So close, yet so far.
That was the case for Elliott Sadler, who came up just short of winning his first XFINITY Series Championship, after finishing second in Saturday’s Ford Ecoboost 300.
Overall, the day didn’t start off as Sadler would’ve hoped. After starting second, he found himself falling back from his season-best qualifying effort quickly. By halfway, the veteran driver was outside the top-10, and in a hole he’d need to find a way out of.
Despite his struggles in the first half of the race, he and his team wouldn’t give an inch, with the final 100 laps being the opposite of the first. The 41-year-old battled his way back to the top-five and right in the thick of the Championship battle. Unfortunately for him, he’d fall out of the top-five just as quickly as he entered it after making contact with the wall. There would be no significant damage to the car but, with ten laps to go, Sadler was out of the top-10 needing to make a big strategy play if he wanted a chance at the championship.
During the race’s final caution and everybody’s last pit stops, Sadler’s crew chose to go with only two tires while the rest of the championship contenders went with four, allowing him to gain crucial track position.
He restarted second and made his way to first but, ultimately wouldn’t be able to hold off eventual race-winner and Champion, Daniel Suarez.
“Yeah, you know, it was not exactly what we wanted. We had to fight back there at the end,” Sadler said post-race. “We had to make a pit strategy call and put two tires on, and was looking forward to just trying to get some clean air and then try to dictate the restart and see if I could hold these guys off with four tires there at the end, and you just — the 14 (Cole Whitt) didn’t go, so I hesitated a little bit, and Daniel did a good job and got a good run on me. I just kind of made a little bit of mistake there on the restart.”
With the second-place finish, he will end the season second in the points standings, capping off what was one of his best in his career with three wins, 14 top-fives, and a career high, 29 top-10’s.
“I don’t think it’s anything negative we can take from it other than not hold a trophy. I felt like our team did what it was supposed to do. It gave us, the drivers, a legitimate shot of winning a championship, and that’s all we can ask for,” Sadler said. “From Dale and Kelley all the way down through everybody in the shop, they work their butts off to make sure we had a legitimate shot at holding up that trophy tonight, and that’s what hurts the most is you don’t know until the checkered flag if you’re going to hold the trophy or not.”
Mitchell Breuer is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist
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