Kes Crosses 5th at The Paperclip

Brad Keselowski overcame a pit road speeding penalty to get back into contention for the victory at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday, but the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford Fusion didn’t quite have enough for Kes to take home his first Ridgeway Grandfather Clock.

BK passed 52 cars, the third most of any driver in the STP 500, but a pit road speeding penalty roughly 100 laps into the day set him back early on. He climbed as high as second both before and after that penalty but never could get to the lead. After finishing fifth, he applauded the 2 Crew for a hard-fought day.

“It was a blue collar day for sure for Team Penske and the Miller Lite Ford,” Brad said. “Somewhat proud of to come home with a fifth. The team put together a great effort.”

2016 NASCAR Martinsville

The numbers were mediocre for the White Lite early in the weekend. Brad earned an 11th place start at the 0.526-mile Virginia oval in qualifying—right on par with the P12 and P11 starts he grabbed at The Paperclip last season. Meanwhile, Joey Logano claimed his third consecutive Martinsville pole in Team Penske’s No. 22 car. That left Kes searching for speed still, and the Deuce posted just the 20th-fastest lap during Saturday morning’s final practice session. But that didn’t have BK worried.

“I don’t think that practice speed today will indicate what the car is like, the track is going to change so much before the race tomorrow,” Brad predicted.

BK’s forecast was correct. Once the race started, Brad was on a mission, and the White Lite was one of the fastest machines on the Martinsville short track. An early caution reset the field just four laps in with Kes positioned in 12th, placing him in the precarious high line for the ensuing restart, but Brad showed his speed right from the beginning and picked up a few positions from that outside row, settling in line in ninth.

Just 20 laps after the restart, Brad had moved past Denny Hamlin, Kasey Kahne and Matt Kenseth into the Top 5. In another 10 laps, on lap 41, he had moved past Brian Vickers, Logano and Paul Menard into second place. Kes was just experiencing some tire falloff when a Michael Annett spin reverted the field back to a full course caution on lap 91. That brought the field to pit road for the first time, where a quick pit stop sent Brad off pit road in second place.

Unfortunately, the pit stop wasn’t the only quick part of the pit cycle. Kes was nabbed for speeding on the narrow pit road. Local driver and race favorite Hamlin was also caught for exceeding the mandated pace. Brad was incredulous after being flagged for speeding, explaining that his digital dash never lit up, warning him that he was going too fast.

“Paul, I didn’t even get to my lights,” Brad said over the radio. “Not sure how that’s possible.”

2016 NASCAR Martinsville

But not all was lost after the pit road miscue. The last time Brad earned a speeding penalty, his car ended up in Victory Lane at Las Vegas. Additionally, with more than 400 laps remaining, the 2 Crew had plenty of time to rebound. On lap 97, Brad began his charge back to the front from the 18th position, from the tail end of the longest line.

In the following green flag stretch, the poor track position hurt the 2 Crew. A chain reaction between Jamie McMurray, and Greg Biffle left Brad with nowhere to go. From behind, Austin Dillon piled into the No.2, sandwiching the Miller Lite Ford between the two cars. Cosmetically, the race car took on a new appearance, but a machine doesn’t have to look good to run well at Martinsville.

With his car looking something like a bulldog with a mean underbite, Brad continued to charge forward. At lap 191, he cracked the Top 10 and was up to eighth when Hamlin hit the wall at lap 221, bringing out the fourth caution of the day. After a slight wedge adjustment on a four-tire stop, the White Lite reentered the Top 5 at lap 257. At that point, the Deuce’s next challenge came in the presence of fellow Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, as the two longtime rivals traded the fourth position a total of three times in a 40-lap stretch.

Josh Wise brought out caution No. 5 shortly after lap 300, and Brad continued to show his speed over the ensuing long run. He moved past Kyle Larson, Kurt Busch, Johnson, Kenseth and Kevin Harvick all the way to second place. But just when he was closing in on leader Kyle Busch, a caution flag flew at lap 384. On this stop, the 2 Crew once again got the job done, entering and exiting pit road second.

But that put Brad on the dreaded outside line. With some help from spotter Joey Meier, Brad settled down into third after a hard battle with Kenseth. He remained in third when the seventh yellow flag flew at lap 457. This time, Brad was off in third and had the benefit of the inside line, making him poised to take second place. But Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Kenseth and Busch worked together: Busch took the outside, giving Kenseth the security of the low line, and Kenseth allowed Busch to keep his lead position, pinning Brad in third.

