This season was supposed to be different for Elliott Sadler.
Over the last seven years, Sadler, 42, has finished runner-up in the XFINITY Series point standings four times (this year included), but he was so close to winning the title last night that you can understand why he was so dejected and frustrated after the race at Homestead.
With less than 10 laps to go, Sadler was running fourth and in position to earn his first NASCAR championship, but when he got to the back of the No. 18 Toyota driven by Ryan Preece, Sadler seeming thought Preece would just get out of his way.
That didn’t happen, though.
Fighting for the owner’s championship on behalf of Joe Gibbs Racing, Preece wasn’t about to give up any track position without a fight. So, with Sadler working so hard trying to get past the No. 18, this allowed 19-year-old William Byron to catch up, pass Sadler, and ultimately pick up the XFINITY Series title on behalf of JR Motorsports.
Sadler was understandably upset after the race and even got in Fleece’s face on pit road before NASCAR officials broke up the fracas.
“He cost us the championship and he’s not even racing anybody,” said Sadler, according to NASCAR.com. “He was holding us down and the nine would have never got to us without that. You don’t race people like that in this sport. You’re not going to make it very far. You got to have respect. It’s definitely a shame to be that close and not pull it off. I just appreciate my race team. I let them down tonight. I should of taken care of business when I got to Ryan.
“When somebody not even racing for anything was going to race us that hard and let the No. 9 come back to us. It cost us the championship. I don’t know any other way to look at it.”
For his part, Fleece said he was following team orders to hold position during his battle with Sadler.