Elliott Sadler celebrates after winning the Ford EcoBoost 300 on Saturday at Bristol Motor Speedway. Associated Press photo.
BRISTOL, Tenn. — Elliott Sadler’s crew chief went back to the future to score a NASCAR Nationwide Series victory at Bristol Motor Speedway on Saturday.
Lucas Lambert elected to leave Sadler’s No. 2 Chevrolet out on old tires during the final caution of the Ford EcoBoost 300. When the green flag fell on the final restart, Sadler drove away from the field and never looked back, holding off Kasey Kahne and Brad Keselowski to claim the checkered flag.
Sadler wasn’t sold on the strategy until his crew chief reminded him it was the same tactic that scored Sadler his first career Cup victory on the half-mile track more than a decade ago. Lambert was a high school senior on that day back in March 2001, sitting in the grandstands in turn one watching Sadler drive his No. 21 Wood Brothers entry to victory.
“He reminded me I won a race here in 2001 by staying out,” Sadler said. “He said, ‘You’ve done this before.’ I said, you know what? You’re doggone right I have.
“Just a great call by Luke. It went our way at the end.”
Sadler had run in the top 10 all day, but he didn’t lead a lap until Lambert told him to stay out while the leaders pitted during the fourth and final caution, which came after Kyle Busch slapped the wall on lap 264.
Kahne stayed out as well, and both drivers were able to hold off the cars that elected to get fresh tires. But Kahne’s Toyota had nothing for Sadler’s Richard Childress-backed entry, so he was forced to settle for a runner-up finish 1.159 seconds off Sadler’s pace.
“I knew we needed the track position,” Kahne said of the decision to stay out. “With low air (in the tires), it seemed like 20 laps until we could be competitive. We needed to stay out and we did and we got a good finish. It was nice to get a top five today.”
Sadler led the final 36 laps and extended his lead in the Nationwide standings to 25 points over Ricky Stenhouse Jr. with his second victory of the season. It was also the second career Nationwide victory at BMS for the 36-year-old driver.
The first came in 1998, which must have seemed like a lifetime ago to Sadler when highlights of that win flashed across the video screen in the middle of the infield.
“We were watching highlights of my first win here in 1998, and Luke looked up at the screen and said, ‘Hey, I was 15 years old.’” Sadler said with a chuckle.
Despite the generation gap, the Sadler-Lambert pairing has rejuvenated the veteran driver’s career. After several frustrating seasons at the Cup level, Sadler opted for a full-time Nationwide ride with Kevin Harvick’s team last season before the outfit moved under the Childress umbrella at the beginning of this season.
Sadler said both the success and the support he has experienced in the series has breathed new life into his career.
“Compared to what I was going through three or four years ago to now, I feel like a different person,” he said. “When you have people that believe in you around you, it’s just a totally different feeling when you put that helmet on.”
Keselowski was certainly impressed by Sadler’s performance and noted that his victory was far from a fluke.
“A lot of people will make a lot out of Elliott staying out there, but he had a fast car,” Keselowski said. “He drove by me under green there, right before the yellow came out. I think he was legitimately running the fastest lap times.”
Joey Logano finished fourth after winning the pole and dominating the first 66 laps of the race.
Despite some early damage to the right side of his No. 60 Ford, Knoxville’s Trevor Bayne led 64 laps in the middle of the race before fading to an eighth-place finish.