News & Media


Stenhouse close to celebrating Nationwide title

November 17, 2011, Joe Menzer, NASCAR.com

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. -- Sadler acknowledges series championship is just out of reach after Phoenix

Of the three groups of NASCAR title contenders to take the stage during Thursday's news conference under the big top on the beach, one stood out as being somewhat unnecessary.

It's been a great run for Elliott Sadler this year in the Nationwide Series, but the only way he can now catch Ricky Stenhouse Jr. for the championship is if Sadler wins Saturday's Ford 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway while Stenhouse finishes worse than 37th and fails to lead a single lap in the season's final race. Stenhouse has finished worse than 37th only once this year -- when the driver of the No. 6 Ford got involved in an accident at Talladega Superspeedway in the seventh race of the 34-event season and finished 38th.

"What happened at Phoenix dug us too big of a hole for us to try to make anything happen this weekend."

--ELLIOTT SADLER

And Stenhouse even led six laps on that awful day so technically, the scenario that needs to unfold to even give Sadler his slimmest of chances has not played out all year.

Even Sadler, who has yet to win this season despite 12 top-five finishes, acknowledged that he will be unable to wrest the championship from the sure grip of Stenhouse now. Any flickering hopes he had left remaining were extinguished last Saturday at Phoenix, when Sadler got wrecked by Jason Leffler with 26 laps remaining and was relegated to a 27th-place finish in the race there.

"What happened at Phoenix dug us too big of a hole for us to try to make anything happen this weekend," Sadler said. "So we're just going to try to end the season on the best possible note we can -- and that's to go out and try to sit on the pole and then go out and try to win the race.

"It's been a great season. We've had a lot of ups and we've had a few downs -- but last week kind of put us in a hole that's too tough. Ricky and those guys would really have to mess up for us to have a legitimate shot at the championship now. But as a team, we're just going to try to go out and end on a good, positive note."

Stenhouse holds a 41-point advantage over Sadler, the only other driver not already mathematically eliminated from championship contention. He's done it on the strength of two wins, 15 top-five and 25 top-10 finishes. No one else running for the Nationwide championship has better numbers in any of those categories.

"We're just going to go out there and do our same thing we've been doing since Daytona at the start of the year."

--RICKY STENHOUSE JR.

So Stenhouse has literally been in the driver's seat for this championship for several weeks. But now he's about ready to take the trophy to the Nationwide garage, and he admitted that what transpired with Sadler at Phoenix, where Stenhouse finished fifth, has relieved him of pressure for this weekend.

But that doesn't mean Stenhouse will be playing it safe Saturday.

"I'm not really worried too much," Stenhouse said. "We're just going to go out there and do our same thing we've been doing since Daytona at the start of the year. We're going to go out, get our car as fast as we can in practice, qualify as well as we can, and race as hard as we can.

"I think when you start trying to control things, I think that's when you get in trouble. So we're just going to go out and do our same deal just like we always do."

In their minds, both drivers have a perfect vision of how this season should end. They both would like to win the race.

"Homestead is one of my favorite race tracks," Stenhouse said. "I think we'll have a good shot to win the race this weekend. I think that would be a good way to cap off Ford Championship Weekend."

Sadler added: "We have to do the best job we can on Saturday, throw caution to the wind -- and see where that takes us."