Elliott Sadler is closing in on his first NASCAR Nationwide Series championship. He finished third in Friday's Dollar General 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway and extended his championship lead to 13 points over Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who finished seventh.
Sadler and his crew chief, Luke Lambert, essentially had to choose between a risky go-for-the-win strategy or a more conservative approach in the closing laps of the race. With everyone nearly 10 laps short on fuel, the decision to splash-and-go or take two tires and fuel were the most popular options.
Two tires would have provided more grip over the final 10 laps, but would have also increased the risk for a mistake on the pit stop. Ultimately the No. 2 team opted for fuel only, a decision that Sadler doesn't regret one bit.
"We played the safest possible pit strategy," Sadler said. "We would have considered (the tires) if we were chasing in the points. But we wanted to make the safe call; we didn't want a loose lugnut take us out of the running.
"At this point of the season you don't want to try to gain two points and lose 15."
Next up on the schedule is Kansas; a track that Sadler believes could act as one final wild card race for the two contenders with four races remaining. Kansas underwent a repave during the summer, a process that could drastically alter the way the track races when racing resumes next weekend.
"Kansas is a pothole for all of us because we don't know anything about tire or surface," Sadler said. "...That new surface at Kansas is going to shatter the right front and right rear tires and despite the upcoming tire test (Thursday), we still look at it as the biggest unknown with four races to go."
Sadler is having the most fun of his entire career right now.
This is the second consecutive year of Sadler's Nationwide Series comeback and he's been in the championship hunt both seasons. After struggling in the Sprint Cup Series prior to dropping down to Nationwide, Sadler is reminded why he loves racing in NASCAR.
"This is fun for me," Sadler said. "I have a great race team and a great car owner. Our teams all work really well together. It's so much fun to run competitively and race for championships. And even though we didn't win it last year, it was a lot of fun and that's what racing is all about – racing under pressure and knowing you had better not make a mistake.
"This is what you dream of as a kid, to have a kick-ass race car and to be able to compete for championships."
Stenhouse, though, didn't share Sadler's enjoyment of Friday night's race. His team decided to fix a damaged spoiler on a pit stop when he was running third – against the driver's wishes. With the extra time it took, Stenhouse fell further into the pack and was never able to make up ground.
"After that, it was tough to get our track position back and we finished seventh," he said. "That wasn't what we wanted, but we've got four weeks left.
"We're losing points, so that's not the way we need to be going."