Less than four months ago, Elliott Sadler saw his hopes for the 2011 NASCAR Nationwide Series championship wither and die in the heat of the Phoenix desert. A bump from behind by veteran Jason Leffler sent Sadler’s Kevin Harvick, Inc. Chevrolet crashing into the wall at Phoenix International Raceway, crippling his chances for the title.
|Sadler scores at Phoenix International Raceway|
Today, Sadler exacted sweet revenge, leading the final 25 laps of the Bashas' Supermarkets 200 to claim his first NASCAR Nationwide Series victory since 1998 and maintain the series point lead by 10 markers over new Richard Childress Racing teammate Austin Dillon.
Sadler's sixth career Nationwide score came at the expense of runner-up Brad Keselowski, who fought his way to Sadler’s rear bumper when lapped traffic slowed the leader with six laps remaining. But on open asphalt, the Emporia, Va., driver was untouchable, pulling away to a three-car length advantage to claim the sixth checkered flag of his Nationwide career. Defending series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was third, followed by Dillon and fellow RCR driver Kevin Harvick.
“It's a very emotional win,” admitted Sadler in a champagne-drenched Victory Lane. “We all know how long it's been since I was (here).” He refused to look back on the 2001 championship that might have been, however, saying, "Last year was last year. We're on a whole new deal, a whole new season, a whole new outlook with a different team. Honestly, what happened here last year (feels) like a long time ago.
"It did not weigh on my mind one second of the whole weekend,” he insisted. “I try not to dwell on what happened last year. I try to learn from what I did wrong and apply it.
|It's been a long time coming for Elliott Sadler|
"Coming out of Daytona, leading the points… we had a lot of momentum on our side,” said Sadler, speaking openly about his desire to avenge last season’s misfortune with a 2012 championship. “I'm trying to stay more focused on what we're doing week-to-week this year.”
Team owner Childress, who placed all three of his Chevrolets in the Top-5 Saturday, said he knew Sadler would return to Victory Lane soon. ''I've got all the confidence in our Nationwide organization and I knew Elliott could get the job done,'' he said. ''He's been too close too many times.”
If the first two weeks of the 2012 season are any indication, Childress may say the same thing when they hand out the championship laurels at Homestead Miami Speedway in November.
Photo Credit: Todd Warshaw/Getty Images for NASCAR