Elliott Sadler knows how to take one for the team - even if it's the same team that tried to oust him in November - as he played his part in ensuring that AJ Allmendinger made the Daytona 500 field for the first time in three attempts.
Without Sadler's help, Allmendinger's #44 Richard Petty Motorsports Dodge might not - no, make that probably would
not - be racing on Sunday. With Allmendinger struggling, Sadler sacrificed his own prospects and dropped to the rear of the field and pushed his team-mate into the second and final transfer position in the second of Thursday's Gatorade Duel 150 qualifying races.
This was the same Elliott Sadler who named Allmendinger as one of four defendants in a potential lawsuit in December, after Gillett Evernham Motorsports made overtures to buy out the final two years of his contract and replace him with the former Champ Car stand-out. Faced with a lawsuit, GEM backed down and kept Sadler.
Since then, GEM has merged with Petty Holdings to form Richard Petty Motorsports, which duly hired Allmendinger to drive a fourth car. The new organisation certainly cleared its first hurdle Thursday, thanks in large part to the efforts of Sadler and team-mate Reed Sorenson, both of whom went out of their way to help Allmendinger make the 500 field.
“We knew it was our job to make sure we did everything we could to help him out,” Sadler said, “I feel like Reed and I did all we could to get that fourth RPM car into the biggest race of the year. When I saw him hung out by himself going into turn one, I was like 'oh boy'.
“So I just fell back there behind him and hit him as hard as I could down the backstretch and kept trying to stay in between [Allmendinger] and the #71 [of Mike Wallace] and the #78 [Regan Smith]. It paid off. We got all four cars in the show [including Kasey Kahne, who was in the first Duel
], and that's a great start to a new season.”
At a Dodge team dinner with the media on Tuesday, Allmendinger promised to buy dinner for Sadler and Sorenson for three straight nights if they helped him qualify for the 500. Looks like he's buying.
"I think that showed a hundred per cent [that we could work together] and, hopefully, that can carry on over the 500 and the rest of the year," Allmendinger said after the race, "I think, early on, Elliott had a chance to be up front, and it looked like he had a chance to go win the race. Then I watched him fall back to come back to me.
"We didn't really have the speed in the racecar that we'd had over the last two days. That was kind of frustrating, and surprising actually, because, in practice the last two days, the thing has been really fast.