Sadler ends Nationwide winless drought in Phoenix
Elliott Sadler pulled up to the grandstand, revved his engine and spun his tires until there was hardly any rubber left. A wall of white smoke billowed up the flag stand and drifted over pit road, leaving the rest of the field in a fog.
After waiting so long to win a Nationwide race, Sadler wanted to enjoy this one.
Sadler took the lead after a late caution and held on down the stretch to earn his first Nationwide win in 14 years at Phoenix International Raceway on Saturday.
"It's a very emotional win,'' said Sadler, who will run five Sprint Cup races for Michael Waltrip Racing along with his Nationwide schedule this season. "We all know how long it's been since I was in Victory Lane.''
A former full-time driver in the Sprint Cup series, Sadler started eighth and didn't get near the lead until the end of the race. He passed Brad Keselowski after a caution with 33 laps left and wasn't really challenged on the way to his sixth career Nationwide win.
It was Sadler's first win on the Nationwide series since Oct. 31, 1998, at North Carolina Motor Speedway, a span of 91 races, and the first career victory for his crew chief, Lucas Lambert.
"I've got all the confidence in our Nationwide organization and I knew Elliott could get the job done,'' owner Richard Childress said. "He's been too close too many times.''
Keselowski finished second and defending series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was third. Kevin Harvick led the most laps, but finished fifth behind Austin Dillon after pit strategy at the last caution backfired.
Sadler signed on with Kevin Harvick's Nationwide team in 2011 and was the runner-up to Stenhouse in the season standings despite not winning a race. Harvick got out of ownership to start a family and his team was absorbed by Richard Childress Racing this season.
Sadler had a strong start for his new owners, finishing third at the season opener in Daytona last week after starting in the same spot.
He started on the fourth row in Saturday's race and was back to 18th with 50 laps left. He started making his way toward the front after that, and was in position to make a move with the help of some pit strategy on a caution with 36 laps left.
Harvick dominated the middle part of the race, leading 93 laps until the last caution sent everyone into the pits for a final stop. Harvick opted for four tires and fuel, but all the other leaders either took two tires or just fuel to get back out quickly.
Harvick came out of the pits in seventh and nearly got taken out shortly after the restart, heading down to the inside apron to avoid contact. He moved up to fourth after that, but couldn't make up any more ground.
Keselowski took the lead after the caution, but was quickly passed by Sadler. Keselowski and Stenhouse stayed with Sadler over the final 25 laps, but weren't able to get close enough to make a move.
"I thought we might be able to catch him, but it wasn't mean to be,'' Keselowski said. "That's just the way it is sometimes. I don't want to say it's OK, because it's not, I want to win. But it's part of the game.''
Danica Patrick was never a factor after a wreck-filled run through Daytona. The former IndyCar star started 30th and was a lap down before the midpoint of the race. She finished 21st after wrecking in all three races at Daytona.