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Nationwide title battles build friendship between foes

October 12, 2012, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com



Nationwide title battles build friendship between foes
CONCORD, N.C. -- Sadler, Stenhouse Jr. have developed a bond, thanks to position atop standings

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Elliott Sadler entered the media center Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, took seats next to each other at a table and began chatting comfortably like old friends. It was difficult to believe that for much of the past two years, the two drivers have been fierce rivals for the Nationwide Series championship -- and before then, they barely knew each other at all.

Yet that's the case for the cowboy-hat-wearing Mississippian and the Virginia native with the deep drawl, who since the start of last season have been linked closely by their battles for the crown in NASCAR's No. 2 series. Although Austin Dillon has inserted himself into the mix this year, Nationwide title talk during the past two years has centered almost exclusively on Stenhouse and Sadler, the former of whom won the championship last season and the latter of whom is the points leader now.

2012 Nationwide leaders

RankDriverPolesWinsT5T10
2.Stenhouse451621

They're not only close in the standings but also usually on the race track, and that familiarity has produced a friendship between on-track adversaries who stand in the way of each other's primary goal.

"I think we've got a lot of mutual respect," Sadler said. "I know they're going to be fast, and they're going to be good. And he's a very, very good race car driver, but a clean race car driver, and I feel like I'm the same way. But we definitely built a friendship last year. Even though we're racing against each other, you still have that friendship and respect for each other, and we're doing it again this year. We thoroughly respect each other's race team and each other's ability and each other on the race track. It's just kind of like, see who the best man is on the race track at the end. There's no evil anything to it all. It's just mutual respect racing."

Before their first championship battle in 2011, the two weren't exactly close. Sadler said he knew who Stenhouse was, and Stenhouse said he would say hello to Sadler when they walked past each other in the garage. But that was about it, even though Sadler once competed at the Sprint Cup level for a Richard Petty Motorsports facility that gets its equipment from Stenhouse's Roush Fenway organization. They weren't close at all -- until they started competing against each other for the title.

"Last year, it was cool because we kind of built a relationship, plus a battle for the championship," Stenhouse said. "I learned a lot from Elliott with his success and time in this sport. I was able to learn how to race for a championship -- a lot of give and take from him -- and I think that paid off a lot last year, and it's paid off a lot this year. But we get along great. We race each other hard when it's time to go race, and during the race we give and take a lot. So it's been a lot of fun racing Elliott. He's a guy that I would hang out with off the race track. It's been a good last two years."

Sadler might have taught Stenhouse too well, given that the Roush driver won last season's title by 45 points. Heading into Friday night's event at Charlotte, Sadler and his Richard Childress Racing program lead Stenhouse by nine points in the standings. Among Nationwide regulars, they dominate in most statistical categories, with nine victories combined.

They've had their share of run-ins on the race track the past two seasons -- an inevitability given how much they've raced around each other -- but the friendship they've built has been strong enough to withstand them. "I think with the relationship we have, we were able to work through it. We may have been standing on different sides of the fence or had different views, but we were able to work through it and move on from there," Sadler said.

"When you're in the garage 34 weeks a year, us running for a championship, we're parked next to each other in the garage," Stenhouse added. "Our teams talk to each other. We fly on the same planes to the race tracks. We have a mutual respect for each team. Our teams talk to each other. Our crew chiefs talk to each other. Everybody talks and gets along. You don't want to be out there hating the guys next to you and not enjoy your year. We do this because we love to do it. If it gets to where it's a tough time hanging out in the garage because you're worried about the guys next to you and not getting along, I think you're taking a lot of the enjoyment out of it."

And the basis for it all is respect. "I'll give you an example. Jimmie Johnson's a five-time champion, and he's one of the most respected drivers out there, and one of the cleanest drivers out there," Sadler said of the Sprint Cup star. "You can do it that way, and I feel like that's the relationship we have."