Elliott), so probably a third place car. We just finished fifth because we lost there on pit road. We have a lot of races where we always have to battle back from the back of the pack, but certainly another top five and overall steady day. We just needed a little bit more speed and a little bit more handling to run with the 2 (Brad Keselowski). … (Being frustrated with pit road mistakes) we’ve got to get better. We know that. We’re struggling a little bit right now for sure, but certainly it’s a team thing. Last week I had a speeding penalty so it all equals out. If you’re not going to be the best car, you have to execute perfectly. The best car didn’t falter so it wouldn’t have made a difference either way, but certainly cost us maybe one or two spots today. Nothing to hang our heads about. Overall a good day.”

Kevin Harvick – finished sixth: “It was an OK day for us. I think as you look at our Martinsville stuff it’s been hit or miss. I feel like I was a little better than the 11 and the 12, but you’ve got to be able to get by them on the restarts. We just never could get the car right all day and be able to let off the brake and roll to the center of the corner. It was definitely not what we wanted, but not a bad day for us at Martinsville. … We just were a little bit off rolling speed to the center of the corner and I couldn’t quite get to the throttle like I needed to and kind of just, I don’t know, we could kind of hold our ground on the restarts, not really gain anything, and track position was a big deal.”

Clint Bowyer – finished seventh: “I don’t think anybody obviously had anything for the 2 or the 9 made some adjustments there early and was really fast. I think we were a top three car for sure, but we kept beating ourselves. … I guess we need to get our stuff together on being on the same page with that pit road speed. It’s such an important thing and such a big part of this style of racing, where track position is everything. We push it to the limit, but it’s so hard to practice pit road speed. You’ve got trucks on pit road when you’re trying to practice that. I’m not making any excuses, it’s just when you’re trying to pinch every little thing out of it, it was hard this week to practice pit road speed because of all the stuff on pit road. … It’s obviously on us. We just weren’t on the same page. It’s frustrating. It is what it is. We just have to quit beating ourselves.”

Martin Truex Jr. – finished eighth: “It was tough. We started ninth and finished eighth. It sounds pretty simple. Actually we started eighth. A lot of stuff we worked on in between. Just really could never get the handle all day long. Too loose off the corner. I couldn’t get forward drive. No matter what we did it seemed like we couldn’t get it. We struggled a little bit. I thought we were going to be better than that today. Good job by the guys. A nice consistent day. We just didn’t have anything special. … We just missed it a little bit. We were really good yesterday in practice. Martinsville is a weird place. You can be the best car in practice and finish 20th in the race. We were too good yesterday I guess. Just fought one thing all day, a terminal problem, and really couldn’t do anything to get it better.”

Aric Almirola – finished ninth: “We just lost a lot of track position on pit road today and then the 18 got in my left-rear quarter on one of those restarts. I got together with the 19 off two and had to check up a little bit and the 18 kind of bonsai’d it down there into turn three and about wiped me out. I lost 10 or 15 spots and then we fought track position the rest of the day. Every time we’d pass a bunch of cars and get back in the top six or seven we’d have a horrible pit stop and come back out 13th or 15th. It was just a long, long, tough day.”

Daniel Suarez, finished 10th: “We were good in the long run, but, unfortunately, we didn’t have a lot of longer runs the rest of the day. felt like in the long run maybe my car was the best, but the short run wasn’t as good. It’s funny because yesterday it was the opposite, but something good to build on and hopefully we can keep going in the right direction. … The consistency was good. I wish we had a little bit more speed on the short run, but it was a decent day. It’s something good to build on and hopefully we can keep getting better.”

Ty Dillon – finished 13th: “Our GEICO Camaro was extremely fast, but we had two speeding penalties. To finish 13th after starting 22nd and having those two penalties, that shows how much speed we had today. I am very proud of our day, and you can always say ‘what if’, like if we didn’t have the penalties – where would we have been? But I am really proud of our effort, and this is what we envisioned three years ago in doing. Just getting better every year and making sure we had taken the right steps to be where we needed to be in year three. We just want to keep going in that direction and I think if you look at Phoenix, Martinsville, and these short tracks, we have gotten better and better every year. I think as we continue to grow we are going to be more and more competitive at the short tracks. We just have to get it where we are running top-15 at the 1.5-mile tracks, and then we can be really competitive.”

