When Brad Keselowski pulled into Victory Lane one year ago at Martinsville Speedway, he not only laid claim to his first grandfather clock but most likely offered a sigh of relief.
The win was a long time coming for a driver that’s quick to point out the races where he’d failed to be first to the checkered flag – races Keselowski felt should have been his.
“There were a lot of woulda, shoulda, couldas,” Keselowski said of the 14 races before his win. “I feel like I probably could have won the last three races here and I’m a little disappointed I’ve only won one of them.
“I made some mistakes and caught some bad breaks, and that’s just kind of part of how this racetrack plays out sometimes.”
Yet even with the unpredictable and crazy nature of racing at Martinsville, Keselowski shows up to the half-mile with confidence. And quite honestly, Keselowski would be crazy not to.
In 16 starts at Martinsville, the No. 2 team has earned 16 top-10 finishes. Keselowski enters the STP 500 on a hot streak at this track, with four consecutive top-five finishes, including last year’s victory. If one were to take out his fall 2015 finish (32nd), Keselowski has finished no worse than fifth in the last five races.
Even with that result, Keselowski’s numbers over the last five Martinsville races put him second-best in the series.
Average finish: 8.8. Laps led: 367. Top-10 finishes: 4. Wins: 1.
So, what changed for Keselowski?
“We had a couple of really good races here, I think in ’14 and ’15, and had a great shot at winning and just kind of learned from that and added a few more pieces to both the car side and my own side to grow from that,” said Keselowski. “It takes so much to run well and so many little different styles as a driver and then little techniques along with the car and how it’s prepared that I think it’s one of those things you just kind of dial in and we’ve got it dialed in. The thing about Martinsville is it’s a track that is fairly consistent.
“There are some variables with of course the weather and the tires, but once you can hit the basics of it, I think you can stay pretty close on the target.”
The only driver better than Keselowski over this span has been Kyle Busch. Busch has an incredible 2.8 average finish thanks in part to two victories.
Both Keselowski and Busch appear just as strong this weekend, as they were second and third, respectively, in the opening practice Saturday. In final practice, Keselowski was second fastest again while Busch was fourth on the speed chart. And with qualifying rained out, both drivers will start in the top five.
Last season, Keselowski and Busch were the two victors at Martinsville.