Michael McDowell Logs His 15th Top Twenty Finish For 2017

Michael McDowell
Leavine Family Racing (LFR) and Michael McDowell earned their 15th Top-20 of the season as they rallied back from early race trouble at Martinsville Speedway.

 The team had a fast No. 95 Rohto® Jolt™ Chevrolet SS all weekend, as they were 14th fastest in first practice and were 5th fastest in the first round of qualifying. McDowell went on to earn a 20th place starting position in the second round of qualifying for the First Data 500.

 McDowell started his run off strong before he and another driver made contact to bring out a caution. He acquired right front damage along with a flat right front tire. As McDowell pitted to fix the damage, the team raced against the five-minute damage repair clock that could have proven detrimental if the clock were to expire before the team finished repairs.

 Fortunately, the team fixed the damage in the allotted time, but went down a lap down in the process. McDowell would also be forced to restart from the rear of the field due to a speeding penalty on pit road.

 Although the damage caused McDowell to go down a lap, he earned the Lucky Dog spot when a caution came on out lap 88. He was then able to finish the stage in 23rd as his brakes began to fade.

 McDowell then fought a loose-handling car during the second stage, but was able to finish the stage in 26th before pitting under caution. He began the final stage in the same position and raced until a caution came out on lap 302. McDowell then reported he was beginning to feel his brakes fade on his No. 95 Rohto® Jolt™ Chevy even more, but stayed out under caution.

 Soon after the restart, another caution flag quickly fell, allowing McDowell to pit for tires and adjustments. He restarted 21st and raced until lap 360 before reporting continuous brake issues and lack of overall drive off. He pitted two laps later for four tires and minor adjustments.

 With just over 100 laps remaining, McDowell reported that he felt like his sway bar broke, but was able to maintain position. The team later determined it was a sway bar link and arm that broke.

 McDowell made his final pit stop under caution with 10 laps remaining and avoided another late caution to finish 19th, earning LFR’s 15th Top-20 finish of the season.

 “It was a hard fought day for us, that’s for sure,” said McDowell. “We were hoping for a little more, but we had to overcome a lot. We got some damage really early on, got a penalty, and had to gain a lap back. Not a bad finish for us overall and another Top-20 for the team.”

 Next up for McDowell and LFR is Texas Motor Speedway, the home track of LFR team owners and partners.

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!

Kevin Harvick Logged A Fifth Place Finish At Martinsville

Kevin Harvick

Date: Oct. 29, 2017

Event: First Data 500 (Round 33 of 36)

Series: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

Location: Martinsville (Va.) Speedway (.526-mile oval)

Format: 500 laps, broken into three stages (130 laps/130 laps/240 laps)

Start/Finish: 13th/5th (Running, completed 505 of 505 laps) in overtime

Point Standing: 4th with 4,053 points, three points ahead of fifth-place in the Round of 8

 

Race Winner: Kyle Busch of Joe Gibbs Racing (Toyota)

Stage 1 Winner: Brad Keselowski of Team Penske (Ford)

Stage 2 Winner: Brad Keselowski of Team Penske (Ford)

 

Stage 1 Recap (Laps 1-130):

● Kevin Harvick started 13th and finished 13th.

● Harvick raced the Busch NA Ford Fusion into the top-10 by the competition caution on lap 35.

 The No. 4 Ford stayed out under caution on lap 64 to maintain the ninth position.

● Harvick came to pit road for tires and fuel on lap 90, but eight cars opted to stay out, forcing the No. 4 to restart in the 17th position.

● The No. 4 team pitted at the end of the stage for four tires, fuel and a wedge adjustment.

 

Stage 2 Recap (Laps 131-260):

● Started 10th, finished seventh and earned four bonus points.

 Stage 2 went caution free and allowed Harvick to race the Busch NA Ford from the 10th position up to seventh.

● The Busch NA Ford came to pit road at the conclusion of Stage 2 for four tires, fuel and a chassis adjustment.

 

Final Stage Recap (Laps 261-500):

● Started eighth, finished fifth.

● Harvick brought the Busch NA Ford to pit road from the eighth position under caution on lap 309 for four tires and fuel.

