Hornish Jr. drives to Nationwide victory
Las Vegas - Sam Hornish Jr. didn't know the name of Saturday's race until he went to the drivers' meeting for the Sam's Town 300.
"That's a pretty good one for me to win," he thought to himself. "Already got my name on the trophy."
Hornish survived two restarts in the final 15 laps and held off Kyle Busch to win the Nationwide Series race at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Hornish led 114 laps in his second career Nationwide victory, but needed a strong finish to outrun Busch, the hometown driver who won the Nationwide race last week in Phoenix.
Hornish credited the win to his dominant car, all the more impressive since the drivers got almost no practice on the 1.5-mile tri-oval due to Friday's rain.
"You dream about having cars like this," Hornish said. "I think I used more energy celebrating than I did actually driving the car today."
Hornish and Busch both went aggressively after the final restart with seven laps to go, with Busch briefly nudging ahead before Hornish reclaimed the lead with five laps left. Hornish got clear of Busch and finished comfortably in a caution-filled race.
With his third top-10 finish in three races this season, Hornish moved atop the points race and gave owner Roger Penske his first victory at Las Vegas in any NASCAR series - and Penske's first win since moving from Dodge to Ford in the offseason.
Hornish also snapped a 36-race winless streak in his Ford in his 69th Nationwide race overall. Hornish hadn't won since November 2011 at Phoenix. His crew chief, Greg Erwin, won his first Nationwide race.
Busch dominated last week's race, but his Toyota couldn't catch up to Hornish despite plenty of cagey racing. Hornish had nearly a three-second lead over Busch before the first of the final two cautions.
"Sam was just that much faster than us," said Busch, who finished in the top 10 for just the second time in 10 races in Las Vegas. "He was beating us a little bit everywhere, all the way around the race track. Certainly, when he stepped on the gas, that thing would go forward in a hurry. Us two were the class of the field, but he was the class of everybody."
Pole sitter Brian Vickers finished third, with Trevor Bayne fourth - despite an early brush against the wall - and Elliott Sadler fifth. Travis Pastrana came in 10th, four spots ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Vickers echoed Busch's praise of Hornish's superior car.
"I couldn't move around much," said Vickers, a top-10 finisher three times in six Vegas races. "The car would get out from under me. Seemed like Sam could not only get through the bumps, but he could run top through bottom.
"We just ended up getting too loose. We killed the car on the last run. It was a valiant effort, trying to go for the win."
Hornish regained his early lead on the 145th lap, but Scott Lagasse Jr.'s late spin and an even later wreck forced him to be resourceful out of restarts.
Shortly after Lagasse's spin, rookie Kyle Larson's car ended up in flames after a big collision with Joey Gase and Ryan Sieg. Larson, who also hit the wall on the 87th lap, emerged from his car unharmed.
Larson, a 20-year-old from the Sacramento area, survived a frightening crash on the final lap of the Nationwide race two weeks ago at Daytona, where his car sailed into the fence and peppered the crowd with debris, including a tire, injuring more than two dozen fans.
Hornish leads the Nationwide points standings by 19 points over Justin Allgaier.
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