By Amanda Vincent, NASCAR reporter
- Martin extends Nationwide record wins to 49
- First victory for Turner Motorsports
- Patrick is first woman to finish in the top 5
Mark Martin extends his win record in the Nationwide series at Las Vegas
It may have been attributed to fuel strategy but Mark Martin's win in Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series Sam's Town at 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was a win none-the less. Martin didn't lead in the race until he assumed the top spot on the final lap when then-leader Brad Keselowski hit the wall as a result of a tire issue, but Martin, more than twice the age of no fewer than 14 other drivers he was competing against on Saturday, gave the still-relatively new Turner Motorsports its first-ever win in Nationwide Series competition.
"Mark did a great job saving fuel," Martin's crew chief Trent Owens said after the race.
Martin said, “Kyle will pass me, probably by midseason, and that will be that,” Martin said. “It’s been a good ride -- Jack Ingram was the man when I was coming. That record is going to fall soon. I’m sure it’ll fall this year, based on the incredible job they do. We got us another trophy. That’s all I care about. I don’t care how many I ever won before. This one’s the one that’s special, ’cause this one’s today. And more important than me. This is Turner’s and [crew chief] Trent [Owens’] first win. That’s the coolest."
Those are the kinds of milestones that I look at with pride.
Turner Motorsports celebrated its most successful race, by far, with not only Martin's win, but with a one-two finish, three top-10 finishes, and the worst finish among its four entries just outside the top-10 in 11th. Justin Allgaier posted the runner-up finish for the team, with Jason Leffler finishing ninth and Reed Sorenson in 11th. Sorenson retained his points lead.
Carl Edwards sat on the pole, but Kyle Busch dominated early, at times putting most of the field a lap down. Edwards and Denny Hamlin did take the lead from Busch at times, but Busch's chances at his first Nationwide win at his hometown track flew completely out the window, when he lost eight spots on pit road during a caution with 75 laps to go when he opted to get four fresh tires and the other leaders took fuel only.
While attempting to work his way back toward the front from his restart position of ninth, he clipped the grass with his left tires while trying to go below Brad Keselowski. Busch then spun into the infield and hit the inside wall. The damage was enough to end Busch's day.
Drivers including Edwards, Hamlin and Ricky Stenhouse continued to run up front, usually occupying the top-three spots in the late going, but not pitting to top off with fuel during a caution that came out with 61 laps to go meant that they didn't have enough fuel to make it the rest of the way.
I think it's huge. I think it's going to help her out tremendously.
Meanwhile, drivers like Martin, Allgaier, Keselowski and Danica Patrick did pit under that caution and had enough fuel to finish the race without having to pit again. Even so, Martin went into fuel conservation mode.
"I decided I wasn't going to run out of gas," Martin said.
Heading into the final lap, the strategy looked like it was going to turn a nowhere near perfect race for Keselowski into a perfect finish. After wrecking his primary car on Thursday, going to a backup car for Saturday's race, getting slapped with a pit road speeding penalty, and making contact with Reed Sorenson when Sorenson's car shot up in front of him in an attempt to miss a spinning Donnie Neuenberger, Keselowski found himself in the top spot as he passed under the white flag, signifying the final lap.
A cut tire, instead sent Keselowski into the wall on his way to a third-place finish.
The fuel strategy game played by several drivers also helped Patrick score her best-ever NASCAR finish. At Daytona she recored her first top 15 but today she finished fourth. Her top-five run made history by being the best-ever finish by a woman in a NASCAR national-level event.
"To be honest, I think we're making some real progress," said Patrick. "We make progress every weekend, but it's just a matter of, are you on the lead lap and in position to take advantage by the end of the race?
"I don't know if it's good to have a top-five going into Bristol," she joked. "But hey, just like any weekend, you'll take a good result."
Rounding out the top-five was Trevor Bayne. After having to pit late in the race for fuel, Edwards finished fifth, Hamlin was seventh and Stenhouse finished eighth.
"It's frustrating to let a win slip away like that," Edwards said of losing the race to fuel mileage.