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Three-peat bid ends, but Kyle Busch rallies, keeps momentum at Martinsville

MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Kyle Busch’s bid for a three-race winning streak in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series ended Sunday, foiled at the hands of the last driver to accomplish the feat.

Busch had a glimmer of a chance at upending Brad Keselowski’s dominant day at Martinsville Speedway, lining up alongside him for the final restart, but contact and a brief slip behind eventual runner-up Chase Elliott left Busch with a third-place result in the STP 500.

“I had a nose underneath the 2 (of Keselowski) there in the middle of (Turns) 3 and 4 and he just chopped my nose off,” Busch said on pit road after his eighth straight top-five finish at the historic .526-mile track. “Normally when you hit a guy, they move out of the way. Instead it seemed like my car had to move out of the way and then the 9 (of Elliott) got by me so we ended up finishing third. That was a lot better day then we probably should have had, and we made the most of our opportunity with our M&M’s Camry.”

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Busch was a bit of a late bloomer in Sunday’s 500-lapper, making methodical gains from a 13th-place starting spot on the grid. When Stage 2 ended just past the halfway point, his Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18 Toyota was scored 12th — outside the top-10 window for stage points.

Some of the gained ground came from speedy service on pit road. Busch picked up one spot in each of the first two pit-stop exchanges of the final stage, capped by a significant two-position upswing in the final round of stops.

“We had so much trouble passing cars in the first half of the race because we weren’t any good, and we started to make it a little bit better,” No. 18 crew chief Adam Stevens told NASCAR.com. “It’s still really hard to pass, so thankfully our pit crew gained us most of our track position and then later in the race we were able to be a little more competitive. But they kept us in the ballgame, for sure.”

MORE: Full Martinsville results

Busch emerged from Martinsville with one streak ending, but a stellar start to the season well intact. With six races in the books this year, Busch has top-three finishes in all but one of them. The lone outlier was a still-solid sixth-place result at Atlanta in the second event on the calendar.

Sunday, the No. 18 team’s ability to make timely adjustments and remain steady on pit road helped keep that performance bar set high.

“It’s about communication,” Busch said. “I have a hand in that and being able to talk to my crew chief. I’m thankful to have Adam Stevens on the box and he made some smart changes for the second half of the race. It got us way better. The pit crew was awesome today, too. I think we picked up like 12 spots on pit road today so that was a huge help because you couldn’t pass on the race track.”