Kyle Busch had the makings of another winning performance in Saturday’s Sam’s Town 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Unfortunately, the Las Vegas native’s drive for victory ended abruptly with an accident that left him a disappointing 30th at his home track.
The driver of the No. 18 Z-Line Designs Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) led three times for a race-high 84 laps, but the lap-131 accident left Busch’s machine heavily damaged and unable to complete the full 200-lap distance.
Busch had the dominant racecar early in Saturday’s event. He wrestled the lead from Kevin Harvick on just the ninth circuit around the 1.5-mile oval and seemed to have the race firmly in control as he began lapping cars that were in the top-10. Just past the lap-120 mark, however, things got difficult for Busch.
Under caution on lap 126, Busch pitted for four tires and fuel, along with track bar, air pressure and wedge adjustments in hopes of remedying a loose handling condition that was beginning to hamper Busch’s car. Because there were varying pit strategies among the lead-lap cars, Busch was forced to restart in 10th on lap 129 as several cars ahead of him opted for fuel-only stops.
Busch quickly tried to make up his lost track position on the ensuing restart, and that’s when trouble struck. He maneuvered his Z-Line Designs Camry to the high side of the racetrack coming out of turn four and then shot down to the apron of the frontstretch in an attempt to pick up spots at the front of the field. Unfortunately, the left front of Busch’s car caught a patch of infield grass, which caused him to lose control.
The Z-Line Designs Toyota spun to the bottom side of the racetrack, and while Busch did a masterful job of attempting to regain control, he ran out of real estate and his car made contact with the inside retaining wall just past the exit of pit road. Busch was able to drive the car back to the garage, but the damage was too severe to repair.
“I had a really big run off the top and I didn’t want to go to the outside. I wanted to kind of get down and be on the bottom so I could get into the white line in turn one,” said Busch, who has failed to finish three out of the last four Nationwide Series races at Las Vegas. “I didn’t even make it that far. I got to the bottom of the ‘22’ (Brad Keselowski) and he came down to block a little bit. I didn’t want to run into him so I went into the grass and I know the grass typically doesn’t work, so I looked kind of stupid doing that. Tried to hang onto it, and just couldn’t get it back straight in enough time and got into the inside wall. I hate it for the guys at JGR and all the guys at Z-Line Designs and everybody that was out here cheering for us today. Another tough day in Vegas.”
Denny Hamlin didn’t gamble, yet he still came up short in Saturday’s Sam’s Town 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The driver of the No. 20 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) finished seventh after leading twice for 28 laps around the 1.5-mile oval.
Hamlin and Carl Edwards were the class of the field in the last half of the 200-lap race, and after each pitted with less than 20 laps to go, it appeared it would be a battle to the finish between the two veterans. Unfortunately, a handful of drivers still on the lead lap had varying pit strategies and successfully gambled that their fuel could carry them to the finish. That left a disappointed Hamlin in seventh-place, while an equally disappointed Edwards finished just ahead of Hamlin in sixth.
“We knew it was going to be close,” said Hamlin, who now has three top-10 finishes in six career Nationwide Series starts at Las Vegas. “I knew some guys were going to stretch it to make it. You just hope that it doesn’t come down to that and it did.
“We were pretty good – better than I thought we were going to be today. It seemed like we were a little bit off on speed all day yesterday. We got a little bit of that back today. I have to say thanks to Adam (Stevens, crew chief) and this whole Interstate Batteries team. I’m proud of them. This is a new team with a new crew chief and everything, and it was a good experience.”
While taking a positive outlook after a tough finish, Hamlin obviously would have preferred to go head-to-head with Edwards in the final laps.
“We were so equal,” Hamlin said. “He was a little bit better than me on the long runs. That’s part of racing, though. You have to have the right fuel strategy and have everything go the right way, and it just didn’t happen.”
Brian Scott drove the No. 11 Shore Lodge Toyota to a 14th-place finish. Early in the race, while running in the Top-10, Brian made contact with the outside wall, damaging the right side of his car. A trip to pit road revealed only cosmetic damage was the result of the accident. One trip to pit road and several stops during later caution periods enables Kevin Kidd and the No. 11 crew to repair the car and return it to competitive speeds.
With 50 laps remaining, Brian was able to make a comeback and return to the Top-10. However, a stop for fuel with less than 5-laps remaining relegated him to a 14th-place finish. Though a higher position was wanted, Brian and the crew showed Championship form by not letting their early troubles define their race.
Mark Martin bolstered his all-time Nationwide Series victory mark by winning the Sam’s Town 300. It was his 49th career Nationwide Series win, his first of the season and his fourth at Las Vegas. The victory was Martin’s first win in the Nationwide Series since 2008 when he won at Las Vegas.
Justin Allgaier finished 1.221 seconds behind Martin in the runner-up spot, while Keselowski, Danica Patrick and Trevor Bayne rounded out the top-five. Carl Edwards, Hamlin, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Jason Leffler and Kenny Wallace comprised the remainder of the top-10.
In finishing fourth, Patrick became the first female to score a top-five finish in a Nationwide Series race. She is now the highest-finishing female in a NASCAR national series event. Sara Christian finished fifth at Heidlberg, Pa., on Oct. 2, 1949 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
There were six caution periods for 27 laps, with 15 drivers failing to finish.
The Nationwide Series takes a rare weekend off before returning to action for the March 19 Scotts Turf Builder 300 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. The race starts at 2 p.m. EDT with live coverage provided by ESPN beginning with its pre-race show at 1 p.m.