Amanda Vincent, NASCAR Correspondent
The Penske Racing duo of Sam Hornish Jr. in the No. 12 Dodge and Brad Keselowski in the No. 22 Dodge separated themselves from the rest of the field in the closing laps of the Wypall 200 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Phoenix International Raceway on Saturday to duke it out for the win. Hornish came out on top to claim his first-career series win as his teammate finished second.
“I don’t know how to quite do this whole victory lane thing on the NASCAR side and standing up on the side of the car, so I had to jump up there to get another picture,” Hornish joked of his victory lane inexperience.”
(Crew Chief) Chad Walter made a great call bringing me down for two.
Carl Edwards drove the No. 60 Roush Fenway Racing Ford to a third-place finish to slice the owner’s point lead the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, driven Saturday by Joey Logano. It is down to a single point difference heading into next weekend’s season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Logano finished one spot back in fourth.
“That is a unique battle we are having, it is fun,” Edwards said. “We are just having fun and racing hard. You can definitely run two-wide around the whole racetrack. That was kind of news to me. I didn’t expect that.”
A multi-car incident with 26 laps remaining occurred when the No. 2 Kevin Harvick Inc. Chevrolet, driven by Elliott Sadler, found itself on the receiving end of accidental contact from Jason Leffler, driver of the No. 38 Turner Motorsports Chevrolet.
Sadler ran down to the apron of the racetrack to give Leffler and Aric Almirola, driver of the No. 88 JR Motorsports Chevrolet, room to collect their racecars and avoid an accident. When Sadler came back upon the banking, he slid up in front of Leffler who was unable to check up. He made contact with Sadler and that sent Sadler hard into the wall. The crash removed Sadler from championship contention.
“The 38 just ran into the back of us,” Sadler said. “I don’t know why he did it. He’s not racing for anything. I thought I did the right thing, giving them room.”
Leffler later accepted blame for the incident and said that it was not intentional.
“Well, I was racing and he stopped sooner than I expected,” he said. “I take full responsibility. It’s all my fault. It certainly wasn’t on purpose.”
Sadler came into the Phoenix race 17 points behind series leader and driver of the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., with two races remaining. Stenhouse, meanwhile, finished fifth to all but run away with the series championship as Sadler could only watch from the garage. Sadler left Phoenix 41 points -- nearly a race worth of points -- behind Stenhouse.
After an incident on the first lap involved eight cars, including the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota of Brian Scott, the No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet of Danica Patrick and the No. 82 MacDonald Motorsports Dodge of Reed Sorenson. After that Aric Almirola led the way for the first 66 laps before relinquishing the top spot to Stenhouse on lap 67.
Almirola lost several more positions a few laps later when a slow pit stop put him back around mid-pack. He was never able to get back toward the front before his race was ended when he was collected in the Leffler-Sadler incident.
“It looked like Leffler just ran into the back of the 2,” Almirola said. “He just flat out wrecked the 2.”
Stenhouse then pulled away from the field, building up leads of about three seconds between cautions. Restarts wound up being Stenhouse’s downfall, as he spun his tires on two late-race restarts, losing positions both times.
Hornish took advantage of Stenhouse’s poor restarts late in the race, taking the lead from him on a restart following a lap 129 caution and led the rest of the way. He got into position to cash in on Stenhouse’s restart miscues by taking two tires under the caution to come off pit road second.
“(Crew chief) Chad Walter made a great call bringing me down for two,” Hornish said. “We felt like we were really good getting going, but we didn’t have long run security but two tires might help us turn a little better and boy did it ever.”
He was joined up front by his Penske teammate with 48 laps to go in the 200-lap event, and the two battled the rest of the way to see which driver would give car owner Roger Penske the win.
“We saw a lot of wrecks today, a lot of action,” Keselowski said. “I told somebody, they asked me how they thought this race would play out and I thought it’s either going to be one of the best races of the year or one of the worst and it ended up being one of the best. Really, really happy with how the race track turned out. I think we saw a lot of passing and a lot of action and all in all just a lot of fun.”