NEWTON, Iowa (AP) — Sam Hornish Jr. beat Ryan Blaney off a restart with 21 laps to go and hung on to win the NASCAR Nationwide Series race Sunday at Iowa Speedway.
Pole-sitter Ryan Blaney was second, followed by Regan Smith, Chase Elliott and Elliott Sadler in the first stand-alone event of the season.
Hornish, in the No. 54 car usually driven by Kyle Busch, led 167 of 250 laps to win in second Nationwide start of the season for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Elliott has a two-point lead over Sadler and Smith in the series points standings.
From the startl, Hornish and Blaney were the only drivers in serious contention.
Blaney began the race on the outside of the front row after winning his first series pole Saturday. But Hornish, who qualified second, pulled in front on the opening lap. Blaney and Hornish were the only leaders for the first 214 laps, and lapped traffic was often more of a concern that the cars directly behind them.
Blaney eventually caught Hornish at the tail end of a green flag run that lasted roughly 65 laps. But the final restart belonged to Hornish, who failed to secure a full-time ride for 2014 despite finishing second in the points standings last season.
It was Hornish’s third win in 101 Natiionwide starts.
Michael McDowell then briefly took the lead with 30 laps to go by taking just two tires while the rest of the leaders took four. But McDowell’s gamble failed to pay off, and he settled for seventh.
Elliott’s fourth-place finish concluded a hectic weekend for the 18-year-old. He graduated from high school in Georgia on Saturday morning and flew back to Iowa in time to qualify sixth later in the day.
Elliott’s crew hung his graduation cap and tassel on the No. 9 pit box for good luck on Sunday. But Elliott, like everyone else in the field, had no answers for Hornish or Blaney.