Kyle Busch wins at Martinsville, secures spot in final four
MARTINSVILLE, Va. — With most of the field wrecking behind him, Kyle Busch took the lead on the final lap and won the First Data 500 on Sunday at Martinsville Speedway.
It was his fifth Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win of the season and clinched a position among the Championship Four at the 2017 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 19.
“It’s just a great win for this whole M&M’s Halloween Toyota Camry,” Busch said. “Awesome to get to victory lane here at Martinsville. You know I wanted to win Charlotte, Martinsville and Homestead, and that’ll make us this year’s champions, so we’ve got one more.
“Just wanted to say our guys did an awesome job preparing this car. We weren’t the best all day, but we put ourselves in the right spots there at the end and there was kind of chaos ensuing and none of it was our fault; we just came out on the right end of the stick. Can’t say enough about NOS Energy Drinks, Cessna, DVX Sunglasses. My son Brexton’s at home. He’s not here with us this weekend, so want to say hey to him; we’ll see you later tonight buddy. Looking forward to going to Homestead.”
Busch led a race-high 184 laps.
Martin Truex Jr. finished second, Clint Bowyer was third, Brad Keselowski took fourth and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top five.
“It’s just Martinsville,” Harvick said. “That’s what it’s all about. It’s championship time. It’s time to get physical. I’ve just got to thank everybody on my Busch Non-Alcoholic Ford, Jimmy John’s, Mobil 1, Outback, Hunt Brothers, Morton Buildings, Textron Off Road, everybody who helps this car go around the race track. I really want to help all of my guys at Stewart-Haas Racing. They built this car in two weeks and we were way more competitive than we were in the spring. Bent fenders, hurt feelings. I love it.”
Keselowski and Chase Elliott raced for the lead on a restart inside the final 10 laps. After contact between the two drivers, Elliott took the lead. Denny Hamlin moved into second and made contact with Elliott, resulting in an Elliott spin and Hamlin taking the lead.
Elliott’s spin brought out the 11th and final caution flag of the race and an overtime restart.
“Yeah, well, he (Hamlin) came over and talked to me on the back straightaway, and he said somebody was pushing him, but it wasn’t two car lengths between him and the next guy,” Elliott said. “So, my Momma always said if you don’t have anything nice not to say anything at all. So, it’s not even worth my time. We’ll just go on to Texas.”
On the final lap, Busch took the lead and Hamlin was among the drivers involved in the crash at race’s end.
“I wanted to get a better restart, pinch Denny down a little bit, but it actually kind of worked out better for me that he got ahead a little bit — gave me a gap,” Busch said. “I got down and he got into turn three and just pushed up the race track, and I knew I had to plug that hole right away, because I was just gonna get beat on from behind, so I got up in there and rooted him out of the way a little bit, and we dragged raced down the front straightaway and deep into one, I just wheel-hopped, chattered the rear tires, and it was sideways getting in there trying to calm it down with the brakes and everything else.
“Was able to get through there, luckily, somehow. I don’t know how, and beat Truex off of turn four back to the start/finish line.”
Elliott led for the first time after a pass against Busch on Lap 324. Elliott lost the lead temporarily when Keselowski and Busch beat him off pit road during a Lap 360 caution. Elliott, though, retook the lead on Lap 385.
Keselowski won both of the 130-lap stages that made up the first 260 laps of the 500-lap race.
“We had a really great Alliance Truck Parts Ford,” Keselowski said. “We were able to lead laps and win the two stages and bring home a solid finish, and that’s something to be proud of.”
Keselowski and Team Penske teammate and pole-sitter Joey Logano combined to lead all of the laps until Jimmie Johnson inherited the lead through pit strategy during a Lap 87 caution.
Johnson started in the back and pitted from 18th during the previous caution on Lap 62. Johnson, along with seven other drivers, stayed out when most of the rest of the race field pitted under the next yellow flag.
Keselowski, though, on new tires, quickly got back up to the front, retaking the lead from Johnson on Lap 114. Johnson then lost additional positions.
Busch got out of the pits first during the caution between the first two stages and led nearly the entire second stage, but Keselowski was able to pass him inside the final three laps of the stage for another stage win.
Busch, though, got off pit road first during the caution that separated the second stage for the third to retake the lead.
After serving a pit-road speeding penalty at the end of the opening stage, Hamlin was the only playoff driver not in the top 10 at the end of the second stage. He was inside the top 15, though, barely hanging on to the end of the lead lap.
Harvick was the only playoff driver not in the top 10 at the end of the first stage.
NOTES: Reigning and seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson leads active drivers with nine wins at Martinsville Speedway, including last year’s First Data 500. That ties him with Jeff Gordon for third on the Martinsville wins list. ... Brad Keselowski won the most recent race at Martinsville Speedway in April. ... Hendrick Motorsports won the last five fall races at Martinsville. ... Johnson qualified 24th after wheel-hopping and spinning in round two of qualifying earlier in the day, but he started in the back after his team made a gear change. Erik Jones also started in the back in a backup car after a wreck in one of the Saturday practice sessions. Austin Dillon and Paul Menard started in the back after unapproved adjustments to their cars. ... Pole-sitter Joey Logano was fastest in final practice Saturday and led all three rounds of qualifying. Denny Hamlin was fastest in the first practice.