By Reid Spencer
Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service
AVONDALE, Ariz. - Kyle Busch held off a frenetic challenge from Carl Edwards in the closing laps of Saturday's Bashas' Supermarkets 200 at Phoenix International Raceway and collected his 44th Nationwide Series victory.
Having won Friday night's Camping World Truck Series race at the 1-mile track, Busch will try for a weekend sweep Sunday in the Subway Fresh Fit 500 Sprint Cup event.
Busch became the only driver to sweep races in NASCAR's top three series at the same track on the same weekend when he accomplished the feat last August at Bristol.
Edwards, who finished .514 seconds behind Busch, made a contest of the race over the final 20 laps, running side by side with Busch for extended stretches as the race neared its end.
Busch became the first driver to lead every lap of an event in one of NASCAR's top three series since Dale Earnhardt Jr. accomplished the feat in July 2003 in a Nationwide race at Daytona.
Kevin Harvick ran third, followed by Ryan Newman and Reed Sorenson, who took over the series lead by five points over seventh-place finisher Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Sorenson and Stenhouse were the highest-finishing drivers eligible for the Nationwide title.
Though Busch never trailed at the stripe, Edwards gave the driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota all he could handle. During one exchange, Edwards crossed the finish line .039 seconds behind Busch.
Busch was well aware he had a chance to be a wire-to-wire winner.
"I knew after the first run that it was such a long run that nobody stayed out (under the first caution)," Busch said. "The second run was such a long run that everybody pitted again. So I'm like, ‘So far, I've led every lap of this thing.'
"It came down toward the end of the race there, and Carl was alongside of me, and we were racing really hard, and he was trying to pass me, and I was like, ‘Man, just beat him back to the start/finish line; man, just beat him back to the start/finish line.'
"I was trying to hold on as long as I could. Finally, it seemed like about 15 laps or so that his stuff would start falling off enough that we could start clicking back away and get away from him a little bit. So I knew that, if we could just make it to that threshold, I thought we'd be OK."
Edwards said he considered giving Busch a bump in close quarters but thought better of it.
"This is a new year, and you've got to do the best you can to go out and race everyone all the time with the most respect you can," Edwards said. "Kyle was driving that car so well, and we were having such a good race.
"It was a lot like the race Kevin (Harvick) and I had in 2006 or 2007. That's one of the best races I've ever had, and it was because we really gave each other all the room we needed to race, and the best car ended up winning. Today, Kyle's car was the best, and it's fun to be able to race like that.
"It's frustrating to lose them, but it's better to lose them that way than it is to win by running into somebody."
Danica Patrick finished 17th, three laps down, and posted her third straight top-20 result in the series. She is fourth in the Nationwide standings through two races but will take a break from NASCAR competition in March, when the IndyCar Series begins its 2011 campaign.
As Busch continued his domination in the desert, the fortunes of 2010 series champion Brad Keselowski continued to ebb. On Lap 105, Keselowski blew a right front tire and clobbered the Turn 4 wall to bring out only the second caution of the race.
Keselowski, who had finished 102 consecutive Nationwide races before falling out of last week's Drive4COPD 300 at Daytona, suffered his second straight DNF.
Notes: Busch is four victories behind Nationwide Series career leader Mark Martin, who has 48 wins. ... Saturday's race featured 40 entries, three short of a full field. That's the first time since 2008 a Nationwide race has started with fewer than 43 cars. ... The victory was Busch's fourth at Phoenix and his ninth top 10 in 12 Nationwide starts at the track.