Alex Bowman – finished 14th: “When the clouds came out we got a whole lot worse. That is a bummer because we were running ninth or 10th right before that. Really good execution today. We weren’t fast, but we had good execution today and it’s one of those days where you can go home and feel pretty good knowing you did everything you could. Pit stops were really, really good and adjustments were good for the most part. So, we didn’t have the race car we needed, but the team executed today really well.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Brad Keselowski puts on driving clinic with dominant Martinsville win

1 Comment

Brad Keselowski put on a driving clinic Sunday at Martinsville Speedway, leading 446 of 500 laps to win the STP 500. It was Keselowski’s second win of the season (he also won at Atlanta), and his fourth top-three finish in the last five races.

Keselowski’s 446 laps led are the most by any driver in a single race since NBC NASCAR analyst Kyle Petty led 484 laps en route to victory at Rockingham Speedway in October 1992.

Sunday marked Keselowski’s 29th career Cup win and his second Cup triumph in 19 starts at Martinsville. Starting with his April 2017 victory there, Keselowski has led 712 laps over the last five races at the southern Virginia short track. 

MORE: Click here for race results

MORE: Click here for points report

“The car was really good,” Keselowski told Fox Sports 1. “Just a great day for our team. Awesome execution on pit road. … Just one of those days you dream of as a race car driver, where you have a great car.

“(Runner-up) Chase Elliott was real strong. He passed me with about 200 laps to go. I watched him and studied and knew what I had to do to hold him off and really pulled it off.”

Elliott tried to mount a last-lap surge — two of the previous three races at Martinsville have been won on last-lap passes — but fell short.

“Our Camaro was good and felt we were about as even with him as we could be,” Elliott said. “I tried to move up there at the end, but I don’t know if I could have got to him, maybe if I had moved up a little sooner. Maybe next time.”

Kyle Busch, making his 1,000th career NASCAR start, finished third, snapping a two-race winning streak. Busch and Keselowski are the only two drivers to win more than once this season.

Ryan Blaney finished fourth, followed by Denny Hamlin. Sixth through 10th were Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr., Aric Almirola and Daniel Suarez.

There were only three leaders in the race: Keselowski, Chase Elliott (49 laps) and Keselowski’s Team Penske teammate Joey Logano (five laps).

STAGE 1 WINNER: Brad Keselowski (first stage win of season)

STAGE 2 WINNER: Brad Keselowski

WHO HAD A GOOD DAY: Chase Elliott finally put Hendrick Motorsports in the top five for the first time this season with his runner-up finish. … Clint Bowyer bounced back from two pit road speeding penalties to finish seventh. It was Bowyer’s second top 10 of the season. … Aric Almirola continues to be one of the most consistent drivers through the first six races, earning his fifth consecutive top-10 Sunday.

WHO HAD A BAD DAY: Ross Chastain lost an axle on Lap 146, returned to the track after repairs in the garage, only to suffer mechanical failure that brought out the caution on Lap 445. Chastain finished 34th in the 36-car field. … The struggles continue for nine-time Martinsville winner Jimmie Johnson, who finished 24th (tied for his worst showing of the season), two laps down. Johnson’s winless streak is now at 65 straight races. His last win was at Dover in June 2017.

NOTABLE: Team Penske is tied with Joe Gibbs Racing in wins, each organization having won three races apiece in the first six races. Penske wins are by Keselowski (two) and Logano (once). JGR’s wins are by Busch (two) and Hamlin (one).

WHAT’S NEXT: O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday, March 31 (Fox).

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Cup starting lineup at Martinsville

Leave a comment

Fords flexed their muscle during Saturday’s qualifying, grabbing the first four spots and six of the first 11 for Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

Joey Logano will start from the pole, alongside Aric Almirola. Brad Keselowski will start in Row 2, alongside Kevin Harvick.

Row 3 will have Denny Hamlin and William Byron. Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott make up Row 4, while Martin Truex Jr. and Daniel Suarez will start from Row 5.

Click here for the full row-by-row Cup starting lineup.

Note that the starting lineup is provisional until Sunday morning’s pre-race inspection. Any car that fails inspection will lose its starting spot and move to the back of the field.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Joey Logano holds off Aric Almirola for Martinsville pole

2 Comments

Led by defending NASCAR Cup Series champion and pole sitter Joey Logano, Fords dominated qualifying, capturing the four top spots for Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

Logano covered the .526-mile oval with a speed of 97.830 mph, earning the 21st pole of his Cup career — with five of those now coming at Martinsville.

