MARTINSVILLE, Va. ?- It was another rugged, hard-fought battle at Martinsville Speedway, but as defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski noted, "they've all been hard-fought."
The Penske Racing driver wasn't spectacular this time around, but he was steady on a warm, sunny day in the Virginia foothills, running consistently inside the top 10 en route to a sixth-place finish in Sunday's STP Gas Booster 500.
"We seem to run sixth here every time," Keselowski said, and the record shows that he did indeed finish sixth here just last fall. While sixth isn't bad, he said, "it's just not great."
"We want to be able to win here and just haven't been strong enough to do that."
Seventh prior to a final restart on the heels of a hard crash involving Kurt Busch, Keselowski used fresh tires to gain one spot during the final eight-lap dash. He nearly gained two, crossing the line side-by-side with Kyle Busch, only to get beat for the spot in a photo finish.
"It was just a matter of how hard I wanted to work him over," Keselowski said of the battle. "There's a proper amount to work somebody over for a win and a proper amount to work somebody over for a fifth or a sixth. I worked him enough to feel proud about it."
While a string of four top-five finishes went by the boards two weeks ago with a 23rd-place run at Auto Club Speedway, the Martinsville effort was solid enough to keep Keselowski second in the points standings, where he trails race winner Jimmie Johnson by six.
And when it comes to Martinsville, Johnson is clearly the master, having now won eight times at the legendary facility.
Keselowski won't argue the point. But there will be other opportunities, he said.
"We've been strong enough to be proud of what we've done, and I'm proud of where we are right here today. But the 48 car (of Johnson) is on another level. His car is so much better than everybody else that he just plays with everybody the whole race just to make it look good.
"That's pretty obvious, but I feel like if we can get our car where he's at, I can beat his ass."
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