Elliott Sadler Scores Seventh Top-Five Finish of 2011 in Iowa Speedway Debut
Sadler Overcomes Pit-Road Penalty to Maintain Nationwide Series Points Lead
NEWTON, Iowa - In front of a sold-out crowd, Elliott Sadler brought home a fifth-place finish in his first visit to Iowa Speedway. Overcoming a pit road speeding penalty early in the race, Sadler fought his way back through the field to earn his seventh top-five finish of the season, maintaining a seven-point advantage in the NASCAR Nationwide Series Driver's Point standings.
For the third weekend in a row, rain washed out qualifying, forcing the field to be set by the NASCAR rule book. Lined up in order of Owner Points, the Iowa rookie took the green flag from the sixth position. In only four laps, Sadler rocketed into third, turning the fastest laps on the race track. Maintaining his top-three position for over 25 laps, Sadler relayed to crew chief Ernie Cope that the No. 2 OneMain Financial Chevrolet Impala was in need of right-rear grip before he was passed for third place. Sadler slipped back to sixth on lap 43, and by the competition caution on lap 50, he was scored running in the eighth position.
Still in need of rear grip, Sadler brought the No. 2 down pit road for four tires, fuel, a chassis adjustment and removal of tape from the grille. Returning to the track after a fast stop by the Kevin Harvick Inc. (KHI) crew, Sadler was informed that he was too fast entering pit road and would be penalized by being sent to the back of the field for the lap 57 restart. Mired in the 23rd position, Sadler began a hard-fought battle for track position over the course of a long green-flag run. Entering the top 20 after 15 laps, Sadler radioed his crew that the No. 2 was "way too loose" and had lost all forward bite. Despite the unfavorable handling, Sadler had advanced to 14th when the second yellow flag of the day waved on lap 111.
Cope called for a four-tire pit stop under caution, providing his driver fuel, a grille cleaning and a chassis adjustment. Quick service by the KHI crew put the OneMain machine in the seventh position when green-flag racing resumed on lap 116. The yellow was displayed once again only two laps later for a spin on the backstretch with Sadler scored in the fifth position. Informing the crew that they had made "great changes," Sadler took the green flag on lap 123. Slipping back to eighth after the restart, the field was once again slowed by the yellow flag due to a spin on lap 130. Restarting on lap 134, Sadler re-entered the top five on lap 137, maintaining the fifth position over 70 laps of green-flag conditions.
With green-flag pit stops beginning on lap 206, Sadler told Cope that the car was a bit tight in the center of the turns, but he didn't want to make any changes that would affect the handling of the rear end. Cope informed Sadler that he was the second fastest car on the track, so the team opted for no changes when the No. 2 visited pit road for tires and fuel. Sadler returned to the track in the eighth spot, but when the yellow was displayed on lap 220 before pit stops had cycled through the field, the team was scored a lap down. Opting not to bring the OneMain Financial Chevrolet down pit road while the leaders pitted under caution, Sadler was awarded the wave around, which allowed him to restart on the lead lap when racing resumed on lap 229.
Restarting in eighth, Sadler told Cope that he anticipated that it was "going to get crazy" in the closing laps, and Cope advised his driver to "get crazy with them." Sadler complied, racing three wide before settling into the top five with ten laps remaining. Holding off his competitors, Sadler crossed the finish line in fifth place.
"This was another great event for our team," said Sadler following the race. "For the second week in a row, I put us in a little bit of a hole with a pit-road penalty, but we overcame it with good adjustments and fast pit stops. I learned so much here in my first race at Iowa Speedway, and I gained so much information about the track that will really help us when we return in a few months. I'm glad that we're leaving here with the points lead still in our hands, and I hope that we can open up that lead when we head to Charlotte, which is one of my favorite and best tracks, next weekend."
The Nationwide Series returns to action next weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 28th for the Top Gear 300.