Brad Keselowski said entering this weekend’s NASCAR Cup Series race at the Martinsville (VA) Speedway that this was their time to shine. The Team Penske program was at their best on 750 horsepower tracks like this one and we had two of them to end the 2020 season.
Keselowski, came into the Xfinity 500 +25 in the playoff standings. So long as Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman, Martin Truex Jr. or Kurt Busch didn’t win Sunday’s race, he would make to the Championship 4 next weekend in Phoenix.
Well, coming to the closing stages, Truex was first and Elliott second. Keselowski, was marred deep in the pack following a pit road speeding penalty on Lap 404.
Elliott, would wind up winning meaning it was Keselowski vs. Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin for the final two spots into the final round. Harvick, had nine wins in 2020. Hamlin, had seven. Keselowski, had four wins himself on the year, with the three most winningest drivers all year battling among each other for two positions into the Championship 4.
That’s what these moments are created for.
Truex, ended up with a loose wheel and had to pit after slipping from first to second to fifth to eighth. He’d finish 22nd as a result and get eliminated.
Elliott, rebounded from a near penalty on Lap 353 and a slow stop due to his left rear on Lap 404 to win and join Joey Logano into the finals.
That set up the Keselowski/Hamlin/Harvick battle. There were two chairs for three drivers and when the music stopped on Lap 500, a surprise driver would be going home.
Harvick, scored no stage points all day and now only has two top five finishes in his last 17 Martinsville starts. On Lap 180, he had contact with Matt Kenseth which cut down a left rear tire on his No. 4 Ford. He’d have to pit and lose two laps in the process. He fell to 31st. Luckily, he got a caution four laps later to gain one of those two laps back, but he could never find himself in the free pass position to get his other lap back.
Until 101 to go when James Davison stalled on the .526-mile track. Harvick, was the beneficiary of the free pass and back on the lead lap. That’s when Elliott had the slow stop and Keselowski the speeding penalty.
Keselowski, went from third to 24th.
Also, Hamlin had to pit for a second time under the stage break following the second stage to tighten his lug nuts. He was also in the back with them too as he struggled to make up the ground that he lost.
Keselowski, had no problems making up for it and made up 20 spots in the final 96 laps to finish fourth. It was his fifth consecutive top five finish at Martinsville and 10th straight top 10, nine of which being in the top five.
“Not enough,” Keselowski said after the race on if he was aware on the situation in the end. “There was nothing I could do other than just pass as many cars as I could and look forward.
“The last two runs, I don’t know if we were the best car, but we were close to it.
“Credit to Jeremy Bullins and the team. They just kept adjusting on it at the end and we got good when it counted. It was just frustrating because that pit road penalty I did not see it coming, to be honest with you.”
Harvick, tried to spin Kyle Busch in the final corner of the final lap but ended up crashing them both.
“It was just a move I had to try knowing that I needed one point,” Harvick said on the final lap contact. “I needed to hit him square in the door, but at that point I was too late and wound up hitting him in the back. It was just a Hail Mary that didn’t work out.”
Hamlin, was 11th.
Harvick, is the one going home. That’s shocking.