Taking the lead after a two-tire stop on Lap 131 put him on the front row, Hornish held off teammate Brad Keselowski to win the Wypall 200 at Phoenix International Raceway.
Carl Edwards ran third, followed by Joey Logano and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who all but locked up his first series championship with one race left.
The victory was Hornish’s first in NASCAR racing, but the driver of the No. 12 Dodge scored two IndyCar Series wins at the one-mile track. In fact, Hornish got his first victory in the open-wheel series at Phoenix in March 2001.
“It feels great to be able to race Brad and Carl there at the end,” said Hornish, who has been driving part time in the Nationwide Series this season. “I’m just so happy. These guys have all worked so hard. We’ve been on and off all year long. It’s been a tough year for us for a lot of different reasons.
“Every 10 years, I guess, I get to come to victory lane here for the first time in a different kind of car, so it’s pretty special.”
Sadler, who entered the race 17 points behind Stenhouse, saw his championship hopes disappear on Lap 175. After cutting across the backstretch dogleg, Sadler moved back up the track well clear of Jason Leffler and polesitter Aric Almirola, who were racing side-by-side.
At the entrance to Turn 3, a tap from Leffler’s Chevrolet spun Sadler, whose No. 2 Chevrolet slammed into the outside wall, collecting Almirola in the process. Morgan Shepherd’s Chevrolet was destroyed when the 70-year-old driver got up into the marbles trying to avoid the wreck. Sadler finished 27th and trails Stenhouse by 41 points.
“I’m sure that the video shows that the 38 (Leffler) just ran right into the back of us,” Sadler said. “Not much respect for guys running for the championship. It’s very frustrating. You work all season long to put yourself in a situation, and it all goes away in a split second.”
Leffler accepted responsibility for the wreck.
“I was racing Aric, but I take full responsibility,” Leffler said. “I ran right into the back of him. It wasn’t on purpose. It was a mistake on my part. I feel bad for him and his guys. When a guy slides across like that, it kills all the momentum. He’s a good driver, a smart driver, so obviously he lifted early to keep from blowing the corner.
“I was racing Aric and just made a mistake. It’s all my fault. That’s the last thing I wanted to do to Elliott and his guys.”
The race was less than a lap old when an eight-car wreck in Turn 3 ruined Danica Patrick’s day. Patrick backed into the outside wall and lost three laps to Almirola, who led the first 66 laps, as her car was being repaired. She finished 21st.
Almirola surrendered the top spot to Stenhouse on Lap 67. Stenhouse pulled out to a lead of more than two seconds before caution for D.J. Kennington’s collision with the Turn 2 wall on Lap 84 bunched the field.
Stenhouse stayed out front after pit stops and again pulled away after a restart on Lap 91. Keselowski passed Almirola for the second spot on Lap 107 but couldn’t close significantly on Stenhouse, who maintained an advantage of approximately three seconds as the top two cars worked traffic.
A violent wreck on Lap 130 involving Derrike Cope and Mike Bliss brought out the fourth yellow. Stenhouse was first off pit road under the yellow, and Sadler gained eight positions with a two-tire stop. He restarted fifth behind Stenhouse, Hornish, Keselowski and Logano when the field took the green flag on Lap 140.
Hornish powered around Stenhouse to the outside to take the lead, but the race was yellow-flagged for the fifth time on Lap 143 when contact from Steve Wallace’s Toyota sent James Buescher’s Chevrolet spinning into the frontstretch wall.
After the restart on Lap 151, Hornish opened a margin of more than a second over Keselowski, who surged from sixth to second in the space of two laps and then began to close on his Penske Racing teammate.