Danica sets NASCAR female mark
Mar 5, 2011 at 12:00a ET
Mark Martin knew he had to save gas to have any chance of winning the Nationwide Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Even then, he was going to need some help.
He got it when leader Brad Keselowski cut a tire on the final lap of Saturday's race, and Martin sailed past him for the victory. It was the fourth win in six Nationwide races at Las Vegas for Martin.
''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 is make sure we didn't run out of gas.''
The race will most likely be remembered, though, for Danica Patrick's history-making run and not the last-lap dramatics.
Patrick placed fourth, the best finish for a woman in a national NASCAR race since Sara Christian was fifth at Pittsburgh in 1949.
''Awesome!'' Martin said when told of Patrick's finish. ''I am really happy for her. That's fantastic.''
It was a turnaround for Patrick, who struggled all weekend at Las Vegas and fell a lap down in Saturday's race. But she put herself in position to get back on the lead lap, then steadily worked her way into the top 10.
Fuel strategy did the rest, as many of the cars in front of her had to make late stops for gas and Patrick slid all the way up to fourth.
''We just had a good car, that's all I can say. That's what makes a difference in these things,'' said Patrick. ''I know I haven't had the best results, especially in NASCAR, but we're getting them now.''
Patrick, who has only 16 races in her NASCAR career, improved on her previous career-best finish of 14th, earned at Daytona last month.
''I don't know. I don't think about trying to achieve the highest finish of a female,'' she said. ''I think about trying to win the race.''
The fuel issues, and a midrace crash by Kyle Busch, shuffled the final running order and put Keselowski in position to win the race. But the defending Nationwide champion got a flat tire on the final lap and his Dodge darted into the wall.
''Must have run over something because it went down pretty quick,'' he said.
Martin, who didn't think he had enough gas to get to the finish, then sailed by for his Nationwide-leading 49th career victory.
''We really only had one chance to win the race and that was to make it on fuel, and some of the guys in front of us not,'' Martin said. ''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. Had to wait and see if Brad would make it our not, and that would be the determination because I didn't feel confident I could make it (on gas) and pass him.''
Justin Allgaier finished second to give Turner Motorsports, a Nationwide Series team competing against Sprint Cup teams every weekend, a 1-2 finish.
The new scoring rules, which prevent Cup drivers from earning points in lower series, has helped Turner put three of its drivers in the top five of the Nationwide standings. Reed Sorenson is the points leader, Jason Leffler is third and Allgaier is fifth.
Keselowski wound up third, but finished his first Nationwide race of the season after wrecking at Daytona and Phoenix.
''It's got to come back around,'' he said. ''We're just on downside of the roller coaster. I'm ready for it to come back up.''
Trevor Bayne was fifth and Carl Edwards, who had to give up the lead late to stop for gas, settled for sixth after leading 68 laps. Denny Hamlin was seventh, while Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Jason Leffler and Kenny Wallace rounded out the top 10.
Busch led a race-high 84 laps, but wrecked when he tried to make a three-wide pass around Keselowski. He ducked his car into the grass, lost control and couldn't save it as he ran into an interior wall. He finished 30th.
''I know the grass typically doesn't work, so I look kind of stupid doing that,'' he said. ''I screwed up.''
Had he not wrecked, Busch likely would have contended for his 45th Nationwide victory. He's chasing Martin for the all-time mark, and Martin has already conceded.
''It's pointless to really talk much about that streak. Kyle will pass me probably by midseason and that will be that,'' he said. ''It's been a good ride. That record is going to fall. Soon. I am sure it will fall this year.''