Elliott Sadler Earns Best Finish Of Season At Darlington Raceway
DARLINGTON, S.C. — Elliott Sadler scored his sixth top-five finish in seven races at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, allowing him to tighten the NASCAR Nationwide Series Driver’s Point standings and close in on the championship lead. After leading 23 laps, Sadler’s dance with the “Lady in Black” resulted in a third-place finish, his best result of 2011. Sadler remains second in the Nationwide Series standings, now only five points out of first place.
After rain canceled qualifying and the field was set by practice speeds, Sadler took the green flag from the sixth position. By lap 14, Sadler had moved up into the fifth position and was running the fastest lap times on the track. Sadler relayed to crew chief Ernie Cope that the No. 2 OneMain Financial Chevrolet Impala was good on entry, but that he required more front grip.
A competition yellow on lap 25 gave Sadler the chance to bring the Kevin Harvick Inc. (KHI) machine down pit road, and Cope made the call for two tires, fuel and a chassis adjustment. The two-tire strategy put Sadler in the lead for the lap 32 restart, but he quickly slid out of the lead and back to seventh place before the second caution flag of the night waved on lap 45. Sadler radioed that the car was exiting the turns much better, and when the leaders in front of him chose to remain on track under yellow, the No. 2 team did the same.
Green-flag racing resumed on lap 52 with Sadler in seventh, but he immediately nabbed one position after the restart. Sadler maintained the sixth position until the next yellow flag on lap 73. Stating that the car had remained good on entry but still in need of front grip, Sadler brought the OneMain machine into the pits for four tires, fuel and a major chassis adjustment. Quick work on pit road allowed the team to maintain their position, and Cope and his crew calculated that Sadler was only a few laps short of making it to the checkered flag on fuel. Cope asked his driver to conserve fuel for the remainder of the race in an attempt to avoid pit road for the remainder of the night.
Restarting on lap 80, Sadler immediately relayed that the No. 2 was turning much too loosely, but he quickly advanced to the fifth position and was running lap times close to the leader by lap 84. On lap 89 the caution flag was in the air once again, but the KHI team opted to remain on track because they had endured only 10 laps of green-flag racing. However, most of the cars on the lead lap, including the four cars in front of him, took the opportunity to hit pit road, which put Sadler in the lead for the lap 95 restart. The yellow flew on the same lap as the restart for a multi-car wreck behind Sadler, bringing the field to caution speed for the final time that evening. Taking the lap 104 restart from second place, Sadler fought side-by-side to resume the lead before taking it on lap 108.
We keep getting better every week and we’re putting top fives together and getting closer to a win.
Sadler kept the No. 2 on point until lap 124, when the No. 18 of Kyle Busch edged by him. Sadler immediately radioed his crew to apologize for relinquishing the lead, stating that the car was just too loose to hold Busch off. Sadler wheeled the OneMain Chevrolet hard despite the loose condition, but on lap 132 the No. 20 of Denny Hamlin took over the second spot, bumping him back to third. While racing Hamlin hard for position, Sadler brushed the wall, which only worsened his loose condition. For the remaining 15 laps Sadler soldiered on, maintaining the third position until crossing the finish line.
“I am really proud of what we did tonight,” said Sadler following the race. “We keep getting better every week and we’re putting top fives together and getting closer to a win. This was our best finish of the year, and it definitely wasn’t easy. This track has nicknames like ‘The Lady in Black’ and ‘Too Tough to Tame’ for a reason. I raced the racetrack for 146 of 147 laps, but unfortunately I got my Darlington stripe while trying to race Denny [Hamlin] too hard at the end. It was yet another great points day for us, and my entire family was here to watch. I’m so glad to get to spend Mother’s Day weekend with my mother and my wife, because it means a lot to run well with them here.”
Sadler gained one point on current points leader Justin Allgaier, and is now only five points out from the championship lead. The Nationwide Series returns to action next weekend at Dover (Del.) International Speedway on May 14th for 5-Hour Energy 200.