MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Leading more than half of the 500 laps didn’t translate into a second grandfather clock for Kyle Busch in the STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway.
He took the lead for the first time under the first stage caution break and, other than seven laps in which Chase Elliott led, dominated most of the second stage. In the closing laps of the stage, he found trouble with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. He drove to Stenhouse’s outside in Turn 3 with three laps to go in the stage, but Stenhouse made slight contact with him trying to stay on the lead lap. On the final lap of the stage, Stenhouse bumped Busch and sent his car up the track. This allowed Elliott to pass him for the lead and win the stage.
“I actually was rolling into Turn 3 and was kind of going higher out of my way in order to let the 17 back by and give him the lap. That was my intent, and then he just drove through me,” Busch said. “It cost me my spot to the 24, so I was hoping that I could run off the corner side by side with the 17 and keep the 24 at bay and just keep my nose in front of his and be able to score the segment, and I was trying to be a nice guy, but nice guys don’t finish first.”
He regained the lead on the ensuing restart and held it, minus three laps led by teammate Denny Hamlin during a caution period, until Brad Keselowski made it to the front with 94 laps to go.
For the next 60 laps, he and Keselowski swapped the lead back and forth five times. The most intense battle came when Busch took the lead with 56 to go. For the next 14 laps, Keselowski kept within inches of his bumper.
Going into Turn 1 with 42 to go, Keselowski drove to Busch’s inside to take the lead for the final time and scored the victory, while Busch settled for second.
“It’s just frustrating when you come down pit road and you don’t make any changes and you bolt a set of tires on it and it goes to junk,” Busch said. “I hate that that happened. We still haven’t finished where we should have this year. We haven’t gotten any finishes that are indicative of where this team’s been running or where we’re capable of running or finishing and that’s just frustrating. So we’ll continue on.”