 The Busch NA Ford restarted eighth on lap 320 after staying out under caution on lap 317.

● The No. 4 Ford came to pit road under caution from the sixth position on lap 362 for four tires, fuel and fender repair but came out 15th after a mishap during the pit stop.

● The Busch NA team came to pit road under caution from the 13th position for four tires and fuel on lap 460 and came off pit road in the 11th position.

● Harvick stayed out during a flurry of cautions at the end of the race and advanced from ninth to fifth in the final laps.

 

Notes:

● Harvick scored his 11th top-five and 20th top-10 finish of 2017.

● This was Harvick’s fourth top-five and 15th top-10 in 33 career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series starts at Martinsville.

● Harvick finished seventh in Stage 2 for four points.

● There were 11 caution periods for a total of 74 laps.

● Twenty-three of the 40 drivers in the First Data finished on the lead lap.

 

Kevin Harvick, driver of the No. 4 Busch NA Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:

“It’s just Martinsville. 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 racetrack. 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.”

 

Playoff Standings (with two races remaining in the Round of 8):

1.       Kyle Busch (4,100 points, -17) 1 win

2.       Martin Truex Jr. (4,117 points) +67

3.       Brad Keselowski (4,079 points, -38) +29 points

4.       Kevin Harvick (4,053 points, -64) +3 points

5.       Jimmie Johnson (4,050 points, -67) -3 points

6.       Ryan Blaney (4,047 points, -70) -6 points

7.       Denny Hamlin (4,045 points, -72) -8 points

8.       Chase Elliott (4,027 points, -90) -26 points

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!

Team Penske Reviews The First Data 500 At Martinsville

Brad Keselowski & Kasey Kahne
Track:                  Martinsville Speedway

Race:                   First Data 500

Date:                   October 29, 2017

 

No. 2 Alliance Truck Parts Ford Fusion – Brad Keselowski

Start: 7th

Finish: 4th

Status: Running

Laps Completed: 505/505

Laps Led: 108

Point Standings (behind leader): 3rd (-38)

 

Recap: Brad Keselowski and the No. 2 Alliance Truck Parts Ford Fusion team did everything necessary to win Sunday’s First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway before untimely, late-race incidents resulted in a fourth-place finish for the team. Keselowski began the race from the seventh position, but began to show early in the event that he had one of the cars to beat on the day. The 2012 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS) champion raced his way into the third position before the first caution of the day on lap 36, during which he radioed to crew chief Paul Wolfe not to make any adjustments to the Ford as he was happy with the handling. A solid pit stop – a hallmark for the Miller Lite pit crew all race – for four tires and fuel propelled Keselowski into second place for the restart on lap 45 and he quickly made his way into the lead on lap 49. After restarting the race from the 11th position following a pit stop on lap 89 where other drivers stayed out, Keselowski maneuvered his way back to the front to pick up the win in the first, 130-lap stage. Despite lacking forward drive throughout the second, 130-lap stage – which ran caution free – Keselowski scored another stage win to set up an opportunity to sweep the stages. Wolfe made small adjustments on a few pit stops during the race and Keselowski radioed that each had a great effect on the handling of the Ford. As a result, he was able to maintain his position inside the top five for most of the final, 240-lap stage. When a caution was displayed on lap 458 with Keselowski running in the third position, Wolfe brought his driver down pit road for four tires, fuel and an air pressure adjustment. Great pit work again by the Miller Lite team pushed Keselowski into the lead for the restart. He would stay at the front of the field until lap 492 when the caution came out for a spin, setting the stage for a wild Martinsville finish in the first race under the lights in the long history of the oval. Keselowski restarted from the lead at lap 497, but contact between him and the No. 24 of Chase Elliot pushed Keselowski out of the groove and several cars made their way around him. Yet another caution flag two laps later gave Keselowski an opportunity to regain some of the lost track position, which he did by driving through a multi-car wreck on the last lap to finish fourth. He remains third in the MENCS Playoff standings going into next weekend’s race at Texas Motor Speedway

Quote: “There was a lot of hard fighting here because it’s a short track.  That’s what short tracks are kind of about is rooting and gauging.  You try not to take anybody out, but you’ve got to sometimes rub a little bit.  But we had a really great Alliance Truck Parts Ford.  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.”

