TALLADEGA, Ala. – Elliott Sadler ended a 54-race losing streak by holding off Chris Buescher to win Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series Aaron’s 312 at Talladega Superspeedway.
Sadler found himself in the right place at the right time in the closing laps of Saturday’s race, but a lot of things happened that helped him get there. Driving the No. 11 OneMain Financial Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, Sadler led laps early but found himself just trying to survive in the closing laps.
Things began to get crazy with 19 laps left when the caution flag waved for debris from Trevor Bayne’s Ford. Bayne was involved in a lap 62 crash that included at least eight cars, including Brian Scott, early leader Ryan Reed, Ty Dillon, Kyle Larson and Brendan Gaughan.
The field returned to racing with 14 laps left with the JR Motorsports trio of Regan Smith, Kasey Kahne and Chase Elliott leading the way. However, David Starr made a big charge in the outside line thanks to drafting help from Mike Bliss and was able to take the lead away from Smith.
Starr, clearly lacking power compared to the JR Motorsports cars, was doing everything he could to maintain the lead. On lap 107 Elliott was able to get a run on the outside down the backstretch and get alongside Starr, but behind them Chad Boat got turned out of the pack and slammed the inside wall to bring out the caution flag.
Elliott was scored as the leader at the time of the caution, followed by Starr, Ryan Blaney, Kahne and Sadler. Elliott opted to restart on the outside line so he could be lined up in front of teammate Kahne. That move ended up backfiring during the restart with six laps left as the outside lane faded, giving Starr the lead in turn one.
Starr didn’t stay out front long. Going down the backstretch Blaney was able to make a move around Starr to take the lead, but Sadler saw an opening under Blaney and quickly dove low to fill it. Blaney tried to block the move, but did so too little too late.
When Blaney went low to try and block Sadler the two made contact, sending Blaney into the outside wall as the field entered turn three. Several other cars were collected in the aftermath, including Elliott, Kahne and Jeremy Clements.
NASCAR displayed the red flag for cleanup following the incident with Sadler in the lead ahead of Buescher, David Ragan, Smith and Starr.
Following the cleanup the field returned to racing with three laps left. Sadler was able to muscle his way into the lead with Ragan right behind him, but a strong run from Buescher on the outside brought him back into the picture with two laps left.
Going into three as the field was coming to the white flag Buescher went high and was able to get alongside Sadler. The two raced side-by-side under the white flag and into turn one. They stayed that way down the backstretch on the final lap, but in turns three and four Sadler was able to pull ahead and clear Buescher for the lead.
That was the last challenge Sadler saw as he drove under the checkered flag to pick up his first career victory at Talladega Superspeedway, beating Buescher to the checkers by .125 of a second.
“We just got on the inside line there and we just had to make some good moves. The sea just kind of opened up for us,” Sadler said. “It just means a lot to me to get these guys in victory lane. I disappointed them last year and wasn’t able to do it.
“Everybody is always asking me about flipping at Talladega damn it, now we won one at Talladega. This feels a lot better,” Sadler said.
Buescher, who failed to qualify for the opening race of the season at Daytona Int’l Speedway, earned his career-best Nationwide Series finish.
“It was insane to say the least,” Buescher said after his second-place finish. “I just really wanted to come here and finish this thing without tearing up a race car. I wanted to get a solid run and get us back moving in the right direction. I think getting a second place finish just makes it that much better.
“To be battling at the end was incredible.”
Smith ended up third at the checkers, followed by Ragan and polesitter Sam Hornish Jr. Joe Nemechek, J.J. Yeley, Landon Cassill, Starr and Bayne completed the top 10.