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.

"Like I said from day one, I've never had a problem with Elliott. I think he's a great racecar driver - and he's a great team-mate. Obviously, there's a lot of stuff that happened over the last two months but, honestly, it was probably out of both of our hands. Really, neither of us could do anything about it. We happened to be the two guys put in the middle. I'll definitely thank him - I hope he knows how much I appreciate it."

After missing the cut in each of his previous two attempts to make the field for the biggest race on the NASCAR Cup Series calendar, Allmendinger made for an emotional figure as he climbed from the #44, almost immediately donning a pair of sunglasses to hide the tears that showed how much the moment meant to him.

"For me, you know, it's amazing," he admitted, "There's so many emotions that run through. I've been so nervous over the last couple days because I've been in this position the last two years. I really felt like, this year, I deserved to be in the race, that this team deserved to be in the race but, when you're out of the show, you've pretty much got two options - make it or bring it back on a wrecker. That's what I was doing.

"Everybody at Richard Petty Motorsports, for what they've done in the last few weeks to kind of throw this team together, get the cars ready, to run as well as we did in the Bud Shootout, it was a complete team effort. Reed and Elliott, they had to kind of sacrifice their race to get me up there. We definitely wanted to run better than we were doing, and I have to thank those guys and thank the Budweiser team, as the #9 guys pitted my car. It was a complete top to bottom team effort, and I'm just thrilled. Now I want to relax, celebrate a little bit, and then focus on Sunday, because we definitely want to run better than we just did."

Allmendinger also admitted that, despite now carrying both the famous Valvoline colours and the Petty name on his car, most of the pressure to make the field came from within. However, the shock at finding why he no longer merited an automatic top 35 spot came as a bit of a surprise after a couple of weeks of calm preparation.

"Obviously, when the King kind of puts his hands around your neck and says 'you got to go do this', it kind of puts a little incentive to make it happen," he smiled, "No, I mean, pretty much 95 per cent of the pressure that's out there is from me on my own shoulders. Like I said, it ultimately came down to the fact that I felt like I deserved to be in this race.

"I've shown over the last six months that I have the capability of running up front and contending, being consistent, just doing all that, and, you know, that's where that pressure came from. I knew I wanted to be in this race. The guys that worked so hard at the team, they deserved to be in the race. Valvoline deserved to be in the race. Heck, coming here, we learned we weren't in the race. We had kind of a little chip on our shoulders, so we had to go out there and get the job done.

"Nothing shocks me in this sport any more - [the owners points situation] is one of the those things, but yeah, you know, coming down here, you learn about [the fact that the #44 no longer qualified by right], and it kind of kicks you in the gut. I was more kind of saddened because Valvoline, that was one of the big reasons they signed on. They thought they were in the 500. Coming down here to learn they weren't, I had to promise them we were going to be.

"You can sit and whine about it, moan about it, just worry about it, or you can go out there and get the job done. That's the only option you have. You can't change it. It's the system. It's the way they worked it. Can't change it. So you only got one option, and that's to go get the job done. That's what we focused on when we got here."



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