 

No. 22 Shell-Pennzoil Ford Fusion – Joey Logano

Start: 1st (19th career MENCS pole)

Finish: 24th

Status: Running

Laps Completed: 504/505

Laps Led:  59

Point Standings (behind leader):  17th

 

Recap:  Joey Logano and the No. 22 Shell-Pennzoil Ford Fusion started from the pole position in Sunday afternoon’s First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway, and finished 24th after a late-race tire issue dropped them down a lap to the leaders late in the event. Logano started from the pole and led the opening 48 laps of the race, despite having a Ford Fusion that struggled on initial takeoff. Logano reported the Ford’s handling to improve around the 10th lap of each run, as he would run inside the top five for the majority of the race. Crew chief Todd Gordon made only small wedge and air pressure adjustments to the Shell-Pennzoil Ford in an effort to stay with the changing track conditions as temperatures continued to fall. The team would finish the first two stages in third position, as Logano continued to capitalize on the long run potential of his car. In the final 240-lap run to the finish, the team would slip back as far as ninth in the running order with varying pit strategy, but Logano wasted no time charging back inside the top five on a long green-flag, late-race run. Unfortunately, following a late-race restart, contact from eventual race winner Kyle Busch would result in a cut left-rear tire for the No. 22 Shell-Pennzoil Ford and would drop Logano from the lead lap and out of the ensuing chaos to the finish. The team led 59 laps on the afternoon, one of only six cars to lead at least one lap in the race, which featured numerous long green-flag runs with the bulk of the races cautions coming in the final 40 laps.

 

Quote  “The Shell-Pennzoil team brought a great Ford Fusion this weekend. We knew Saturday we had a good piece in the two practices and qualifying on the pole today felt really good. We were a really good long-run car, struggled a little bit on the short run. Unfortunately, the cut tire put an end to what was a great race. Our guys executed really well in the pits all day and I wanted to win that one really bad. We’ve got three races left and we’re not going to quit.”

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!

Blaney Survives The Martinsville Mayhem

Ryan Blaney
Ryan Blaney and the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane team remain in contention for a spot in the championship round of the Monster Energy Cup playoffs after surviving a fender-banging First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

Blaney scored points in the first two stages, lost a little speed midway through the race, then battled back into the top five for the start of an overtime run to the finish. But he was swept up in a multi-car crash at the finish line and wound up finishing eighth.

That put him sixth in the points standings but just six points shy of being in the top four.

The top four in the standings after the next two races – at Texas Motor Speedway and Phoenix Raceway – will compete for the title in Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Blaney started Sunday’s 500-lapper from the fourth position and scored nine critical points in both of the race’s 130-lap Stages. He was seventh in the first stage and sixth in the second.

He and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team battled back from a tire rub midway through the race and dropped out of the top 10 for a time. But on the final pit stop, crew chief Jeremy Bullins hit the target on the chassis set-up, and Blaney was able to drive his way into the top five for the start of an overtime run to the checkered flag.

Even with his involvement in the last-lap crash, Blaney dropped just three spots in the finishing order, preserving an impressive points day.

“The last handful of restarts were just pandemonium,” Blaney said. “It was pretty ridiculous with everyone wrecking each other and running into each other.

“I thought we were going to make it through the last one, but we just kind of got caught up off of [Turn] Four in all that stuff.  At least we salvaged a decent day.

“Honestly, a lot of cars got torn up, but we’ll go on to Texas and see what we have.”

The ending of the race, while disappointing, wasn’t what team co-owner Eddie Wood had on his mind as he left the track Sunday night.

“It was just a crazy weekend at Martinsville,” Wood said. “Ryan did a great job of keeping the car straight all day, and we can go to Texas still in a good spot in the points standings.

“And we had a great Fan Appreciation Day at the museum in Stuart on Friday. There was a huge crowd there, and a lot of kids having a great time.

“All it all, it was a good weekend.”

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!