BK did all he could to take second, but after making contact with Kenseth, BK yielded and let the No. 20 stay in second.

“We had really strong long-run speed, but we couldn’t put together the short-run to really run with the 18 (Busch) and 20 (Kenseth),” Brad said. “We kept trying and kept trying but just never really found it.”

2016 NASCAR Martinsville

With even more damage accumulated on the No. 2, Brad had been passed by AJ Allmendinger back to fourth place when the eighth and final caution paused racing once again on lap 482. With less than 20 laps remaining, it was a tough decision, but the No. 2 team ultimately decided to pit for four fresh tires and an adjustment.

“We’ve already got a win Paul. Let’s try something,” BK radioed. “Who cares about Top 5s, Top 10s.”

Kes was the first in the field to pit, but unfortunately, not enough cars followed suit, leaving a big gap between Brad and the front. Kes restarted 11th with just 10 laps to go and quickly began working his way up. He reached seventh with seven laps left and sixth with four trips around The Paperclip to go. But he ultimately ran out of time. Brad bested Vickers on the final lap to claim his second Top 5 finish and his third Top 10 of the young season, while Busch took the checkered flag.

The search continues for his first coveted grandfather clock, but Brad now boasts seven Top 10 finishes at Martinsville, and he has been in contention for the win in each of his last three starts at the narrow short track. And he hopes that success will carry forward when the Cup circuit returns to the ‘Clip during the Chase.

“We’ve been really good here the last few times. If we can keep knocking on that Top 5 door like we have the last three times here, we’ll break through and get a win,” Brad said. “On to the next one.”

NEXT UP

The next one leads the series to Texas Motor Speedway, for the first Saturday night race of the season.

The last time Brad raced in Texas, he led 312 laps during the 2015 Chase for the Sprint Cup but was passed late by Johnson and finished second. Kes has finished ninth or better in six of his last seven starts at the 1.5-mile Fort Worth track.

The race airs at 7 p.m. ET, back on FOX.

TOUGH DAY ON TRUCK CIRCUIT

It was a rough weekend for both Brad Keselowski Racing entries in the Camping World Truck Series’ Alpha Energy Solutions 250.

Tyler Reddick had the No. 29 Cooper Standard F-150 in ninth for the opening green flag, while Daniel Hemric had his No. 19 California Clean Power Ford in 17th. The disappointment for Hemric began on the second stop of the day. He had moved his way into the Top 10, looking to defend his second position in the NCWTS standings, but he was parked slightly outside of his tight pit stall, resulting in a one-lap penalty.

From there, things only got worse for the No. 19 team. At lap 132, Hemric’s truck suffered a flat tire. When the checkered flag flew, Hemric was scored in 22nd, two laps down, leaving the young driver looking forward to his next opportunity.

“Today was a challenging day, to say the least. We started off the race tight off, but we were making adjustments in the right direction and had an extremely fast truck by the end of the day. Unfortunately, our pit road penalty set us back, and a freak incident with our tire closed the door on a realistic chance to win. Most importantly, every person on our California Clean Power team kept working hard until the checkered flag. Our team is better than our result today. I’m already looking forward to Kansas Speedway and the opportunity to score our first win together.”

For Reddick, a whole mess of wrecks spoiled his day. Reddick put scrapes and dents in his metallic blue No. 29 truck at lap 171, 199 and 235. Through all that, he hung on, but with six laps left, the carnage finally put the No. 29 out of contention. A wreck unfolded ahead of Reddick in the tight quarters of The Paperclip. Spotter TJ Majors tried to guide Reddick down through the wreckage, but he incidentally sent him down into the pit wall.

Reddick finished on the lead lap and in the 20th position, while Busch grabbed his first of two grandfather clocks on the weekend in overtime. The rough day had Reddick looking forward to the month off, and the chance to regroup and move on.

“This was definitely one of the more physical Martinsville races that I’ve ever seen,” Reddick said. “It gets really physical in the pack. Everyone is jockeying for position because there’s just nowhere to go and everyone gets bottled up really easy. Everyone on the Cooper Standard team will use this next month to bounce back strong at Kansas.”   

The NCWTS will take the next four weeks off before returning on May 6 at Kansas Speedway for the Toyota Tundra 250.

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