LAS VEGAS (AP)—Mark Martin took Dale Earnhardt Jr. to Victory Lane by winning the Nationwide Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, then immediately apologized for an accident he started in the closing laps.
Martin, the winningest driver in NASCAR’s No. 2 series, raced to the 48th victory of his career Saturday in a car owned by Earnhardt’s JR Motorsports. But the win came at the expense of Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski, who races full-time for Earnhardt.
Martin was sixth following a final round of pit stops when the race restarted with 10 laps to go. With four fresh tires on his Chevrolet, he sliced his way toward the front while chasing cars that had only taken two tires.
Edwards and Keselowski were racing side-by-side when Martin quickly closed in on Edwards’ bumper. Slight contact sent Edwards’ car wiggling across the track, and he slid high directly into Keselowski to wreck both cars.
Martin slipped past into the lead, then held in a two-lap shootout to the finish.
“I’ve got to apologize before we do anything else,” Martin said as soon as he climbed from his car. “I ran into the back of Carl. I hate it. I just hate it, really, because we could have had a 1-2 finish with JR Motorsports.
“I hate that it happened, but I sure didn’t intend for it to happen.”
Edwards, the defending series champion, finished 14th.
“I’d like to be really mad at Mark, but he’s a heck of a guy and has a lot of respect,” Edwards said. “I’m sure he just made a mistake.”
Keselowski had to settle for 23rd.
“I felt like I had a chance to win or finish in the top five,” he said. “I feel great about our effort. I knew we had something there for them at the end. I am not sure what happened at the end. I knew it was going to be a dogfight.”
Earnhardt, the car owner, was disappointed for Keselowski but was confident the 24-year-old will bounce back.
“He’s a good kid and he’ll be stronger because of what happened today,” Earnhardt said. “We’ll put it behind us. It’s hard to stomach. We’ll be stronger the next race. He knows the type of driver Mark is and it’s awesome to hear Mark be honest about the situation.
“We all know he’s one of the cleanest drivers out there. He’s taught this entire garage how to drive clean and how to drive respectfully. It’s guys like him that taught a lot of drivers how to race.”
Martin was met in Victory Lane by Earnhardt, who grew up idolizing the veteran and tabbed him to run a handful of races for his expanding race team. Earnhardt aligned it with Hendrick Motorsports this season to form a hybrid two-car effort, and the win was the first for JR Motorsports.
“Junior and I both remember when he was just about this tall—coming over to his house and watching videos,” Martin said. “I have known him ever since. I have tremendous respect for him, and I’m really glad to get this trophy for him and this team.”
Earnhardt was thrilled that Martin was able to give him his first win.
“I’ve known Mark forever, and he’s taught me a lot, on and off the track,” Earnhardt said. “And he’s such a talented driver. We’re really fortunate to have that kind of talent behind the wheel of our car. Anytime you put him behind the wheel of a car, you’ve got a shot to win.”
Greg Biffle finished second and was followed by Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, David Stremme and Dario Franchitti in his career best NASCAR finish.