He survived a number of late-race restarts and held off numerous hard charges by others at the end, but when the checkered flag flew it was Joe Gibbs Racing’s Elliott Sadler that led the field to the line in NASCAR’s Nationwide Series Aaron’s 312 Saturday at Talladega Superspeedway.
A contender for the lead for much of the day, Sadler used help from spotter Brett Griffin to hold off charges by Nationwide rookie Chris Buescher, Regan Smith, David Ragan and others to score his first win of the year and first since August 2012.
"Well, we just got on the inside line down there and we just had to make some moves. The sea kind of opened up for us," Sadler said. "This means a lot to me, to get these guys to victory lane. I disappointed them last year and wasn’t able to do it."
This means a lot to me, to get these guys to victory lane. I disappointed them last year and wasn’t able to do it.
The former Sprint Cup Series regular joked that everyone always asks him about flipping at Talladega, as he did earlier in his career, but now they can start asking about him winning.
Sadler knew his spotter was key to his success Saturday afternoon, congratulating him on the radio after taking the checkered flag.
"He did a good job there at the end,” Sadler said of his spotter. "Under the red flag I was playing all these scenarios in my head. Really on how may races I’ve lost here in the last couple of laps not making the right decision. But, we just stayed to the bottom and stuck to our guns. David Ragan did a good job pushing us. We just had to hold those guys off at the end.
"Brett did a great job. He deserves this. He did a great job getting us on the front row (in qualifying on Friday(. It means a lot, I’m telling you, it means a lot, for me to get the JGR team to victory lane."
Buescher finished the day second, followed by Smith and Ragan. Pole-sitter Sam Hornish Jr rounded out the top five.
"It was wild, that’s for sure," Buescher said after his career-best finish. "It was just a matter of holding on to what we had at that point. I didn’t want to do anything crazy.
"Regan Smith pushed me great right there at the end. That’s about all you can ask for because I’m still very new to this speedway racing, so to be able to pull off a second is really cool to me. “
The runner-up finish allowed Chris Buescher moved into the top 10 in points at ninth, one spot behind his brother James. Chase Elliott remains atop the series standings, but Sadler moved into second — only one point behind Elliott and just two ahead of Smith, who slipped from second to third despite his third-place finish.
Saturday’s race got off to a bit of a slow start, but was full of action throughout.
Ryan Reed, who started fourth on the day, paced the early laps of Saturday’s race. Taking the top spot on Lap 1, Reed led the first laps of his young Nationwide Series career.
Hugging the yellow line, Reed led Ryan Blaney, Sam Hornish Jr, and Elliott Sadler around the bottom, as the high side worked tirelessly to work their way to the front.
While Reed was out front, another rookie, Dakoda Armstrong, had to give up a top 10 running spot to hit pit road on Lap 17 when his window net fell down.
The first caution of the day flew on Lap 29 for a piece of debris on the backstretch. That brought the entire field to pit road for the first time of the day. With Reed taking four tires, Ty Dillon won the race off pit road, but did not get the car full of fuel.
Following the caution, Sadler took control of the top spot, battling with Brian Scott for the top spot.
Behind them, James Buescher was working the high side when he got an ill-timed bump from Ryan Blaney, sending him down the track. As the field stacked up behind the spinning No. 99 Toyota, Sam Hornish Jr. and Ryan Reed slowed, with Darrell Wallace Jr. and Dylan Kwasniewski getting together, and then plowing into Buescher.
The biggest incident of the day came on Lap 62 when Trevor Bayne got into the left rear of Scott’s No. 2 Chevrolet. The contact sent Scott’s car down the track, collecting a number of cars, including all of his Richard Childress Racing teammates.
Both Scott and car owner Childress were upset with Bayne over the incident, with Scott saying of Bayne: "You can’t fix stupidity."
The final stops of the day came when Eric McClure cut a tire and spun in Turn 3 on Lap 83. When the field hit pit road the following lap, the majority of teams opted for fuel only as Regan Smith took the lead.
Blaney and Sadler were among the only drivers to take two tires, restarting the race on Lap 86 in seventh and tenth, respectively.
With Smith out front, he led the JR Motorsports charge after the three-car team started the day in the back of the pack.
Trevor Bayne brought out the yellow on Lap 99 when he lost a left front tire and sending debris all over the track. While the majority of the field stayed out on the track, Hornish, Dillon and a handful of cars at the back of the pack came in for service.
Restarting the race with 14 laps to go, David Starr was able to jump to the lead with a push from Mike Bliss. The lead did not last long, however as the field jostled behind him as Regan Smith was shuffled into the middle of the pack. As he tried to get back in line, Chad Boat made contact with Jeremy Clements and sent hard into the outside wall.
As the caution flew, Elliott was able to take the lead with Starr behind him. Restarting on the outside line, the No. 9 Chevrolet fell back as Blaney and Sadler shoved their way past Starr for the lead.
As Sadler and Blaney battled for the lead entering Turn 3, the two made contact and sent Blaney’s No. 22 into the outside wall.
Coming back across the track, Blaney’s car collecting Kasey Kahne, Chase Elliott, Ryan Sieg and Jeremy Clements. Clements’ No. 51 took the hardest hit, a head-on blow into the outside wall. Luckily, Clements was able to walk away.
The NASCAR Nationwide Series is back in action on May 18 at Iowa Speedway.