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Nationwide: Sadler survives to win at Talladega

Joe Gibbs Racing's Elliott Sadler held on to win an accident-strewn Nationwide Series race at Talladega on Saturday afternoon.
Full race results, plus qualifying and practice speeds and full Nationwide Series championship standings

No win is ever easy at Talladega Superspeedway, renowned for its major multi-car accidents that can break out at any time and take out anyone in its path no matter how wary or deserving they might be. For Elliott Sadler, even though he started on the front row and led for a race-best 40 laps, it seemed that a call to take tyres during a late caution might have cost him the chance to strike for his win since Iowa in 2012 and his first for new team Joe Gibbs Racing.

“We just got on the inside line there and made some good moves,” Sadler said after holding off threats from Brian Scott, Ryan Blaney and Regan Smith. "It means a lot to me to get these guys to victory lane. So glad to win with everyone here from One Main Financial. Everybody talks about how I keep flipping at Talladega and now I've won one!"

It had been Sadler's JGR team mate Sam Hornish Jr. who had led the field to the starting line. Making his first appearance for the team in the NASCAR Nationwide Series in the #54 usually reserved for Kyle Busch, Hornish's time of 51.268s (186.783mph) had put him just two thousandths of a second ahead of Sadler in qualifying. However, it was the Ford pairing of Roush Fenway's Ryan Reed and Penske's Ryan Blaney that moved smartly to the front ahead of the JGR duo once the green flag came out for the start of the 117-lap race. Meanwhile, somewhat ominously, all three JR Motorsports team mates (Regan Smith, Kasey Kahne and Chase Elliott) were scything their way through the field and straight into the top ten after starting from near the back.

Reed led through to the first caution for debris on lap 28, and Richard Childress Racing's Ty Dillon won the race off pit road ahead of Sadler, Kahne and Elliott for the restart, but Sadler was quickly propelled to the front with help from Ryan Blaney. Dillon's RCR team mate Brian Scott had just worked his way around the outside of the #11 to take the lead on lap 43 when a tap from Blaney in turn 3 spun James Buescher onto the in-field grass where he managed to collect the cars of Darrell Wallace Jr. and Dylan Kwasniewski, doing extensive damage to all three vehicles and bringing out the second caution of the day on lap 44.

A fuel-only stop saw Blaney win the race off pit road ahead of Trevor Bayne, Brendan Gaughan and Joe Nemechek, but Scott and Sadler between them quickly took back control at the front when the green flag on lap 50. Scott was forced to drop back after getting loose in turn 2 on lap 60, and that put him right in the danger zone: moments later he received a tap on the left rear from Bayne as the pair went through turn 3, and the #2 was turned into the wall. This being Talladega he was by no means alone in this developing wreck, as the pinball ricochet effect ended up involving the cars of Ty Dillon, Brendan Gaughan, Mike Harmon, Kyle Larson, Ryan Reed, Joey Gase and Robert Richardson as well as Bayne and Scott themselves.

"Anybody that's done superspeedway racing knows you can't do that," Scott fumed of Bayne's move that had sparked the accident. "Stupid move halfway through the race, there's no need for it," he continued, adding: "It's unfortunate when you're a victim of stupidity."

Sadler and Blaney led at the restart on lap 70 with Regan Smith settling into third place ahead of Ryan Sieg, and the leaders held station through to the fourth caution of the afternoon on lap 82 that was triggered when Eric McClure spun out at the back after contact with Jamie Dick. An issue with the right front tyre change cost Sadler the lead in the ensuing pit stops, with Smith winning the race off pit road after joining the majority of drivers opting not to change any tyres at all and merely taking a splash of fuel to see him through the remaining 30 laps.

Smith's team mates Kahne and Elliott soon joined him at the front to make it a JRM 1-2-3 which lasted until the next caution on lap 98 for debris from Trevor Bayne's car which was steadily disintegrating following its involvement in the earlier multi-car wreck. None of the leaders felt tempted to surrender track position for a new visit to pit lane, and so the JRM trio resumed at the front when the green flag came out on lap 104. Up to now the outside line had been no match for those running down low, but this time David Starr was boosted just far enough ahead of Smith at the green flag to allow him to take the lead and pull down ahead of the #7 before the JRM contingent could counter-attack.

The two lane structure broke down completely on lap 107, Elliott popped out of the low-line, Smith left stranded in no man's land, and Chad Boat spun out by Jeremy Clements in the confusion and into a heavy hit with the inside wall on the backstretch to bring out the sixth caution just as Chase Elliott was credited with taking the lead of the race. That meant the 18-year-old took the restart at the front alongside Starr with six laps remaining, but with Ryan Blaney's help Starr blasted away and left Elliott standing at the green flag. In the confusion, Elliott Sadler slalomed his way to the front, but then Blaney tried to pull down the track to pick up the side draft off the #11 only to end up overcooking it, making contact and then losing control which sent him flying off into the outside wall instead - and then rebounding right into the oncoming traffic. It was another miniature Talladega 'big one', this time the casualties comprising Kahne, Elliott, Clements and Sieg, with enough damage done to force NASCAR's hand in declaring a nine minute red flag to allow the clean-up operation to proceed.

Once the race resumed with 3 laps remaining, Sadler had the lead ahead of Roush Fenway Racing's Chris Buescher and Biagi DenBeste Racing's David Ragan, with Smith back in fourth ahead of David Starr and Landon Cassill. It was a fierce and very even battle between Sadler and a determined Buescher, with Sadler relying on assistance from Ragan and Buescher being kept in contention with help from Smith who was hoping to break out of line in the final corner and steal the win for himself. However when the moment came, Sadler had pulled far enough away at the front to claim his 10th victory in 239 series starts, crossing the line 0.125s ahead of Buescher who clinched a career-best second place in just his 17th series appearance. Smith had to settle for third ahead of Ragan and polesitter Hornish, who had staged a late recovery to take fifth place from Joe Nemechek.

"I don't know what I was trying to do. I was just trying to get some daylight in front of the car and get close," said Smith of his final run to the line. "We needed that - we needed to get back in the top five. Hate being able to see the flag and not get there first, but good day never the less."

Saturday's result moves Sadler up to second place in the Nationwide Series championship standings, just one point behind Chase Elliott. Smith is two further points back in third place.

Full race results, plus qualifying and practice speeds and full Nationwide Series championship standings



Related Pictures

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Sam Hornish Jr., driver of the #54 Monster Energy Toyota, leads the field at the start of the NASCAR Nationwide Series Aaron`s 312 at Talladega Superspeedway on May 3, 2014 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo Credit: NASCAR Via Getty Images)
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