Brad Keselowski rallied back from a pit road speeding penalty to score a fourth-place finish Sunday afternoon at Martinsville Speedway and will race for the NASCAR Cup Series championship next week at Phoenix Raceway. Keselowski grabbed his 12th top-five finish of the season and collected his 11th top-five in 22 races at Martinsville. This is the second time Keselowski will race for a series title since the elimination format debuted in 2014.
Keselowski started from the pole and scored a third-place finish when Stage 1 ended but it wasn’t that simple for the Dent Wizard team. There were four cautions sprinkled throughout the 130-lap segment and Keselowski pitted twice during the stage for tires and adjustments. He restarted eighth on lap 109 and sliced his way through traffic over the next 21 laps to claim third place at the conclusion of the stage. He pitted during the stage caution on lap 134 and restarted 13th on lap 139 when the first six cars in the running order didn’t pit.
The battle for track position consumed much of Stage 2 for Keselowski and the Dent Wizard team. He fell back to 17th with 100 laps left in the segment but told his team he just needed a long run to get the track position back. Keselowski again fought his way through traffic and claimed an eighth-place finish when the stage ended on lap 260. The driver of the No. 2 Mustang pitted for four tires and adjustments during the stage caution on lap 263 and restarted ninth on lap 267.
The third and final stage will be remembered for Keselowski’s dramatic drive to the front. He had just made a four-tire stop on lap 404 during the 11th caution when he was hit with a speeding penalty leaving pit road. Keselowski restarted 22nd when the race went green on lap 408 and from there the charge was on. While Keselowski was steamrolling through the field, crew chief Jeremy Bullins and the Dent Wizard team were keeping close tabs on Kevin Harvick. As Keselowski marched up the leaderboard, Harvick stayed close enough to hold a one- or two-point edge over Keselowski in the battle for the final spot in the Championship 4. Keselowski grabbed fourth position with eight laps to go and held a one-point lead over his rival on the final lap of the race when Harvick spun on the final lap.
“I thought I was part race car driver and part mathematician,” said Keselowski. “I am so happy for Team Penske. It was a hard-fought day. I got a speeding penalty there with 70 or 80 to go and I’m not sure how. The box where I got the speeding penalty was where my car was pitted. I’m just really thankful to be going on to the Championship 4. There was nothing I could do but pass as many cars as I could with our Dent Wizard Ford. I know we’ve got great cars on these short tracks and one-mile tracks. We bring this kind of effort at the end of the race at Phoenix we’ve got a great shot at it.”