Sadler lights up California

Elliott Sadler fought off Kasey Kahne and Mark Martin to win Sunday night's Pop Secret 500 at California Speedway. This was the first September race at Fontana and the first to be run under lights. It replaces the traditional Southern 500 at Darlington, a spot on the calendar reserved for 54 years

Sadler lights up California

Sadler, who started 17th, emerged among the leaders after 50 laps and was third after the caution stops on Lap 72. He took the lead for the first time during pitstops on Lap 106 and stayed among the leaders the rest of the way. He took the lead for good by passing Brian Vickers at the caution restart on Lap 224, making a three-wide move on the high side in a crowd.

Sadler and crew chief Todd Parrott agreed that a tactical call in the pits - on which they disagreed at the time - provided the key to victory.

"I guess with about 70 or 80 laps to go, caution came out, and we had only like 10 laps on tyres," Parrott said. "A lot of guys got four tyres. We'd talked about track position all day, and our car was good on two tyres, so we elected to put on two tyres. I just felt like if we could hold onto the top three or four, if we got a caution with 30 or 40 laps to go, we'd get on four fresh tyres and have a shot to win the race.

"Elliott came on the radio and said, 'I don't know, we're a little bit loose.' I said, 'Just trust me.'"

The caution fell exactly as Parrott had hoped, on Lap 220, and Sadler pitted for four tyres, with Parrott ordering an extra pound of air in the right-rear tyre. "That was the best the car had been all night long," Parrott boasted. "Then that cat got up on the wheel. I'm so proud of him the way he drove tonight."

Martin, who led the most laps (65, to Sadler's 59), also praised Sadler's winning drive.

"The 9 [Kahne] and the 38 [Sadler] could run a little faster for a few laps on their tyres than we could, and I actually really thought Kasey Kahne was going to get his first win," the veteran said. "But Elliott Sadler sat right up in the seat and got it done. He didn't have much time left, and he drove that thing. He got the deal done."

Two more cautions slowed the action, but Sadler was able to get away each time. He took a page out of Kahne's book in moving high to fend off Kasey, who always seems to prefers the high line.

"I went through Turns 1 and 2 extremely high to try to take the air off the 9 car's front end because I knew he had been trying to get on the outside of people all day," Sadler said. "I knew if I got off 2 good enough to where he couldn't get to me going into 3 and make me loose, that I'd have a chance to stay in front of him.

"I hit a perfect corner. I probably couldn't do it again in a million years. We hit a perfect corner and got away from him a little bit, and then we were able to put some distance on him at the end."

Rookie Kahne finished second for the fifth time this season. He also finished second to Sadler in a thriller at Texas in April.

Sadler won for the second time this season and third in his career. Jamie McMurray charged to fourth at the finish, with Ryan Newman fifth and Carl Edwards, making just his third Cup start, sixth.

Former points leader Jeff Gordon had engine trouble and finished 37th. Team-mate Jimmie Johnson finished 14th but vaulted past Gordon and back into the lead, by 50.

Kahne and Martin edged into the top 10 in points, with one race to go to decide the select 10 who will run for the championship. Kevin Harvick and Bobby Labonte fell off the list. The top five have clinched spots in the playoff, and Sadler simply has to start next week at Richmond to lock in.

"I think we can get a battery in there that will start the race," Sadler laughed. "I'm not the best at Richmond, but Todd has built me a bad race car for Richmond, and I can't wait to take it. Hopefully it'll make it through there good and we can take it on to New Hampshire.

"I've got two more just like this one that we've saved for the final 10 [playoffs]. We've saved these cars just waiting to get in here, and we're going to show these guys what we're made of because we've got nothing to lose. I've got the winningest active crew chief in racing, and we're the biggest underdogs in the whole deal, so I figure we have nothing to lose."

Rookie Vickers on pole

Previous article

Rookie Vickers on pole

Next article

Qual: Newman's pole

Qual: Newman's pole
Load comments
How NASCAR is gearing up for its "biggest change" in 2022 Plus

How NASCAR is gearing up for its "biggest change" in 2022

It’s not just Formula 1 that’s set for upheaval in 2022, as the NASCAR Cup Series adopts its Next Gen cars that will cast any in-built advantages aside and require teams to adopt a totally new way of operating. Far more than just a change of machinery, the new cars amount to a shift in NASCAR's core philosophy

Oct 12, 2021
Why Bubba Wallace’s Talladega win is such a big moment for NASCAR Plus

Why Bubba Wallace’s Talladega win is such a big moment for NASCAR

Bubba Wallace claimed his maiden NASCAR Cup Series at Talladega on Monday to become the first Black victor in the category since Wendell Scott in 1963. Both Wallace and Scott had faced obstacles and racism in their paths to their breakthrough wins, and NASCAR is trying to put it right with its range of diversity programmes

Oct 5, 2021
Why NASCAR's most resilient driver has landed on his feet at 23XI Plus

Why NASCAR's most resilient driver has landed on his feet at 23XI

In a career that has had many ups and downs, Kurt Busch has been written off many times before. But facing career uncertainty after the sale of Chip Ganassi's NASCAR team, the 2004 Cup champion has found a new berth at Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan's 23XI organisation - which underlines his enduring value

Aug 31, 2021
The F1 nearly-man winding back the clock in NASCAR’s European cousin Plus

The F1 nearly-man winding back the clock in NASCAR’s European cousin

A multiple F3000 race winner, Marc Goossens was on the precipice of making Formula 1 in the 1990s - but a lack of budget left him without a path to the promised land. Turning to an illustrious racing career in sportscars, Goossens left the endurance circuit to try his hand at racing stock cars - and now calls the NASCAR Euro Series home

Jul 1, 2021
Why a British prospect is trying to make it in NASCAR Plus

Why a British prospect is trying to make it in NASCAR

There has never been a full-time British driver in the NASCAR Cup. But Alex Sedgwick, who is rising through the stock car ranks, wants that to change and could be a trailblazer for European talents to reach the top echelons of the NASCAR ladder

Feb 28, 2021
How Earnhardt’s death changed American motorsport Plus

How Earnhardt’s death changed American motorsport

It's 20 years since legendary driver Dale Earnhardt Sr died at the Daytona 500, but the legacy of his crash continues today through the pioneering safety work done by NASCAR

Feb 18, 2021
The NASCAR subplots to keep an eye on in 2021 Plus

The NASCAR subplots to keep an eye on in 2021

This weekend's Daytona 500 kickstarts a NASCAR Cup season that promises plenty of intrigue courtesy of new owners and a refreshed calendar. Here's what you need to know ahead of the new season

Feb 12, 2021
How a second-chance NASCAR ace is rebuilding his career Plus

How a second-chance NASCAR ace is rebuilding his career

From a disgraced NASCAR exile, Kyle Larson has been given a shot at redemption by the powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports squad. Replacing seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson is no easy billing, but Larson has every intention of repaying the team's faith

Feb 11, 2021