In a Nutshell: The old adage that the front of the pack is the safest place on the track did not hold true on Saturday. Mark Martin, chasing down the leaders with five laps to go, got into the back of Carl Edwards, taking out both Edwards and then-race leader Brad Keselowski to win his 48th career Nationwide Series race.
Martin was subdued in Victory Lane, stating “I’ve got to apologize before we do any celebrating. I hate for that to happen. I didn’t intend for it to turn out that way. But I couldn’t stop it, once it started. I feel real bad for Brad, because he was so close to getting his first victory.” Nonetheless, Martin proclaimed himself honored to drive for Dale Earnhardt Jr. and for giving JR Motorsports their first victory on the Nationwide Series tour.
Keselowski and Edwards were not the only frontrunners to experience problems during the race, though. Kyle Busch, Bobby Labonte, Tony Stewart and polesitter Brian Vickers all were involved in crashes near the front of the field, while Jeff Burton had an engine fail while running second – all of which opened the door for Martin in the race’s closing stages.
Despite finishing the race in the garage, Stewart retained the Nationwide Series points lead over Busch heading into Atlanta. Edwards, in fourth, is the highest ranked driver running for the Nationwide Series championship.
Who Should Have Won: Keselowski. While the majority of the leaders stayed out during the 11th caution period, Keselowski took a full fuel load. As the race went green for 40 plus laps, Keselowski found himself in position to pin the entire field a lap down as they began fuel stops. An untimely debris caution wiped out Keselowski’s fuel-mileage advantage but left him the race leader with 10 to go – with a fast racecar, to boot. Keselowski then engaged in a furious battle with Edwards and was holding the advantage on the high side of the track when Martin spun the two leaders out on lap 197. Still, Keselowski has much to be proud of; he put himself in position for his first win, and was deprived only by being a victim of Martin. How many other drivers can say that?
Stremme: Rusty Wallace Incorporated has been running well all season, but both of their cars have been victims of bad luck. This weekend, Stremme finally got RWI a good finish, running up front all day and scoring a fifth-place finish. Also of note is that this was Stremme’s fourth consecutive top five in the Nationwide Series at Las Vegas.
Mike Wallace: Wallace and his new Germain Racing team showed real signs of progress on Saturday. Wallace ran in the top 15 all day, had strong pit stops and scored a seventh-place finish. It was Wallace’s first top 10 since the July 2006 race at Daytona, and his first since taking over the No. 7 GEICO car.
Open-Wheelers: Dario Franchitti had the strongest showing of his career in a stock car, qualifying inside the top 10 and bringing his Dodge home sixth. Franchitti did remarkably well to adapt to the treacherous combination of a slick track and hard tires. Also of note was Patrick Carpentier, who was called into Saturday duty to replace an ill Kasey Kahne. Carpentier responded to the challenge, bringing the No. 9 Dodge home eighth in only his fourth career Nationwide Series start.
Better Luck Next Time
Keselowski: He’s leading the race with less than five to go, in position to win his first career race, and gets taken out in a wreck caused by his teammate, Martin! Let’s not forget that Keselowski also lost his first career truck win after a late-race spin at the hands of Travis Kvapil. Sooner or later, Brad; hang in there.
Burton: Burton was running down leader Martin about two-thirds of the way through the race, and had the crowd on its feet readying for another No. 5 vs. No. 29 battle at Las Vegas – only to have a fluke engine problem park the Holiday Inn Chevrolet for the day. Couple Burton’s misfortune with Labonte’s, and it was a not a stellar day for RCR.
Joe Gibbs Racing: Again, the Gibbs Toyotas were the class of the field; but this time, the results didn’t show it. Busch wrecked in qualifying, charged from the back of the field to second place in his backup car, and then blew a tire and wrecked again. Stewart led 61 laps and was well on pace to winning his third straight Nationwide race, only to spin himself when trying to pass underneath David Reutimann in turn 3. Stewart and Busch still lead the Nationwide Series points – but they also left the fabricators back at JGR with a lot of work to do.
Underdog Performer of the Race
Stanton Barrett the Hollywood stuntman proved he’s still got some racing left in him. Barrett quietly and methodically moved through the field, running in the top 10 for a good chunk of the race before settling for an 11th-place finish. The race was Barrett’s best run since a top 10 at Loudon in 2005.
“Nation Whacker” Watch
14 of 43 starting positions in the Sam’s Town 300 went to Sprint Cup regulars.
43 of the 129 starting positions in the Nationwide Series have gone to Sprint Cup regulars this season.
Seven Sprint Cup drivers finished in the top 10 of the Sam’s Town 300.
Three of three races have been won by Sprint Cup regulars.
Eight of the top-10 drivers in Nationwide Series points are Sprint Cup regulars.
“A great job by the whole Fastenal crew. The car was a little bit tighter than we had experienced in practice. We spent most of the day freeing it off. Brad [Parrott, crew chief] and the boys did a good call with the pit strategy, and that got us definitely a couple of places today. It was kind of [strange] to have been out there on used tires while everybody else was on new, but we were further up than we would have been [otherwise] so [it was] a great call by those guys. I’m really, really pleased for the whole team. Tomorrow is going to be more difficult with our Target Dodge. I don’t feel quite so confident about it.” – Dario Franchitti on his career-best stock car performance; ironically, his lack of confidence in the Cup race was backed up by a disappointing 33rd-place finish
“Well, we got in a wreck, Jamie [Little].” – Tony Stewart after crashing out of the Sam’s Town 300
Next Up: The Nationwide Series heads to the Atlanta Motor Speedway for the Nicorette 300. Coverage begins Saturday at 1:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2 and 2 p.m. on PRN.