NASCAR Nationwide Series points leader Elliott Sadler was sick as a dog going into the Sunday afternoon STP 300 race at Chicagoland Speedway - but he looked and felt a whole let better when he ended up in victory lane a little over two hours later.
"I'm still not 100 percent, but it feels good to win here in Chicago," said Sadler after claiming his third win of the season. "We drank a lot of fluids and I had to have a few IVs just to stay hydrated."
No one could have told from his performance behind the wheel once the adrenaline kicked in that Sadler was feeling so sickly, but it still took a while for him to come to life after starting the race from 15th position.
It was Sam Hornish Jr. who got the best start when the green flag came out, pulling away from polesitter Ricky Stenhouse Jr. who was left fending off the advances of Austin Dillon. Once that scrap was resolved, Stenhouse regrouped and led Dillon past Hornish to take the lead, although he had a scare halfway through when his car got loose in turn 2 and took off toward the wall, momentarily handing Hornish back the top spot before Stenhouse got things under control again.
After that, Stenhouse was in the lead until lap 48 when green flag pit stops began. Kyle Busch had been running up in third place by this point but got handed a pit lane speeding penalty, while Brendan Gaughan was penalised for hitting the commitment cone on entry. The track went yellow seconds later when Jamie Dick cruised to a halt on the track apron.
Stenhouse led at the restart on lap 60 ahead of Hornish, Cole Whitt, Parker Kligerman, Brian Scott and Dillon, but Hornish got the better run and pulled away on the inside line. It took Stenhouse 16 laps to muster up what he needed to dive back under Hornish for the top spot again, but once he was there he was secure in the position through to the next round of pit stops, which started under green soon after lap 100.
Stenhouse himself was one of the last cars to came in on lap 108, just before a debris caution came out. That gave Stenhouse another restart face-off with Hornish to survive, and this time he did better and retained the lead; Dillon, Kligerman and Scott continued to shadow the leaders; Elliott Sadler had also slowly worked his way up from loitering in the mid-teens to start to nudge into the top five for the first time.
A third yellow came out on lap 128 when Brad Sweet almost but not quite managed to catch a spun. Stenhouse faked a move to pit road under the caution that was perhaps a little too convincing, because many of the leaders did indeed decide to come on to pit road: Sadler was pleased to get a service after complaining that the #2 car was way too loose, while Justin Allgaier had the opposite problem with the #31 being way too tight and Hornish just went for fuel and a few tweaks but waved off a change of tyres.
That left Stenhouse fighting with Kligerman for the lead at the restart, while Dillon, Scott and Whitt had also stayed out of pit lane - but it was Sadler with his improved set-up and fresh set of tyres who was able to rapidly surge past them to settle into third place. Up ahead, Stenhouse was once again proving that the longer the run, the better the #6 looked as he started to pull out a lead of around two seconds over Kligerman by the time it came to pit stops under green around lap 165 for those who hadn't pitted under the previous caution.