Elliot Sadler Wins NASCAR BGN Advance Auto Parts 250
13 July 1997MYRTLE BEACH, SC - On paper it looked like a cake-walk for NASCAR Busch Series, Grand National Division driver Elliott Sadler: Pole position + most laps led = second career series victory and a new race record.
In reality, Sadler had to overcome adversity early in the Advance Auto Parts 250 and luck had to fall his way to allow the 22-year old driver to pull into victory lane at Myrtle Beach Speedway.
Sadler put his #29 Phillips 66 Chevrolet on the point for the first 47 laps and led a blistering pace. He lapped provisional starter Larry Pearson by the 30th lap and ran into a gauntlet of eight more cars trying desperately to stay on the lead lap. Stevie Reeves gave Sadler fits for four laps before finally going a lap down. Next up was seasoned veteran driver Jim Sauter in the #64 Dura Lube Monte Carlo.
Sauter, an International Race of Champions test pilot, was filling in for Dick Trickle who was in Loudon, NH to participate in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series event. For lap after lap, Sauter made the back end of his Monte Carlo as wide as he could to keep the hard-charging Sadler behind him. On lap 48, the youngster had had enough and gave Sauter a shot to the back bumper. Unfortunately the bump was a little harder than was intended and both drivers spun on the backstretch bringing out the first of six cautions.
"I got a little impatient," said Sadler. "A lot of lapped cars were racing in front of us and I was trying to get away from Fedewa and a couple of them. I didn't mean to get into the back of him that hard. I got into him a little harder than I wanted to and spun him out and spun me out and everything else. I really hated that happened. Just driving over my head I guess."
The incident flat-spotted Sadler's tires, forcing him to come to the pits for fresh rubber and putting him out of sequence on pit stops. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
"We knew if we pitted early we were going to be out of synch," he explained, "but track position is very, very important at this race track. It's so slick. It's hard to pass. We knew we were good on old tires and just as good as anybody if we could get track position. That's why we decided to go ahead and pit early and ride around in the back of the field."
It was a patience game for Sadler and the Diamond Ridge Motorsports team from that point on. The #66 car reappeared in the lead on lap 103 after a fuel-only stop under caution but four laps later Mike McLaughlin, on new tires, passed Sadler for the lead in turn four. At that point, Sadler began to fade back until he had dropped out of the top ten.
"That was by design," Sadler said. "My spotter talked to me the whole race and I kept saying, 'Where's the leader? Just let me know where the leader is.' And we saved tires and saved tires and saved tires.
When the third caution flew on lap 141 for a minor three-car tangle in turn three, Sadler, and a handful of others, ducked onto to pit road for what would turn out to be his final pit stop of the race while the leaders continued to circle the track.
On lap 178 Buckshot Jones went spinning into the infield on the frontstretch after a collision with Jason Keller bringing out the fourth caution of the night. On lap 184 for the restart it was Matt Kenseth, Glenn Allen, Dennis Setzer, Elliott Sadler and Hermie Sadler in first through fifth, all of whom stayed on the track when the leaders came to the pits for their final stop during that caution period.
Less than twenty laps later Sadler had reassumed the lead and in short order, had jumped out to a huge advantage.
"We needed the long run when those guys had new tires and were stuck back in traffic. We needed a long run and we got it," said Elliott, who lead three times for a total of 99 laps. "Matt (Kenseth) and I started racing with each other. We got an awesome race going. We were able to get in front of him and set a pretty good pace. We didn't need any cautions and we didn't get any."
Mike McLaughlin, Randy LaJoie, and Todd Bodine, all on fresher tires disposed of the other drivers who chose not to pit and positioned themselves second through fourth with fourteen laps to go. Elliott continued to ride way out in front and would have won by a large margin had it not been for Joe Bessey who spun in turn four with three laps remaining, which ended the race under caution. Elton Sawyer rounded out the top five.
Sadler's pace, along with only 28 laps of caution, set a new race record average speed of 81.433 mph with the event taking 1 hour, 39 minutes, 6 seconds to complete. The old record was 1 hour, 41, minutes, 23 seconds (79.599 mph) set by Larry Pearson in 1995.
Mike McLaughlin's second place finish was his third top-ten finish in the last three races including a win at Watkins Glen International two weeks ago. The Team 34 driver had a spirited battle with Randy LaJoie during the closing laps. "Not a bad run," was his assessment. "We've been working hard on this car trying to get it to be consistent. Randy always runs hard. All I know is he was hitting me. He was a little quicker through the middle (of the corners) I guess, because that's where he kept getting into me. It was just good, hard racing."
Defending series champion Randy LaJoie increased his points lead by five points over Todd Bodine as the pair crossed the line in third and fourth, respectively. LaJoie had his own problems as he fought a car that didn't want to turn. "On the very first lap, the #85 (Shane Hall) chopped down into me," said the driver of the #74 FINA Chevrolet, "and knocked my front end out of whack. After that, the car pushed like a dog. We just couldn't get it to turn. We just had to free it up."
The NASCAR Busch Series will take next weekend off before traveling to the midwest for the inaugural Gateway 300 at Gateway International Raceway in Madison, IL.
Lori Vizza -- The Auto Channel