NNS Looking Like Redux With A Rookie Tossed In
By Deb Williams | Senior Writer
CONCORD, N.C. – Elliott Sadler vs. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Sound familiar? It should because this year’s NASCAR Nationwide Series championship battle involves the same players as last season’s with a rookie named Austin Dillon thrown into the mix.
With only four races remaining, Sadler possesses a 13-point lead over Stenhouse, the series defending champion and owner of five victories this season. Dillon is 29-points behind Sadler and 16 in arrears to Stenhouse. Unless one of the three encounters a problem in an event, they normally race each other or in proximity of one another. Friday night in the Dollar General 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway Sadler finished third, Dillon sixth and Stenhouse seventh. It’s a script Sadler expects the three to continue for the season’s remainder.
“If you look at the stats of all three of us, Austin has the best average finish of all of us on the mile-and-a-halfs,” Sadler said. “Ricky has won a couple of his races this year on mile-and-a-halfs. And I think we’ve been consistent on mile-and-halfs. So all three of us run good at this style of race track. I don’t see one of us dominating the other two guys.”
Sadler said every time he looked at the scoreboard during the Dollar General 300 it seemed he was on one side or the other of Stenhouse and Dillon was running with them as well.
“I think that’s how it’s going to be because we’ve both got really good race cars and really good equipment,” continued Sadler, who’s won four races this year. “I don’t see one mile-and-a-half we’re going to be a big advantage for one driver or the other. I think we’re all going to be pretty close. That means you’d better have your mess together and run in the top four or five or you’re going to lose points to the other two guys.”
Three of the four remaining tracks – Kansas, Texas and Homestead – are 1.5-miles in length. Phoenix is a mile track.
“We’ve already raced at Texas this year,” Sadler said. “We’ve raced at Phoenix, which we were able to win. Ricky won at Texas, so we know what’s going to happen there. Homestead is the normal old Homestead that we know a lot about.”
That means, in Sadler’s estimation, the reconfigured 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway, which is next on the schedule, is the wildcard or the “pothole” for everyone in title contention.
“We don’t know anything about the tire or anything about the asphalt,” Sadler said. “Kansas is going to have a really hard tire, so you’re going to be chattering the right-front or the right-rear until your tires get good and hot. It should be a handful.”
The Nationwide drivers, like those in Sprint Cup, have a test session next week at Kansas and Sadler said the three Richard Childress Racing teams would share information.
“All three of our cars are very similar,” Sadler said. “We might go off in different ways (at the Kansas test). We debrief after every practice together, drivers and crew chiefs, to make sure we’re all on the same page. That’s going to continue to happen and we’ll do that at Kansas. I’m sure we’ll help each other as much as we can next Thursday.”
Even though this is the second consecutive year Sadler has battled Stenhouse for the series championship, the Virginia driver said it was “fun” for him.
“I’ve been in a lot of different situations in a race car than what I am right now,” Sadler said. “I’ve got a great race team. I’ve got a hell of an owner that’s all about racing. We’re all pulling the string in the same direction.
“This is fun. It’s fun being competitive every weekend and running for a championship. This is what we do. I’m cherishing this moment. Even though we didn’t win the championship last year, I cherished being in that battle and I’m doing it again this year. This is what you dream of as a kid is to have a kickass race team behind you 100 percent and you get to go out and battle every weekend.”
– Deb Williams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.orgNo Comment