MARTINSVILLE, Va.—Brad Keselowski gave Team Penske and the new Ford Mustang its third Cup victory through the first six races of the season by routing the field at Martinsville Speedway yesterday.
Keselowski led 446 of the 500 laps around the shortest track on the NASCAR schedule and only was challenged a handful of times by Chase Elliott—the only driver to pass Keselowski on the track.
Although Elliott led 49 laps, a late caution sent the field to pit road and Keselowski beat Elliott back to the track.
Elliott never could get close enough to challenge Keselowski for the win again.
“The car was really good. Just a great day for a team,” Keselowski said.
“Just one of those days you dream of as a race car driver, where you've got a great car.”
The 446 laps led is the most for a winning driver since Kyle Petty led 484 to win at Rockingham back in 1992.
It was the most laps Keselowski has ever led in a single race, easily surpassing the mark of 312 laps out front at Texas Motor Speedway in 2015.
He credited the off-season work by Ford, which rolled out a new Cup car at the start of the season, and the Team Penske pit stops that got him off pit road first every time he came in for service.
“Ford worked really hard in the off-season to build these cars and make them real strong and so far, so good,” Keselowski noted.
“It's just a great day for our team, awesome execution on pit road," he added. "Those guys work really hard.”
Ford has three wins this season, all from Team Penske, while Toyota won the other three races.
Martinsville, a paperclip-shaped track at 0.526 miles, typically forces drivers to gouge each other out of the way.
The tight confines of the tiny Virginia track raises the aggravation levels for most of the field and usually leads to bumping, banging, and busted-up race cars.
But NASCAR's new rules package, in its first stop at a short track, seemed to hamper drivers' ability to close on the leader and it limited passing opportunities.
The one time Elliott did pass Keselowski, he studied Elliott's lines and took notes for when he was back out front.
“He was certainly faster on that short run, and when he passed me I learned just enough,” Keselowski said.
“The pit crew got me back in front of him on the next-to-last pit stop and I seemed to kind of apply the lessons.”
Keselowski started the race third behind teammate Joey Logano, who led the first five laps of the race.
Keselowski briefly nudged Logano out of the groove on the sixth lap and took off for the rout that earned him his second Martinsville grandfather clock.
Elliott finished second in a Chevrolet from Hendrick Motorsports—the first top-five finish for a Hendrick driver this season.
“I felt like we were about as even with him as we could be,” said Elliott, who second-guessed the timing of one of his attempts to pass Keselowski.
"When he did get the lead, there was a little advantage to being out front, being able to work traffic. . . .
“I tried to move up there at the end and I don't know if I could have got to him,” Elliott admitted.
“Maybe if I moved up a little sooner, maybe next time.”
Kyle Busch was third in a Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, Penske driver Ryan Blaney was fourth while Gibbs driver and five-time Martinsville winner Denny Hamlin was fifth.