Elliott Sadler Returns To Gateway To Defend His Title MADISON, ILL. --- It was a survival of the fittest. Track temperatures soared into the 120-degree range, and drivers were exiting their cars throughout the event due to heat...
Elliott Sadler Returns To Gateway To Defend His Title
MADISON, ILL. --- It was a survival of the fittest. Track temperatures soared into the 120-degree range, and drivers were exiting their cars throughout the event due to heat exhaustion. These are just a few of the highlights from the inaugural event at Gateway International Raceway in 1997. At the end of the 250-lap event, Elliott Sadler stood in victory lane as the one who conquered the 1.25-mile oval.
Nestled in the valley of the Mississippi River, Gateway International Raceway proved to be the nemesis of several NASCAR Busch Series competitors when the Series visited there in July 1997. Caution waved during the 1997 race on 14 different occasions for a total of 81 laps. Patience was a virtue that day and Sadler exhibited it. As the reigning champion of the Carquest Autoparts 250, Sadler will try to defend the third of the three races he won in 1997 when the Busch Series visits Gateway International Raceway on October 17.
"We went to Nazareth and Myrtle Beach as the defending champs and we didn't win," Sadler said. "This time we're hoping that the third time will be the charm for this Phillips 66 Racing Team."
Sadler's win in the inaugural event at Gateway International Raceway was his third of 1997 and his second consecutive win after taking the checkered flag at Myrtle Beach Speedway the week before. In addition to the lack of racing experience on the 1.25-mile oval, Sadler started the event in his backup car after wrecking his primary car during pre-qualifying practices.
"That was probably the best race we ever ran," Sadler said of his victory. "When you wreck your primary car, you pretty much write that race off. And then when you take track conditions into consideration, your chances still didn't look too good. We just played survival of the fittest. We really didn't run the car that hard because we knew we did not have the fastest car. We were just trying to get a top-five finish."
Patience ended up being Sadler's key in opening the gate to victory lane. Although they did not have the best car in St. Louis on that particular day, they had the next best thing -- the most patient driver.
"All the leaders kept coming up and passing us and then wrecking," Sadler recalled. "We stayed out of everybody's way, stayed out of trouble and ended up getting a win."
While hanging around up front and staying out of everyone's way sounds pretty easy, Sadler says he wasn't assured of the win until after he took the checkered flag. A hard-charging Jason Keller begged to differ on that point during the closing laps of the inaugural event.
"Jason Keller was catching us and he made it a close one," Sadler said. "Our right front tire was wore down to the cords with about 10 laps to go. Kevin Lepage was catching us and he broke a fuel pump and then Jason Keller was catching us and he just ran out of time. We won by a matter of inches. You don't know you've won a race until right at the checkered flag and hopefully it will be that close again."
Things will be somewhat different for Sadler when he returns to Gateway. One obvious difference will be the weather. The inaugural race in St. Louis took place in the heat of mid-summer. The 1998 event will be taking place in the crispness of mid-fall. Sadler says that the difference in temperatures will have an impact on the event.
"I think it will be better," Sadler said. "There's no way it can be as hot at St. Louis this year as it was last year. At least I hope not. It was the most exhausting race I've ever run. It was all I could do to get out of the car in victory lane.
"But, I'm looking forward to going back. But we know it's going to be just as tough as it was last year."
While the race date has changed one thing hasn't -- the car Sadler is planning to race.
"Even though it was our backup car, we're going back with the same car we ran there last year and hope we have the same success," Sadler said. "It's great being the inaugural winner at a place like St. Louis and hopefully we can make it two in a row and move on from there."