News & Media

Sadler poised to make his move at Phoenix

November 09, 2012, Seth Livingstone, Special to NASCAR.COM,

AVONDALE, Ariz. -- If Elliott Sadler goes on to win his first Nationwide Series title, there's a good chance he'll reflect upon Phoenix International Raceway as the venue that helped make his season.

Sadler is tied for the series lead with Ricky Stenhouse Jr., entering Saturday's Great Clips 200 at PIR, where Sadler posted his first of four victories this season. That's four more victories than Sadler scored in 2011, when he finished second to Stenhouse in points.

But if Sadler fails to dethrone Sadler, he'll also think back to one race that he says altered the course of his season. The Indiana 250 at The Brickyard on July 28th still sticks in his craw.

In that race, Sadler was penalized for beating the leaders to the starting line on a restart with 18 laps remaining. The pass-through penalty resulted in a 15th-place finish -- one of only two races in which Sadler has not finished 13th or higher this season.

Sadler said he couldn't help but be reminded of the Indy race while watching the final laps of last Sunday's Cup race. Brad Keselowski was not penalized, despite cries from competitors that he restarted too soon with the lead.

"It's not every day you're in those positions, to take advantage of winning a championship, so it's been very easy to stay focused."


Sadler said it's no surprise that NASCAR would go the no-call route at Texas, not wanting to alter the Chase picture for an infraction that was iffy at best. Still, he can't help but feel victimized by his own situation.

"I'm still very bitter about what happened at Indy," he said Friday. "The black flag [ended up] taking a win away from me and 17 points. [Then NASCAR] is telling me 30 minutes after the race: 'You didn't do anything wrong.'

"We had a meeting in the hauler after the race. Robin Pemberton [NASCAR vice-president of competition] looked me in the eyes and told me I didn't do anything wrong. I think we'd be racing a whole lot different [with those 17 points] but you can't change the past. You've got to move on. Hopefully, [those lost points] won't come into play."

Sadler, 37, knows he can see to that by taking care of business at Phoenix, and then in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Sadler was fifth-fastest in Friday's practice. But Stenhouse, who has finished worse that 12th just once in the last 18 races, had the fastest car on a track (132.087 mph) where he has five top-10 finishes in five career starts.

"It's funny," Sadler said. "We've raced 31 weekends and, here we are, starting all over again, all tied up with two races to go. We know we've got a fight on our hands."

In fact, Sadler said he expected Stenhouse would be the driver to beat when the season began.

"Our relationship the last 16-18 months has been pretty good," Sadler said. "I think Ricky has made me a better race driver the last two years. Because of his style of driving and how he muscles the car, I've maybe changed the way I drive a little bit."

Stenhouse, who said he feels like he has "a car to beat" at Phoenix, captured the series title by 45 points a year ago. He said he benefited from Sadler's competition in 2011.

"I felt like I learned a lot from him last year, running from the championship," he said. "We had a lot of give-and-take, raced clean, raced hard."

While Stenhouse is positioned to move up to Cup with a full-time ride for Roush Fenway Racing (inheriting the No. 17 from Matt Kenseth), Sadler is a lame duck at Richard Childress Racing. He'll join Kenseth at Joe Gibbs Racing, where he'll drive a Nationwide car.

Sadler says his departure from RCR has been a non-factor in his late-season battle.

"A lot of guys on my race team have never won a championship at NASCAR," Sadler said. "So when we knew we were not coming back to Richard Childress Racing, I sat down with my team. They were all like: 'Look, we don't care what the hell's going on next year. We want to win a championship this year.

"It's not every day you're in those positions, to take advantage of winning a championship, so it's been very easy to stay focused."

One other driver mathematically positioned to challenge for the Nationwide title is Austin Dillon, who announced Friday that he will run his first Daytona 500 in a Cherrios-sponsored No. 33 car next February. Dillon, second-fastest in Friday's practice, is 21 points behind both Sadler and Stenhouse..

"We have to be closer than 21 points," said Dillon, of what his chances might be a week from now. "I think we need to cut [the deficit] in half to 10 or 11. If we could get it to 10, that would be great."