Elliott Sadler’s season came to a disappointing end Saturday night as he saw the 2016 NASCAR XFINITY Series championship slip from his grasp.
As Daniel Suarez won the race and the coveted championship trophy, Sadler, along with the other Chase contenders, Erik Jones and Justin Allgaier, was left pondering what might have been.
It all came down to the final restart with three laps remaining. Cole Whitt, who did not pit during the final caution, would lead the field to green with Sadler starting in second place. Whitt elected to start on the outside but spun his tires on the restart, which meant the cars behind him, included Allgaier and Jones, were unable to immediately accelerate.
Sadler’s team had requested the outside lane and he thought that it might have made a difference, especially because he only had two fresh tires, but blamed himself for a slow restart that allowed Suarez to take the lead.
“I was asking for it. I was asking for it because with the two tires, you kind of want to be on the high line. I don’t know, Daniel’s car was really fast, but I was going to try to hold him down, and then when the 14 didn’t go on the restart, I actually kind of stopped and hesitated. The green flag was waving, but he really wasn’t going, so I didn’t know really what to do.”
“So,” he continued, “I kind of hesitated, and I think that allowed Daniel to get a good run on me and cost me the championship. I’ve been pretty good on restarts all year, and I felt like I didn’t do my job to the best of my ability on the last restart, and really wanted Daniel to have to fight for it a little bit harder than what he did. I knew he had a little better car on four tires, but I felt like I could have done a better job to put up a fight.
“All that being said, I’ve had more fun this year than I’ve had in a long time and it’s neat being in this position, and my family is here with me. But I really wanted to hand those guys a trophy.”
This has arguably been Sadler’s best year since he began running full-time in the XFINITY Series, claiming three wins, 14 top fives and 29 top 10s in his No. 1 JR Motorsports Chevy. It’s also the third time he’s finished as runner-up at season’s end in the series. But, for Sadler, this has been the most difficult loss.
“This is by far the hardest because I feel like this is the best team I’ve probably ever worked with,” Sadler said. “Before when I’ve come to Homestead, I’ve been a few points back, and like if certain situations happened, you know, you might could win, but it’s a long shot, but here with four guys even, we all wanted to win. We all felt like we all had a chance of winning.
“With the team I have now, love them to death, and we’ve had such good race cars all year. We felt like we could come in here and compete and we made a great pit call there at the end to get some clean air, but yeah, it hurts, because I felt like we have prepped for so long for this race, and it didn’t go as well as we want through the middle part of it. Of course, it hurt not having Kevin on the box some, but I wanted to be able to look my guys in the eye and give them a championship, and I told Kelley that after the race, and she was very supportive, and she’s got my back. I really wanted to hand her a trophy, and not doing that just — it hurts and stings a little bit and makes you wonder what you could have done different.”
It may be a while before Sadler stops thinking about what he could have done differently but his last comments to the media probably summed it up best.
“It’s just part of this format, but it’s great for the fans. I think it’s great for our sport. It shows a lot of emotion and I think tonight’s race played out the way it should be. But all four of us really raced hard with each other up front,” and Daniel,” Sadler admitted, “just got the better of us tonight.”