Still the One: Mark Martin Cashes Nationwide Win at Las Vegas, Patrick Nabs Fourth
For most of Saturday's Sam's Town 300, it looked like it'd be another edition of "The Kyle Busch Show: Las Vegas Edition."
The 25-year-old hometown hero was on pace for his second victory of the NASCAR Nationwide Series season, in position to close in on the dubious title of the all-time winningest winner in this division.
Instead, Busch, who led a race high 84 laps, was left wondering what could've been, as he went from a possible win to a 30th place finish at the fast 1.5 mile superspeedway.
Attempting to make a three-wide pass around rival Brad Kesleowski, Busch's No. 18 Z-Line Toyota slid across the frontstretch grass before making contact with the inside retaining wall.
"I know the grass typically doesn't work, so I look kind of stupid doing that," Busch said per AP Sports Writer Jenna Fryer's article.
Admitting his mistake, Busch added, "I screwed up."
With the Las Vegas racer out of contention, that opened the door for Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski to take the checkered flag, but lady luck was not on their side for the "jackpot."
Edwards' No. 60 Ford Mustang paced the field for 68 laps, in position for the win before a late race fuel stop dropped him from the lead to eighth spot in the final rundown.
As contenders fell by the wayside, Keselowski assumed command of the race, just one lap away from Victory Lane.
On this race day, the "W" was not in the cards for the defending Nationwide champion and his No. 22 Discount Tires Dodge team.
A cut tire during the final circuit relegated Keselowski to a third-place result and essentially gave the race to an old Nationwide favorite.
While the results will show that Mark Martin, led just one circuit, it was the most important one - the last lap.
Capturing his 49th career win in the Nationwide ranks (an all-time high for all drivers), the 52-year-old Batesville, AK native realized that he capitalized with a bit of pit strategy.
"I can't gloat. If Brad hadn't of had a tire problem, he looked like he would win," Martin said. "All I could do was make sure we didn't run out of gas.
"When I caught Brad, I realized it was going to take all the gas I had to get by him because he wanted to race."
Much like his Sprint Cup victory at Michigan two years ago, Martin used the fuel mileage game to his advantage.
In addition, he got a bit lucky, with Keselowski's cut tire paving the way for the win and propelling Justin Allgaier to a runner up place, resulting in a 1-2 finish for Turner Motorsports.
In a season that's been slim pickings, at best, for the defending Nationwide titlist, Keselowski simply said, "Must have run over something because it went down pretty quick. It's got to come back around.
"We're just on the downside of the roller coaster. I'm ready for it come back up."
Equally as impressive as Martin's victory and Allgaier's second place finish was Danica Patrick's fourth place result, a career best finish in a stock car for the 28-year-old open wheel talent.
Struggling to find a balance between speed and handling prior to the race, Patrick and her No. 7 Go Daddy Chevy team's adjustments once again propelled them to a strong finish.
"We just had a good car, that's all I can say," Patrick said. "That's what makes a difference in these things. I know I haven't had the best results, especially in NASCAR, but we're getting them now."
Topping her previous career best finish of 14th at Daytona last month, there appears to be some progress with the 2005 Indy 500 rookie winner.
Like Martin, she also used the fuel mileage game to her advantage, with some of the race leaders' late stops aiding some drivers to higher finishing positions.
Although somewhat satisifed with her fourth, Patrick made one thing clear to the racing community.
"I don't think about trying to achieve the highest finish of a female," she firmly said. "I think about trying to win a race."
With Martin's victory, rounding out the top 10 for Saturday's Nationwide race at Las Vegas were Justin Allgaier, Brad Keselowski, Danica Patrick, Trevor Bayne, Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Jason Leffler, and Kenny Wallace.
After next weekend's hiatus, the NASCAR Nationwide Series will tackle the high banks of Bristol Motor Speedway for the Scotts EZ Seed 300 (Saturday, March 20, Live 2 PM EST on ESPN2).
Brad Keselowski is the defending pole sitter for the race, while Justin Allgaier looks to defend his victory from last year, this time driving the No. 31 BRANDT Professional Agriculture Chevrolet.