by Brock Beard
Brad Keselowski picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s XFINITY 500 at the Martinsville Speedway when his #6 Kohler Generators Ford finished 4th, but was disqualified after completing all 500 laps.
The finish, which came in Keselowski’s 484th series start, was his first of the season and first since August 9, 2020 at Michigan, 85 races ago. In the Cup Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 28th from disqualification, the 35th for the #6, and the 726th for Ford. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 50th by disqualification, the 69th for the #6, and the 1,002nd for Ford.
Just last week in Homestead, Brad Keselowski earned his first Top Five of a difficult 2022 campaign, taking 5th the day Kyle Larson dominated the 400-miler in Homestead. The run came near the conclusion of the veteran driver’s most ambitious business deal yet – leaving his previous ride at Penske Racing to invest as part-owner of Roush-Fenway Racing. The rebranded RFK Racing began the year with a statement by sweeping the qualifying races at Daytona. But the team hardly contended after.
The turning point seemed to come in May, when teammate Chris Buescher was sidelined from the race at Gateway due to a positive COVID-19 test. That weekend, relief driver Zane Smith finished a strong 17th in his unexpected Cup debut, and Buescher responded promptly by finishing runner-up in his return the next round at Sonoma. Buescher then made a strong push for the Playoffs, taking 6th at Road America, 3rd at Richmond, and 9th at Watkins Glen. He narrowly missed the cut, only to steal the spotlight under the lights at Bristol, where he won his first race since 2016. Keselowski also contended that night, leading 109 laps before a flat tire left him 13th. Keselowski’s Top Five at Homestead was his best run since, and he looked forward to Martinsville, where he felt his team could be competitive.
Securing the 36th and final starting spot was Cody Ware in the #51 Nurtec ODT / United Breast Cancer Foundation Ford. With no drivers sent to the back for pre-race infractions, Ware remained in last until the end of Lap 1, when he passed teammate J.J. Yeley in the #15 Rad Cats Ford, 5.444 seconds back of the lead. Yeley re-passed Ware the next time by, when McLeod now held 34th. By Lap 5, Yeley dropped McLeod back to 35th, and Ware drew alongside, just 0.042 second apart at the stripe. The lap after, Ware cleared McLeod, putting the #78 in last place.
McLeod’s last-place finish in the spring Martinsville race was one of his series-leading four on the 2022 campaign, practically assuring him the LASTCAR Cup Series Championship. The only way he could lose the title was if Corey LaJoie finished last while McLeod ran 31st or better, and even then LaJoie would have to do the same thing next week in Phoenix. When Stage 1 ran caution-free, the resulting 130-lap green-flag run saw McLeod lose a lap to the leaders on the 25th circuit. A few drivers fell toward the Bottom Five, starting with Ty Dillon, whose #42 U.S. Space Force Chevrolet dropped to 34th on Lap 72, then Kyle Busch, whose #18 M&M’s Halloween Toyota dropped to 33rd, also off the lead lap. Busch remained silent on the radio as his car struggled through the corners, often passed by two cars off Turns 2 and 4. By Lap 106, Busch dropped to 35th, and on Lap 121, NASCAR warned him about his speed, saying “Let’s pick up the speed on the 18.” Then on Lap 123, 36th-place McLeod passed Busch off Turn 4. When Stage 1 finally ended, Busch was shown between four and five laps down. One of the only team communications under yellow reported “rear tire’s gone.”
|Reddick pulls up to the hauler in the garage.|
SCREENSHOT: NASCAR Drive
Stage 2 began with a ragged restart where several drivers near the back of the pack ran into each other, but none with enough damage to come to pit road. Busch remained in last place, and didn’t lose another lap until the 189th circuit, when he was shown six down. The next time by, Tyler Reddick slowed, then made a left-hand turn into the garage area entrance at Turn 3. He pulled up to the hauler, and Richard Childress came to the driver’s window. Reddick reported his head started hurting after he rear-ended another car on the track. The lower part of his car’s front valence was bent slightly, but the car was otherwise undamaged. NASCAR had not put him on the “Crash Clock” as his trip to the garage was listed as “mechanical.” Reddick climbed out under his own power and was brought to the infield care center, where he was checked and released. Childress called for a relief driver, calling for XFINITY Series drivers since the other 35 runners were still on track, but apparently none were found. On Lap 200, NASCAR officials reported Reddick was out of the race, listing it as an “accident.” The reason out was repeated.