Clint Bowyer Logged At Third Place Finish At Martinsville

Clint Bowyer
Date: Oct. 29, 2017

Event: First Data 500 (Round 33 of 36)

Series: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

Location: Martinsville (Va.) Speedway (.526-mile oval)

Format: 500 laps, broken into three stages (130 laps/130 laps/240 laps)

Start/Finish: 5th/3rd (completed 505 of 505 laps)

Point Standing: 18th with 829 points

Note: Race ended in overtime, going five laps past its scheduled 500-lap distance

 

Race Winner: Kyle Busch of Joe Gibbs Racing (Toyota)

Stage 1 Winner: Brad Keselowski of Team Penske (Ford)

Stage 2 Winner:  Brad Keselowski of Team Penske (Ford)

 

Stage 1 Recap (Laps 1-130):

● Clint Bowyer started fifth and finished 15th.

● Ran in fifth in the opening laps turning very competitive lap times.

● Pitted from sixth at the lap-40 competition caution, but an air gun malfunction during the pit stop dropped him to 17th.

● Dropped to 26th as the crew attempted to help the car turn and cut better.

● The changes worked, and Bowyer drove back to 15th before the stage ended.

 

Stage 2 Recap (Laps 131-260):

● Started 13th and finished ninth.

● Bowyer continued his charge to the front, climbing into the top-10 by lap 192.

● Bowyer turned in top-three lap times throughout the stage.

● Only 12 cars raced on the lead lap at the end of the stage, which ran without caution.

 

Stage 3 Recap (Laps 261-500):

● Started ninth and finished third.

● Climbed to sixth at the lap-300 mark.

● Bowyer jumped from eighth to fifth on a lap-370 restart.

● Bowyer raced in seventh with seven laps remaining.

● Bowyer started overtime in third and held his position over the final three laps.

 

Notes:

● Six of the top-10 finishers were Ford drivers.

● Bowyer scored his sixth top-five and 13th top-10 finish of 2017.

● This was Bowyer’s fifth top-five and 14th top-10 finish in 23 career NASCAR Cup Series starts at Martinsville.

● There were 11 caution periods for a total of 74 laps.

● Kyle Busch won the First Data 500 to score his 43rd career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory, his fifth of the season and his second at Martinsville. His margin of victory over second-place Martin Truex Jr. was .141 of a second.

● Busch leads the playoff standings via his win and has 4,100 points, while Truex is the points leader with 4,117.

 

Clint Bowyer, driver of the No. 14 Haas Automation Ford Fusion for Stewart-Haas Racing:

“That was a really good run for us. We got down early when we had an air gun break, but nobody gave up, and we came back pretty strong. It was hard to pass today. I mean really hard. In the last few weeks we’ve had good cars and just got caught in somebody else’s problems. Today we avoided all that and showed everyone how good of a race team we are.”

 

Next Up:

The next event on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series schedule is the AAA Texas 500 onSunday, Nov. 5 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. It is the eighth race of the 10-race playoffs and starts at 2 p.m. EST with live coverage provided by NBCSN.

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!

Kurt Busch Finished 22nd At Martinsville

Kurt Busch
Date: Oct. 29, 2017

Event: First Data 500 (Round 33 of 36)

Series: Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series

Location: Martinsville (Va.) Speedway (.526-mile oval)

Format: 500 laps, broken into three stages (130 laps/130 laps/240 laps)

Start/Finish: 11th/22nd (Running, completed 505 of 505 laps) in overtime

Point Standing: 15th with 2,139 points

 

Race Winner: Kyle Busch of Joe Gibbs Racing (Toyota)

Stage 1 Winner: Brad Keselowski of Team Penske (Ford)

Stage 2 Winner: Brad Keselowski of Team Penske (Ford)

 

Stage 1 Recap (Laps 1-130):

● Kurt Busch started 11th and finished 12th.

● The State Water Heaters Ford had a loose-handling condition during the opening laps of the First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

● Busch pitted under caution on lap 87 for wedge adjustments and tires. He restarted 20th after the top-nine cars opted not to pit.

● At the end of the stage Busch pitted from the 12th position and was able to maintain his spot coming off of pit road.

 

Stage 2 Recap (Laps 131-260):

● Busch started 11th and finished 11th.

● On the Stage 2 restart Busch reported that he might have received right-front damage after slight contact, but the State Water Heaters spotter noted that everything looked good, so the team did not have to make an additional stop.

