HOMESTEAD, FLA. (AP) - Elliott Sadler has come up with one way to possibly close the gap on points leader Ricky Stenhouse Jr. heading into the Nationwide Series finale.
“We might throw a banana peel under his trailer before the race starts and see if that will help him out a little bit,” Sadler joked Thursday.
It might be the only way to keep Stenhouse from repeating as series champion.
The Roush Fenway Racing driver takes a 20-point lead into the finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway _ a significant, yet surmountable, advantage.
Sadler, who drives for Richard Childress Racing, has himself to blame for the deficit.
The two title contenders began last week’s race at Phoenix tied for the championship and likely would have arrived at Homestead locked in a tight battle. But as Stenhouse tried to chase down Joey Logano and Brian Vickers for the lead with two laps left, Sadler imploded behind them.
Sadler was racing for 12th with Justin Allgaier and Cole Whitt when he triggered a three-car accident. The wreck brought the race to a halt, forcing Sadler to sit in his battered car as NASCAR cleaned the track.
Five days later, Sadler was still kicking himself.
“I look back on it as a mistake and I talked to my team about it and could have done a better job,” Sadler said. “But I’ve got to come back this weekend 100 percent focused and ready to go and try to make up a really big deficit at a tough racetrack.
“It was a tough week. It’s been a long week just because I felt like I put ourselves in a really big hole.”
Sadler was in an even bigger hole this time last year.
Jason Leffler bumped Sadler with 25 laps remaining, knocking him out of the Phoenix race in 2011. The incident left Stenhouse with 41-point lead heading into the finale, making the Homestead race essentially a 200-lap victory parade.
Sadler has a better chance this time around.
Nonetheless, Stenhouse needs only to finish 16th or better _ or 17th or better with at least one lap led, or 18th or better with the most laps led _ Saturday to become the sixth driver in Nationwide history to win consecutive titles.
The drivers have swapped the points lead five times already this season, and Sadler would love to see it switch hands once more.
“It would be a good story line if we swap it six times this year,” Sadler said. “Last week was definitely a tough race for us. I made a mistake and put our team in a hole coming here to Homestead. Twenty points is not undoable, but we know Ricky really runs well at this racetrack.
“I’m not disappointed at all in the season we’ve had. We’ve won a lot of races, won some poles, been in the points lead. … We’ve just got one more race to try to finish it off, and we’re going to put our best foot forward and see where it takes us on Saturday.”
The closest championship race of the weekend belongs to the Camping World Truck Series. James Buescher leads Timothy Peters by 11 points and Ty Dillon by 12 heading into Friday night’s finale.
“We have to approach it like any other race weekend,” said Buescher, who has four wins this season. “I think if we switch to defense, you get too worried about what these other two guys are doing and you don’t focus on your team and what you need to do on the racetrack.
“We’ve just got to stay focused on our team, run our race, just like we have every other week, and hope we have luck on our side to not have any failures. When we haven’t had failures, we’ve ran really well everywhere this season.”
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