It wasn’t Sam Hornish Jr.’s first NASCAR win.
It may be his most important, though.
Hornish, a former IndyCar Series and Indianapolis 500 champion, has struggled during a good deal of his NASCAR career but early in the 2013 Nationwide Series season, he is clearly the class of the field.
Hornish led 114 of the 200 laps and held off a late charge from Kyle Busch to win Saturday’s Sam’s Town 300 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and cement his hold atop the series standings.
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“When you have a car that’s this good, you’re always worried something bad is going to happen or you’re going to get caught up in somebody else’s problem. It was just an awesome day,” an emotional Hornish said from Victory Lane.
“It was tough to be patient but at the end of the day we knew that our car was really good and I feel like we could have taken some chances.
“The car could run anywhere on the race track.”
The win is Hornish’s second in the series. His first came Nov. 12, 2011, at Phoenix. He finished a career-best fourth in the Nationwide standings last season but failed to win a race.
“Greg (Erwin, crew chief) and I are still learning each other and we have a good core of guys that have been on this No. 12 team for a while,” Hornish said.
“I had a really hard time getting to bed last night because I wasn’t sure what we had for a race car. I would have slept like a baby if I knew how good this thing was going to be.”
Brian Vickers finished third, Trevor Bayne was fourth and Elliott Sadler finished fifth. After three races, Hornish holds a 19-point lead over Sadler, Justin Allgaier and Brian Scott, all of whom are tied for second.
Busch had a chance to take the lead from Hornish with a restart with seven laps remaining. He briefly nudged ahead only to see Hornish power back past him for the lead.
“It was a tough race out there. The cars were really getting loose. Sam was just that much better than us,” he said.
“Us two were the class of the field, but he was the class of everybody.”