By Reid Spencer
Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service
AVONDALE, Ariz. - Sam Hornish Jr. cruised to his first NASCAR victory Saturday at Phoenix International Raceway, winning the Wypall 200 Nationwide Series race.
Taking the lead after a two-tire stop on Lap 131 put him on the front row, Hornish held off teammate Brad Keselowski to win the Wypall 200.
Carl Edwards ran third, followed by Joey Logano and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who all but locked up his first series championship with one race left.
Elliott Sadler, Stenhouse's closest pursuer, crashed late in the race and finished 27th. He trails Stenhouse by 41 points with one race remaining in 2011.
The victory was Hornish's first in NASCAR racing, but the driver of the No. 12 Dodge scored two IndyCar Series wins at the one-mile track. In fact, Hornish got his first victory in the open-wheel series at Phoenix in March 2001.
"It feels great to be able to race Brad and Carl there at the end," said Hornish, who has been driving part time in the Nationwide Series this season. "I'm just so happy. These guys have all worked so hard. We've been on and off all year long. It's been a tough year for us for a lot of different reasons.
"Every 10 years, I guess, I get to come to victory lane here for the first time in a different kind of car, so it's pretty special."
The race was less than a lap old when an eight-car wreck in Turn 3 ruined Danica Patrick's day. Patrick backed into the outside wall and lost three laps to Almirola, who led the first 66 laps, as her car was being repaired. She finished 21st.
Almirola surrendered the top spot to Stenhouse on Lap 67. Stenhouse pulled out to a lead of more than two seconds before caution for D.J. Kennington's collision with the Turn 2 wall on Lap 84 bunched the field.
Stenhouse stayed out front after pit stops and again pulled away after a restart on Lap 91. Keselowski passed Almirola for the second spot on Lap 107 but couldn't close significantly on Stenhouse, who maintained an advantage of approximately three seconds as the top two cars worked traffic.
A violent wreck on Lap 130 involving Derrike Cope and Mike Bliss brought out the fourth yellow. Stenhouse was first off pit road under the yellow, and Elliott Sadler gained eight positions with a two-tire stop. He restarted fifth behind Stenhouse, Hornish, Keselowski and Logano when the field took the green flag on Lap 140.
Hornish powered around Stenhouse to the outside to take the lead, but the race was yellow-flagged for the fifth time on Lap 143 when contact from Steve Wallace's Toyota sent James Buescher's Chevrolet spinning into the frontstretch wall.
After the restart on Lap 151, Hornish opened a margin of more than a second over Keselowski, who surged from sixth to second in the space of two laps and then began to close on his Penske Racing teammate.
Stenhouse Jr. clinches the title with a finish of 37th or better at Homestead-Miami Speedway next weekend; 38th and at least one lap led; 39th with most laps led at Homestead.
“Yeah, I mean we came out here to race and we were leading laps and running out front," Stenhouse said. I" was a little cautious on those last restarts just for that fact that I didn’t want to get in trouble. I think we can get a little more aggressive on restarts next week and Homestead is one of my favorite places to go so I am looking forward to it.”