● Busch maintained his 11th-place run throughout a caution-free Stage 2.

● Only 12 cars ended Stage 2 on the lead lap.

 

Stage 3 Recap (Laps 261-500):

● Busch started 11th and finished 22nd.

● At the beginning of the final stage, Busch came in for four tires and fuel. Busch was satisfied with his State Water Heaters Ford and did not request adjustments.

● Busch was forced to check up due to traffic on the subsequent restart, relinquishing the 11th spot to Jimmie Johnson.

● With 200 laps remaining, the State Water Heaters driver reported that he was navigating a loose-handling condition in the beginning of the corner and a tight-handling condition in the center of the corner and told the crew he wanted the rear of the car lowered.

● On the lap-313 restart, Busch was able to get a jump up to the 11th spot, and by the lap-316 caution period he cracked the top-10.

● The handling on Busch’s Ford began to deteriorate over the course of the stage, dropping the driver to 16th.

● On lap 460 the State Water Heaters team gained one spot on pit road, restarting 15th and quickly jumping to 12th.

● In overtime Busch was caught up in a multicar incident that dropped him to a 22nd-place finish.

 

Notes:

● There were 11 caution periods for a total of 74 laps.

● Twenty-three of the 40 drivers in the First Data 500 finished on the lead lap.

● Kyle Busch won the First Data 500 to score his 43rd career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory, his fifth of the season and his second at Martinsville. His margin of victory over second-place Martin Truex Jr. was .141 of a second.

● Busch leads the playoff standings via his win and has 4,100 points. Truex leads the points standings with 4,117.

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!

Late Surge Pushes Truex To Second Place Finish

Martin Truex, Jr.
When the bumping and banging ended and the smoke cleared a level-headed Martin Truex Jr. crossed the finish line in second place. It was his best result in 24 career starts at the half-mile Martinsville Speedway short track.

Truex, who has seven wins this season, did have a shot at passing race winner Kyle Busch on the final lap, but his clean style of racing prevented him from purposely knocking Busch out of the way.

When asked by media if he even thought about taking out Busch for the victory, Truex didn’t hesitate. “Never crossed my mind, that’s not my style of racing. I saw a hole there and almost got by him cleanly. Our Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Toyota wasn’t that great today, but we accomplished our mission. We knew this was going to be a difficult track for us, and to come away second and have decent finishes in the first two stages (5th & 4th) turned out to be a good points day.”

Truex qualified second and ran the majority of the 500-scheduled lap race between fourth and sixth place. It wasn’t until the race went into a green-white-checkered overtime finish when Truex’s savvy driving pushed his No. 78 Camry to the front.

While Kyle Busch advanced to the Championship 4 Round with the victory, Truex increased his cushion in the point standings. With two races remaining in the Round of 8, Truex has a 67-point lead over the fifth place driver.

“Until a NASCAR official tells me we have mathematically clinched a final-four berth we aren’t taking anything for granted,” stated Truex. “This is racing and a lot of strange things can happen.”

Truex has had an incredible run so far in the playoffs. Take away the multicar accident he was involved in at Talladega Superspeedway, his average finish in the other six playoff races is 2.33. In those six races he has scored three wins, a second, fourth and fifth.

Finishing positions 3-10 went to:  Clint Bowyer, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Trevor Bayne, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Matt Kenseth and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

The race had 11 cautions for 74 laps and there were 16 lead changes among six drivers.

The next race is Sunday, Nov. 5 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!

Erik Jones Struggles With Handling Issues At Martinsville

Erik Jones
Erik Jones struggled with an ill-handling No. 77 SiriusXM Toyota throughout much of Sunday’s First Data 500 at Martinsville Speedway and was forced to settle with a 26th-place finish.

Despite the tough outing, Jones remains 19th in the NASCAR Cup Series point standings after 33 races. He is 71 points behind Joey Logano for 17th and 37 points ahead of Daniel Suarez in 20th.

“It was just a tough day for the SiriusXM Toyota,” said Jones. “We lost a lot of track position early and from there we just never could get it back. It ended up not being a great day. We’ll work a little harder and be a little better for next week.”

