|Sadler (2) crashed late in Phoenix|
Sadler came to PIR tied with rival Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., in the championship standings, but experienced problems almost immediately. He hit the wall on his qualifying lap, forcing his Richard Childress Racing team to roll out a backup car and start from the rear of the field.
Problems replacing a left-rear tire on his first pit stop sent Sadler to the back of the pack again. He marched methodically through the field, however, and appeared capable of claiming a Top-10 finish on the track that ended his championship dreams a year ago.
With just two laps remaining, however, history repeated itself. Sadler tangled with Cole Whitt and backed hard into the Turn Three wall, collecting teammate Brendan Gaughan and severely damaging his One Main Financial Chevrolet .
While Stenhouse finished third, Sadler limped home to a 22nd-place finish, leaving him 20 points behind the defending series champion with just one race remaining; Saturday’s Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead Miami Speedway.
"I did it to myself," said a disconsolate Sadler afterward. "I put my team in a hole qualifying like we did. I apologize for putting them in this position."
Stenhouse, meanwhile, grudgingly admitted that after a long season of back-and-forth battling with Sadler, Austin Dillon and others, a second-consecutive ationwide title could finally be within his grasp.
"It would mean a lot to me to go back to back," said Stenhouse, who will make his final start as a full-time Nationwide Series driver Saturday, before replacing Matt Kenseth in the No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Sprint Cup Series Ford next season.
He can now clinch the championship with a finish of 16th or better, regardless of how Sadler fares Saturday. If Stenhouse leads a lap Saturday, a finish of 17th or better will suffice, and if he leads the most laps, an 18th-place finish will do.
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