Elliott Sadler spent most of the week in bed with a stomach virus, and wasn’t able to eat anything beyond a single biscuit Sunday morning.
As weak as Sadler felt, there was no way he was giving up his seat.
Sadler brushed off questions from team owner Richard Childress about a potential replacement driver, then held off a charge by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on a green-white-checker finish to win the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Chicagoland Speedway on Sunday.
Was there a pride factor in toughing it out?
”You’re damn right,” Sadler said. ”I told Richard yesterday, I was like, `I can handle this.”’
Childress said he thought about putting a backup driver in place as an insurance policy, but understood why Sadler didn’t want to give up the wheel.
”I’ve seen drivers when it gets down to it, that’s worse than giving your wife away, I think,” Childress said.
Childress then sheepishly apologized to Sadler’s wife, who was sitting off to the side in the postrace interview room.
Explaining why it was so important to tough it out, Sadler proudly noted that he threw up three times in his helmet during a race earlier in his career.
”It was a big-time pride thing today to stay in the car and do what I felt like I needed to do to be competitive,” Sadler said.
Stenhouse finished second, followed by Justin Allgaier, Kenny Wallace and Michael Annett.
Wallace’s car was found to be too light in postrace inspection. NASCAR officials are expected to determine any penalties early this week.
Stenhouse appeared to have the stronger car and was chasing down Sadler in the closing laps of the race. But a late caution bunched up the field for NASCAR’s version of overtime, Sadler got a push from Allgaier on the restart and pulled away.
Had the race gone green until the end, Stenhouse was certain he would have ended up in victory lane.
”We had it won,” Stenhouse said.
It was the third win of the season for Sadler, who has eight Nationwide victories in his career. Sadler won at Phoenix and Bristol earlier this season.
He leads the series standings by 11 points over Austin Dillon, who finished sixth.
Track officials held a moment of silence before the race and the No. 24 car driven by Benny Gordon carried the message ”Remember Aurora Colorado” on its rear fender.
Danica Patrick finished 14th.
Sunday’s race drew a sparse crowd, although no official attendance figure was immediately released. The Sprint Cup Series was off this weekend and will resume racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway next week.
Many of the leaders had just made their final pit stop of the day when Brad Sweet spun to bring out a caution. It was a boost to several drivers, including Sadler, Allgaier and Kyle Busch, who were able to pit under caution.
The ill-timed caution flag hurt several drivers who already had pitted – especially Sam Hornish Jr., who expressed his annoyance to his crew on the radio.
Sadler led when the race restarted with 28 laps to go.
Stenhouse then made a charge, taking third place away from Busch with 20 laps to go and taking second from Allgaier with 16 to go.
Sadler had a lead of just under two seconds, with Stenhouse closing in quickly.
Then Hornish tapped the rear bumper of Busch and sent him crashing into Brendan Gaughan with eight laps left, bringing out a caution and bunching up the field.
Stenhouse was hoping officials would stop the race with a red flag to clean up the track and run a few more laps to the finish, but it didn’t happen.
Sadler and Stenhouse lined up for the green-white-checker restart, and Allgaier gave Sadler a push when the green flag fell. Sadler surged away and Allgaier couldn’t stay in contact.
”I knew if I could time it just right and push him out, maybe we could race for the win,” Allgaier said. ”We did that, and just lost a little bit of momentum in (Turns) 1 and 2, and that’s what allowed Ricky to really get a run on the outside. But all in all, just a great day for us.”
Stenhouse charged to second, but couldn’t chase down Sadler at the end.
”I feel like the 31 (Allgaier) just pushed the 2 (Sadler) so far out there, there wasn’t anything I could do,” Stenhouse said.
It was a respectable run for Patrick, but perhaps not as good as she might have expected going into the race.
She finished 10th at Chicagoland last year, and was second-fastest in Saturday’s final practice session. Overall, she feels most comfortable on 1.5-mile ovals such as Chicagoland as she makes her transition from NASCAR to IndyCar.
But Patrick’s car appeared to be a little loose in qualifying, and she started 12th and couldn’t make up ground for much of the afternoon.
In the end, a weakened but proud Sadler was the one celebrating, knowing that he had to back up his big talk after he told Childress he could tough it out.
”A lot of pride,” Sadler said. ”And my big mouth.”