Sam Hornish Jr. drove an absolutely dominant car to victory Saturday afternoon, streaking away from Kyle Busch during a seven-lap dash to the finish in the Sam’s Town 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
The win was Hornish’s second in NASCAR’s Nationwide Series and his first since Nov. 12, 2011 at Phoenix. It was the first Las Vegas victory for Penske Racing in any NASCAR series and the first Nationwide triumph for crew chief Greg Erwin, a winning Sprint Cup crew chief who signed on with Penske during the offseason.
The Penske organization also collected its first victory after switching from Dodge to Ford between seasons.
Busch rolled across the finish line in second, 1.1 seconds behind Hornish. Brian Vickers ran third, followed by Trevor Bayne and Elliott Sadler. Bayne recovered from an early brush with the wall to post the fourth-place result.
Hornish, who led 114 of the 200 laps, leads the series by 19 points over Sadler, Justin Allgaier (15th Saturday) and Brian Scott (ninth).
It wasn’t until race day that Hornish learned of the similarity between his name and that of the title sponsorship.
“I didn’t know until this morning that this was the Sam’s Town 300,” Hornish said. “It’s kind of cool that I was able to win it… It’s great to get Penske Racing’s first win back in a Ford.
“Man, the car was awesome today. It was a real joy to drive. I’ve got to thank all the guys on the Penske team for giving me an awesome car to race with. When you have a car that good, you’re always worried something bad is going to happen or you’ll get caught in somebody else’s problem. I’m glad that didn’t happen today.”
Busch, who had dominated at Phoenix a week earlier, had an excellent car on Saturday—but not quite strong enough.
“It was a tough race out there today all around,” Busch said. “Cars were really getting loose out there in the early stages of the race through the middle part of the race… The second-to-last run and the last run, I felt like our car was really good. There wasn’t much else that we could do to make it better.
“Sam was just that much faster than us. 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 kind of the class of the field, but he was the class of everybody.”
Hornish dropped from the lead to third during pit stops on Lap 139, after NASCAR called a debris caution one lap earlier. Eight circuits after a restart on lap 145, Hornish regained the top spot, sailing past Busch and driving away.
Hornish led Busch by almost three seconds when Scott Lagasse Jr.’s spin in Turn 1 on Lap 182 caused the seventh caution of the race. The top seven cars stayed on track under the yellow while those behind them came to pit road for fresh rubber on Lap 184.
Four laps later, moments after Hornish led the field to the green flag, a hard wreck in Turn 2 involving rookie Kyle Larson, Joey Gase and Ryan Sieg slowed the race for the eighth time and left Larson’s No. 32 Chevrolet Camaro a smoking ruin.
Larson, whose car flew into the catch fence on the final lap of the NNS season opener at Daytona, hastily climbed from his car as safety workers arrived with fire extinguishers.
Bayne and Larson made track-position plays on Lap 83, taking fuel only under caution for Robert Richardson Jr.’s spin in Turn 2. Though they started at the front of the field, the strategy backfired, as both Bayne and Larson hit the outside wall battling for the lead on Lap 87.
Larson, in the outside lane, crowded Bayne on the bottom as the drivers raced side by side. Bayne’s No. 6 Ford broke loose, carrying both cars into the wall. Bayne remained on the lead lap, but Larson’s No. 32 Chevrolet was damaged more extensively, and the rookie lost two laps during repairs.