May 3, 2014 10:28PM
By Jenna Fryer
TALLADEGA, Ala. — Most of Elliott Sadler’s memories of Talladega Superspeedway are unpleasant. They either involve a horrific 2003 crash in which his car flipped several times and slid forever through the grass on its roof, or many different ways he’d come up empty racing for a win.
Finally, he has a victory that tops all those other disappointments.
“I have such a love-hate relationship with this race track. We always run good here, but I always doggone flip or wreck or hit hard or something,” Sadler said in Victory Lane. “Every autograph session, everywhere I go, everybody always reminds me of the flip I had down the backstraighaway here. Now maybe they can ask me about winning here.”
Sadler won a three-lap shootout to the checkered flag in the Nationwide Series race.
The race Saturday was stopped for a little more than nine minutes to clean the track following a six-car accident that began when Jeremy Clement was turning into an outside wall and his car shot back into traffic.
Sadler reflected on many of his previous races during the stoppage.
“Under the red flag, I was playing all these scenarios in my head,” Sadler said. “Really, how many races I’ve lost in the last couple laps not making the right decisions.”
There were three laps remaining on the restart, and Sadler had to throw several blocks to hold off a charge from the pack of traffic behind him.
It was the 10th Nationwide Series victory of Sadler’s career, first at Talladega, and first win since 2012.
“We just stayed to the bottom and stuck to our guns,” Sadler said of his strategy. “We made the right blocks at the right time.”
“I was disappointed last year we weren’t able to do it. It means a lot to me to get the JGR team to Victory Lane — they work their butts off and we weren’t able to reward them.”
After going winless last season, his first with Joe Gibbs Racing, finally grabbing a victory was a heavy relief for Sadler. He left Richard Childress Racing to join JGR in an attempt to race for the Nationwide title.
Instead, after winning four races in 2012 and finishing second that year in the standings, Sadler had just nine top-10 finishes and was a distant fourth in the title race.
“When you come to a new place and you are running for such a respectable man and owner, and you are not able to give back to them, and not go to Victory Lane and not able to run for the championship as strong as you want to, man, it weighed on me heavy,” Sadler said.
“To be able to go to Victory Lane, and (Gibbs) call me on the phone, was amazing to me. That was a feeling that is really hard to put into words, but it feels good.”
Chris Buescher finished second and Regan Smith, winner of last year’s race, was third. Sadler’s win ended a three-race winning streak for JR Motorsports, which picked up victories from Chase Elliott at Texas and Darlington and Kevin Harvick last week at Richmond.
“We couldn’t keep the JR Motorsports winning streak alive, but there’s a lot of races left,” Smith said.
Elliott, who finished 19th, maintained his lead as the Nationwide points leader. But Sadler’s victory pulled him to just one point behind Elliott.
David Ragan finished fourth and was followed by Sam Hornish Jr., making his first race since losing the Nationwide title by three points last season. Hornish has a seven-race deal with JGR and made his debut by winning the pole in Friday qualifying.
Joe Nemechek was sixth and followed by J.J. Yeley, Landon Cassill, David Starr and Trevor Bayne.