Elliott Sadler scores the win in NXS Chase race at Kentucky
Elliott Sadler won the opening race in the inaugural XFINITY Series Chase on Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway, taking advantage when fellow Chase contenders Erik Jones and Ty Dillon wrecked with 13 laps to go.
For Sadler, it led to his third — and most important — win of the season. The victory ensures his advancement into the second round of the XFINITY Chase.
The current 12-driver Chase field will be trimmed by four after the first three Chase races.
It also was a very emotional win for Sadler, whose mother checked out of a Virginia hospital earlier in the day just so she could watch him race on television. His mother has been battling breast cancer since 2009.
"We fought through a lot tonight, and I’m going to get a little emotional on you now," Sadler said in Victory Lane. "I’ve been in the hospital all week long with my mom in ICU (intensive care unit), watching her fight and fight through a lot of pain and suffering.
"She made it back home tonight to watch the race. Mom, I love you. She leads so much by example."
Earlier, Jones and Dillon had the cars that were the fastest in the field. Jones led a race-high 100 laps and Dillon led 48.
But as a restart played out with 13 to go, after Jones had started in the third position and pushed Ryan Blaney brielfy to the lead, Jones appeared to get loose and drift up into Dillon, wrecking the cars of both drivers.
"I just got sucked around … It’s tough when you’re in that situation. Ty was coming down pretty hard on me. It put me in a tough aero situation and I just couldn’t hang onto it," Jones said. "It was a mistake on my part."
Their wreck brought out the record 12th caution, surpassing the earlier race record of 10. Eventually the cleanup from the accident brought out the red flag with seven laps to go.
Meanwhile, Sadler survived it all.
On the final restart, he got a push from behind from Daniel Suarez and surged to the front — even though the control car as leader on that last restart was Sprint Cup regular Blaney.
Suarez finished second, with Blaney, Sam Hornish Jr. and Matt Tifft, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver who only recently returned to the track after undergoing brain surgery, rounding out the top five.
Tifft scored his impressive top-five finish despite being penalized in the middle of the race for taking off early in a restart when he was scored as the leader.
By virtue of the win, Sadler, the series points leader in the regular season, becomes the first driver to secure a spot in the second round of the Chase. Four more will be eliminated prior to the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, when the last four drivers left standing will race for the title.
"These guys are my heroes," Sadler added in Victory Lane, gesturing to his No. 1 JR Motorsports team members and crew chief Kevin Meendering. "We had a 10th- or 15th-place car at best. We decided to come in (to the pits) and really take our time and work on it.
"Then we had great pit calls by Kevin and the guys at the end to get us in position. And we got a great push at the end."