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."

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