By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor
BRISTOL, Tenn. – It’s been a weekend Elliott Sadler won’t soon forget.
After announcing Wednesday that he would be stepping away from full-time driving at the end of the 2018 NASCAR Xfinity Series season, Sadler returned to the track where his NASCAR career began and where he has had so many memories and was able to leave with a sixth-place finish when the checkered flag flew.
Sadler made his first NASCAR start at Bristol in the Xfinity Series in 1996, as well as breaking through with his first Cup Series win in 2001, returning the Wood Brothers to victory lane. Since that time, Sadler has scored three top-five finishes and four top-10 finishes in the Cup Series on the high-banked half-mile, along with two wins, nine top-five finishes, and 13 top-10 finish in the Xfinity Series.
To make Friday night even more special, Sadler was granted the opportunity to give the command to start engines before setting off on his final start at the track.
— NASCAR on NBC (@NASCARonNBC) August 17, 2018
“I haven’t slept this good in a long time as I did the last two nights,” Sadler said of Wednesday’s news. “It’s neat to tell everybody. I wanted my fans to know. Now when I go to these race tracks for the last time everybody kind of knows what I’m going through.
“It was special to kind of be here tonight. A lot of those thoughts went through my head. I love this place. My first ever Cup win came here. My first start here was in 1996. That was a long time ago, so all-in-all, I got to run all 300 laps here tonight, which was good. I got to finish Bristol that way, but I’m looking forward to going home and seeing my kids in the morning.”
Rolling off sixth after giving his spirited command to start engines, Sadler kept himself in the top-10 throughout the first two stages with finishes of ninth and fifth before a pit strategy call under the second stage break vaulted him into the lead as the final stage got the green flag.
With older tires than most of the drivers behind him, Sadler held off the other leaders for 12 laps before eventually giving up the lead to Christopher Bell. Though he had lost the lead, he kept his No. 1 car as a steady presence in the top-10 for the remainder of the race, which included a couple of late restarts.
Finding himself in the wrong lane on the penultimate restart, Sadler struggled to keep his track position, but when the final caution came out, things worked out in his favor and he was able to vault back up the leaderboard to finish in sixth.
“It all depended which line you were in. If you were in the outside lane, you could really get a jump and hold guys down. We just kept having to restart on the bottom and it just wasn’t the place to be.
“We made the most of it and did the best we could. I’d have rather come out of here with a top-five, but all in all, we had a good, clean night. Kevin (Meendering, crew chief) kept working on the car and we did the best we could with it.”
Leaving Bristol, Sadler sits third in points as the first driver without a win yet in 2018 as the series packs up and heads to Road America next weekend.