The Furniture Row Racing team worked late Saturday night and began again early this morning preparing the backup car after Jones crashed in Saturday’s second practice. Despite any track time, Jones was able to qualify eighth earlier today to line up on the outside of Row 4 for the mid-afternoon start.

Jones battled between the eighth and 10th positions for the first 87 of the scheduled 500 laps on the flat 0.531-mile oval. Problems during the day’s first pit stop on Lap 89, and some drivers choosing to stay out or take two tires, put the No. 77 Toyota in the 24th position for the restart. Jones was shown in 18th place after Lap 130 to complete Stage 1.

The No. 77 SiriusXM Toyota moved up to 13th by Lap 180 but a lack of forward drive dropped Jones to 16th by Lap 230 when he was passed by the leader. He would maintain that position by the end of Stage 2 after Lap 260.

Jones spun exiting Turn 4 on Lap 317, resulting in damage to the left-rear of the No. 77 Toyota. Quick work by the Furniture Row Racing pit crew repaired the damage enough for Jones to continue though he was then mired in the 29th position. With passing at a premium on the tight Martinsville racing surface, Jones was able to pick up three spots before the checkered flag waved five laps into overtime.

Kyle Busch won the race. The balance of the top-10 finishers were Martin Truex Jr., Clint Bowyer, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Trevor Bayne, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Matt Kenseth, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

There were 11 cautions for 74 laps and 10 lead changes among six drivers.

The next race on the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series schedule is Nov. 5 at Texas Motor Speedway in Forth Worth.

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!

Jimmie Johnson Struggles At Martinsville

Jimmie Johnson

The track that used to be Jimmie Johnson’s personal playground recently has become an enigma to the seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion.

Johnson wheel-hopped and spun in Turn 3 during Sunday’s qualifying session at Martinsville Speedway. Precautionary changes to the rear end of the No. 48 Chevrolet sent the nine-time Martinsville winner to the rear for the start of the First Data 500.

Handling was an issue throughout the race. Ultimately, Johnson salvaged a 12th-place finish after losing a lap and getting it back as the highest scored lapped car under ninth of 11 cautions.

But it was a far cry from the domination Johnson showed at the .526-mile paper-clip-shaped track, where he won five races in a six-race span from 2006 through 2009. The only saving grace was a strategy play that earned Johnson seven points in the races first stage after he stayed out on old tires and finished fourth in the segment.

“We were just terrible all day,” acknowledged Johnson, who ended the day fifth in the standings, three points behind Kevin Harvick in fourth. “Oh, what a bummer. We had high hopes for this weekend. Man, it just didn’t turn out so well.

“So we scored some points here and there. We’ll go to the next one and try to get more.”

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!

Keselowski Comes Close At Martinsville

Brad Keselowski & Kasey Kahne
Brad Keselowski came close to calling his own shot.

Coming to Martinsville Speedway, the driver of the No. 2 Team Penske Ford termed Sunday’s First Data 500 a ‘must-win’ event, uncertain of his organization’s ability to keep up with the Toyotas at downforce tracks like Texas.

And with eight laps left in regulation distance at the .526-mile short track, Keselowski was cruising toward a victory in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Round of 8 opener and a ticket to race for his second series title at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

But teammate Joey Logano had developed a severe tire rub after contact from race winner Kyle Busch’s Toyota, and on Lap 492, the tire went flat and Logano went spinning, causing the 10th caution of the race.

Chase Elliott muscled his way past Keselowski on the subsequent restart on Lap 497, and after Hamlin dropped-kicked Elliott into the Turn 3 wall to force overtime, Keselowski came home fourth.

Yes, the No. 2 Ford won the first and second stages, but the important prize eluded him. Nevertheless, Keselowski chose to accentuate the positive after the race.

“There was a lot of hard fighting here because it’s a short track,” Keselowski said. “That’s what short tracks are kind of about is rooting and gouging. You try not to take anybody out, but you’ve got to sometimes rub a little bit.

“But we had a really great Alliance Truck Parts Ford. 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.”

The fourth-place finish did leave Keselowski third in the standings, with a 29-point cushion over fifth-place Jimmie Johnson. The Playoff field will be cut from eight to four drivers in two weeks at Pheonix.

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!