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Penalty ends Sadler's bid for Brickyard victory

July 28, 2012, David Caraviello,

INDIANAPOLIS -- Elliott Sadler jumped the start. And then he didn't. Either way, the result was the same for the Nationwide points leader in the circuit's inaugural race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

"It's hard to recover from something like this. We'll try to rebound, but today, my heart was definitely ripped out of my chest, and I don't know why. And I still don't know why right now."


Sadler's chance to win at the Brickyard ended 17 laps from the finish Saturday when NASCAR officials black-flagged the Richard Childress Racing driver for apparently jumping a restart during which he took the lead from eventual winner Brad Keselowski. An incredulous Sadler was forced to make a pass-through penalty, which dropped him to an eventual 15th-place finish and whittled his series lead from 11 points down to one over Austin Dillon heading to next weekend's event at Iowa.

Sadler parked his car in the Indianapolis garage area and headed right for the NASCAR hauler to argue his case with series officials. In one way, it turned out, they agreed with him -- Sadler didn't jump the start. But he did beat the leader to the line, and vice president for competition Robin Pemberton said Sadler needed to give the position back to Keselowski, but didn't.

"He did not jump the restart," Pemberton said. "But the rules are that he cannot beat the No. 1 starter to the line. That's what he did. He clearly did that. He had him cleared by the time they got to the start/finish line, and made no attempt to give it back. That's the rules of the restart."

That was of little consolation to Sadler, who was clearly upset after the race. In his view, he was boxed in with nowhere to go. He said a video replay showed Keselowski in first approaching the restart, and Penske Racing teammate Sam Hornish Jr. getting him loose and spinning his tires. Sadler said he was also being pushed from behind by Dillon, his teammate. "So it's not like I can stop, either. We just got a better restart and beat them to the start/finish line," he added.

"But Robin Pemberton just told me right out of his mouth, I did not jump the start. So this is a very tough penalty. This is very hard to swallow at the inaugural race at Indy, because I race to win."

Childress seemed to direct some blame at Keselowski, who he said laid back on the restart. "Elliott did everything he was supposed to do," the car owner said. "The 22 [car of Keselowski], like he does every week, he took off and checked up, and the 12 [car of Hornish] got into him. NASCAR did what they had to do, but it's sad for us to lose a race under those conditions."

Keselowski, who gave Roger Penske his first NASCAR victory at a track where the owner has won the Indianapolis 500 15 times, was still sorting it all out afterward. "It happened really fast, and I don't have a complete picture of what happened, so it's hard for me to make a statement about it," he said. "But I can tell you my perception of it was that I got a push from Sam, and it was a little more than I could take, and certainly I wasn't going full-throttle, but I was not in the zone when Elliott took off. It appeared Elliott got a push from behind as well, and maybe he couldn't slow down, I don't know. I don't know how it all played out."

Indiana 250

2.Sam Hornish Jr. Dodge
3.Ty Dillon Chevrolet
4.Denny Hamlin Toyota
5.Austin DillonChevrolet

Pemberton said the late restart was different from a situation at the start of the race, when Kyle Busch overtook pole-sitter Kasey Kahne, and yet didn't receive a penalty. At the start, Pemberton said, the leader can be overtaken on the restart if in NASCAR's judgment he doesn't get up to speed quickly enough, which was the case there. "Looking at replays, the leader absolutely did not go," he said, "so that's why there was a no-call on that."

But that stipulation applies only to the start of the race, when the flagman and not the leader is in control of the restart. In Sadler's case, he needed to give the position back to avoid a penalty. There is no defined span of time in which that has to be done. "The drivers know, the spotters know, the crew chiefs know what they need to do in the opportunities that come up to give them a chance to make those corrections," Pemberton said.

For Sadler, though, there was only frustration. In addition to the race and 10 points off his series lead, he also lost the $100,000 Dash 4 Cash bonus awarded by series sponsor Nationwide, which Saturday went to Michael Annett.

"This is a tough one to swallow," Sadler said. "To come here, we really wanted to win this inaugural race. We really wanted to win that, we really wanted to win the Dash 4 Cash, and we should have won that, and we lose a lot of points for the championship. It's hard to recover from something like this. We'll try to rebound, but today, my heart was definitely ripped out of my chest, and I don't know why. And I still don't know why right now."