“You just have to be so precise and pushing yourself so hard in the corners, and a mistake is such a penalty,” Logano told Fox Sports 1. “It was awesome to get another pole here at Martinsville and hopefully we can top it off with … another win in the books.”

Aric Almirola was second fastest (97.643 mph), followed by Brad Keselowski (97.458), Kevin Harvick (97.832), Denny Hamlin (97.362), William Byron (97.202), Kyle Larson (97.098), Chase Elliott (97.053), Martin Truex Jr. (97.018), Daniel Suarez (96.830), Clint Bowyer (96.706) and Jimmie Johnson (96.573).

It appeared as if Almirola might take the pole, but Logano overtook him with just 34 seconds remaining in the final round.

“I just barely missed it by a little bit, and that’s all it takes,” Almirola told FS1. “We came up close, but just not enough.”

Kyle Busch failed to advance to the final round of qualifying. He’ll take the green flag Sunday from the 14th position in the 1,000th overall NASCAR start of his career. Just before Cup qualifying, Busch won the 201st race of his NASCAR career in the Truck Series race.

Click here for full qualifying results.

NOTES:

* The starting lineup is provisional until Sunday morning’s pre-race inspection. Any car that fails inspection will lose its starting spot and move to the back of the field.

* Daniel Suarez was penalized for speeding on pit road during the final round, but managed to bounce back for another try to earn the 10th starting spot.

* Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s first qualifying attempt was disallowed for speeding on pit road. He came back on-track to try again before the session expired, but could go no faster than 25th, failing to advance to the second round. “I didn’t feel I was going that fast (on pit road),” Stenhouse Jr. told Fox Sports 1. “Either way, our first or second time wasn’t good enough to make it. Definitely not the qualifying effort we wanted.”

* Cody Ware and Cory LaJoie did not make qualifying attempts, having to work on their race cars after being involved in wrecks during Saturday’s practice sessions.

* Sunday’s STP 500 (500 laps/263 miles) will take the green flag shortly after 2 p.m. ET (Fox Sports 1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Follow @JerryBonkowski

NBC Power Rankings heading to Martinsville

Leave a comment

For the third time in the last four weeks Kyle Busch is the unanimous No. 1 pick in the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings.

Busch made history last weekend at Auto Club Speedway, earning the 200th win of his NASCAR career across all three major series. With the three-race West Coast swing now in its rearview mirror, NASCAR heads to the series’ shortest track, the .526-mile Martinsville Speedway.

Making the biggest jump in this week’s rankings were Team Penske teammates Brad Keselowski (seventh to fourth) and Ryan Blaney (ninth to sixth). The biggest drop was Martin Truex Jr., who fell to seventh from second.

Here’s how this week’s Power Rankings look:

1. Kyle Busch (40 points): The King of the sport at this point. In 10 national series starts this year, he has six wins and two runner-up finishes and has not finished lower than sixth in any race. Last week: 1st.

2. Joey Logano (35 points): Two top-two finishes during West Coast swing plus a 10th at Phoenix. Only Kyle Busch scored more points than Logano during the three-race swing. Last week: 3rd.

3. Kevin Harvick (30 points): Hasn’t led any laps since Las Vegas, but has finished fourth three times since Daytona. Last week: 5th.

4. Brad Keselowski (29 points): Rebounded from a dismal Phoenix race to lead 42 laps and place third at Fontana. His four races since Daytona have included three finishes in top three. Last week: 7th.

5. Kurt Busch (22 points): Four consecutive top 10s but has failed to make the final round of qualifying in the last three races. That’s contributed to him having only four stage points in that time. Last week: 4th.

6. Ryan Blaney (17 points): He is nipping at the heels of his powerhouse Penske teammates. Could he join Logano and Keselowski with a playoff berth with a win at Martinsville? Last week: 9th.

7. Martin Truex Jr. (16 points): Talk about consistency: Truex has finished second, eighth, second and eighth in his last four starts. Last week: 2nd.

8. Denny Hamlin (12 points): Still has not finished worse than 11th this season. Last week: 6th.

9. Aric Almirola (10 points): Just keeps clicking off top 10s. That’s four in a row for him. Now has nine top 10s (including a win last fall at Talladega) in his last 11 starts. Last week: 8th.

10. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (5 points): Even though he finished 14th at Fontana, his second-worst showing of the season, again receives major points for displaying grit and sheer will. Climbs back into the top 10 after dropping out last week.

Others receiving votes: Austin Dillon (2 points), Kyle Larson (1 point), Chase Elliott (1 point).