A week later, Sadler still upset with Smith
July 20, 2013, Zack Albert, NASCAR.com
JOLIET, Ill. -- It’s been a full week since Elliott Sadler spun off the nose of Regan Smith’s No. 7 Chevrolet on the final restart at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, but it doesn’t mean that Sadler is close to letting things slide.
Instead, the two-time NASCAR Nationwide Series runner-up is entering the second half of the season with new guidelines for how he’ll race with the tour’s points leader.
Sadler comes into this Sunday’s STP 300 (3 p.m. ET, ESPN) as the race’s defending winner after his dominant drive in the face of illness secured his third Nationwide victory of the season. But Saturday at Chicagoland Speedway, the focus was more on current events than year-old history.
Sadler was headed for a near-certain top-10 finish last weekend at New Hampshire, but a flash flood of late-race restarts put that result in doubt. On the final restart, Smith nudged inside of Sadler and the two cars touched, sending Sadler into a long slide and leaving him with an 18th-place finish and a two-place drop in the standings behind points leader Smith.
An angry Sadler dismounted and confronted Smith in the garage area, telling his rival “you will not win this championship, mark my word.” Saturday at Chicagoland, Sadler’s words were reduced by many decibels, but were no less pointed, even after a midweek phone conversation with Smith that lasted 20 to 30 minutes for the purpose of sorting out differences.
“I'm still pissed about it and Regan knows that and he knows where I stand,” Sadler said. “He took 100 percent of the blame and understood why I'm upset and why I was upset."
Fueling Sadler’s ire was his opinion that he had given Smith a break twice earlier -- once at Iowa Speedway and once earlier in the day at New Hampshire. The incident was also costly in monetary terms: The spin knocked Sadler from contention for the Nationwide Dash 4 Cash $100,000 payday and kept him from being eligible for the bonus this weekend at Chicagoland.
“For him to do what he did at New Hampshire -- I'm still ticked about it,” he added. “But, we talked and we agreed that our racing is going to change a little bit between us, but we know that we're going to be racing around each other a lot between now and Homestead, and they feel like they have a chance to win the championship. We feel like we have a chance amongst other drivers, so we're probably going to see each other a lot between now and November.”
Smith reiterated his role in the run-in Saturday, accepting full blame for sliding up into Sadler’s Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
“Was it the right move to make right there? Probably not for our situation with the points, but the fact of the matter is that it happened,” Smith said. I made the move and you can’t take it back. I understand his anger 100 percent and I know exactly where he was coming from. ...
“It’s a constant battle to have the respect of your competitors and I lost the respect of one of my competitors based on what happened last Saturday. I’m fully aware of that, and I’m also man enough to stand up and say, ‘Hey, I caused a wreck,’ and if that’s what’s going to come back as repercussions, then that’s fine. We both also are smart enough to know that we’re going to race each other a lot this year, and there’s a lot of racing left to go.”
One person thrilled at the development for purely selfish reasons was Austin Dillon, who ranks third in the Nationwide standings, just 12 points out of first place. Only 24 points separate Smith from fifth-place Sadler in the tightly knit battle.
“I love it. I hope they’re mad at each other,” said Dillon, not hiding his hopes of capitalizing behind his wry grin. “If not, I’m going to go tell Elliott that Regan’s talking about him behind his back. I think it’s funny.”
Sadler, a former teammate of Dillon’s at Richard Childress Racing, wasn’t laughing. Instead of harping on the New Hampshire run-in, he indicated he’ll likely remain all business the second half of the season.
“I'm focused on what we're doing as a team and how we're running and things that way,” Sadler said. “I think we're here to win the championship, period. I honestly think as good as we've been running the last month or so, I don't think he's going to run good enough to run with us anyway. As far as me worried exactly about what they're doing and where he's at and all that, that's not how I do things. I'm worried about winning races first and usually that translates into a good points day, which translates into having a good run in the championship standings and that's the way we're going to look at it.”