Merriam-Webster’s definition of the word “domination:” supremacy or preeminence over another. Domination, by that definition, is the best way to explain Brad Keselowski’s victory in Sunday’s (March 24) 2019 STP 500.
The 2012 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion triumphed at Martinsville Speedway, winning every stage and leading 446 of 500 laps. It’s the most laps led in Keselowski’s 11-year MENCS career in a race that featured just three lead changes, the fewest for a Cup race at Martinsville since way back in 1967.
Indeed, Keselowski’s 29th career Cup victory came without much resistance. Chase Elliott was able to contend and stick with Keselowski throughout the bulk of the day, but only got around him once. Elliott lost the lead on a subsequent restart, midway through the final stage and would never regain it. Elliott threw everything and the kitchen sink in the final laps at Keselowski, but the No. 9 Chevrolet couldn’t get to the No. 2 Ford’s rear bumper.
It was a relatively tame race by Martinsville standards. There were only seven cautions, even fewer for contact, but there was still plenty of close racing throughout the field. Elliott, Kyle Busch, and Ryan Blaney battled it out for second over the past 50 laps in a furious battle. However, that allowed Keselowski to drive away from the trio and build on his lead.
Busch finished third after winning the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race the day before, while Blaney finished fourth. Denny Hamlin rallied from a mid-race pit road tire penalty to finish fifth.
Kevin Harvick had two notable run-ins during the race, drawing the ire of teammate Clint Bowyer on the radio late in the first stage. Later on, Harvick gave Blaney a heck of a shot into Turn 1, but Blaney was able to hang on and keep control of his Ford. Harvick ended up sixth.
Bowyer had an ugly race, showing speed but having to rally from two speeding penalties just to finish seventh. Martin Truex Jr., last fall’s bump-and-run victim, had a quiet day and ran eighth. Aric Almirola ended up ninth after having to come back from a late race bump-and-run from Busch that made him lose six spots mid-race. Daniel Suarez rounded out the top 10.
On lap 6, Keselowski gave polesitter Joey Logano a shove to take the lead. Who knew there would be just two lead changes after that? It was the second victory of the season for Keselowski and the third for Team Penske, part of a trend where just two organizations have won the season’s first six races. (Joe Gibbs Racing is the other).
2019 is the first season since 1999 where two teams have combined to win the first six races of the season.
99: Gordon, Martin, J. Burton, Gordon, Burton, T. Labonte
19: Hamlin, Keselowski, Logano, Ky. Busch, Busch, Keselowski
— Nick Bromberg (@NickBromberg) March 24, 2019
There were only a handful of incidents on this clean-cut Martinsville day. Front Row Motorsports teammates Michael McDowell and Matt Tifft hit the wall. William Byron spun out while Erik Jones needed to make an unscheduled pit stop for contact.
The biggest issues surrounded Ross Chastain, whose Premium Motorsports car broke an axle and caused two caution flags. The axle leaked fluid all over Turns 3 and 4 on lap 147, causing chaos. A couple of drivers, including Elliott and Kyle Larson, had to make some amazing saves before NASCAR finally threw the yellow flag.
Larson went on to finish 18th, one of several Chevy drivers to have difficult days. Jimmie Johnson was lapped early and finished two laps down in 24th, one of the worst Martinsville finishes of his career.