McLeod was still running in 34th ahead of Kyle Busch when, on Lap 230, he pulled to pit road with a small fire coming from between the driver’s door panel and the inside of the left-front fender. When he stopped, smoke swirled from beneath the hood and into the driver’s compartment, and the crew looked under the hood. After fire crews sprayed the fender with extinguisher, McLeod’s car was pushed to the garage on Lap 244, finally going behind the wall by Lap 247. As with Reddick, NASCAR declared this to be a “mechanical” issue.
Kyle Busch climbed to just 30th in the unofficial results, passing three other drivers who fell out of the race. On Lap 320, a shattered brake rotor sent Austin Dillon’s #3 Dow Chevrolet speeding out of control into Turn 3, and only quick thinking by Dillon allowed him to hit the fence with the passenger side of the car. The last caution on Lap 467 saw the same thing happen to Landon Cassill, whose #77 Nations Guard Chevrolet pounded the wall in the same spot. Both drivers escaped without serious injury. Rounding out the Bottom Five was Ty Dillon, his #42 the only other retiree after late-race brake issues of his own that did not result in a crash.
Keselowski, meanwhile, had successfully built upon the momentum from his top-five run in Homestead. Despite a Lap 273 spin off the nose of Ross Chastain, Keselowski clawed his way into contention on a late round of pit stops and briefly challenged Chase Briscoe for the lead before he broke loose off Turn 2. He ultimately crossed the finish line in fourth – just as Chastain rammed him from behind after Chastain’s daring last-lap wall-ride pulled him past 5th-place Denny Hamlin. But in post-race inspection, Keselowski’s car was found to be below minimum weight, and he was disqualified. Keselowski took last from Reddick, bumping Ty Dillon out of the Bottom Five and Austin Cindric out of the Bottom Ten. It was also the first last-place finish for either of the RFK Racing teams this season.
Despite Keselowski’s disqualification, the now 34th-place B.J. McLeod remained in the Bottom Five for a series-leading 13th time in 2022, securing him the 2022 LASTCAR Cup Series Championship over Corey LaJoie, who finished 21st.
Todd Gilliland earned his third-best finish of the year with a solid 13th-place showing in the #38 Moji Sushi Ford, completing all 500 laps in the process. He finished just 30th at Martinsville in the spring.
*The 500 laps completed broke the previous record for most laps complete by a Cup Series last-place finisher, set by Jimmie Johnson’s 405 laps around Charlotte before he was disqualified on May 24, 2020. Ricky Craven set the previous Martinsville record at 401 laps before handling issues on April 18, 1999. Johnson does retain the record for longest distance covered before finishing last.
*The #6 had not finished last in a Cup race at Martinsville since April 25, 1982, when D.K. Ulrich’s #6 Ulrich Racing Buick crashed after 14 laps of the Virginia National Bank 500. Ulrich had just changed car numbers from the #99 as he had too many “9” decals left over from the previous year, while the #9 was already being used by Melling Racing.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
36) #6-Brad Keselowski / 500 laps / disqualified
35) #8-Tyler Reddick / 188 laps / crash
34) #78-B.J. McLeod / 225 laps / fire
33) #3-Austin Dillon / 316 laps / crash
32) #77-Landon Cassill / 460 laps / crash
2022 LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Live Fast Motorsports (6)
2nd) 23XI Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing (4)
3rd) Spire Motorsports, Stewart-Haas Racing (3)
4th) Penske Racing, Team Hezeberg, Trackhouse Racing (2)
5th) Kaulig Racing, NY Racing Team, RFK Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Rick Ware Racing (1)
2022 LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Ford (14)
2nd) Chevrolet (12)
3rd) Toyota (9)
2022 LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP