By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
For the second year in a row, Elliott Sadler is left with heart break and frustration in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship. Sadler fought hard for well over 40 laps in the Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway with his JR Motorsports teammate, and Championship rival William Byron. However, slower traffic and a battle in the Owner’s Championship cost him the chance at his first Championship.
Sadler ran close to the front of the Championship battle in his No. 1 OneMain Financial Chevrolet Camaro. In the waning laps, he was beating and banging with Byron. The duo traded the championship lead multiple times over the course of the final 30 laps. A slower car, and a separate Championship battle, the Owner’s Championship ultimately decided who would prevail.
Byron somehow worked his way past Ryan Preece, whose No. 18 Safelite AutoGlass Toyota Camry was in a battle for the Owner’s Championship with Team Penske’s No. 22 and Byron’s No. 9. Sadler found it much more difficult to get around Preece. He made contact, sending Preece drifting and himself into the outside wall. Sadler slipped backwards, to finish eighth, with a flat right front tire, while Preece straightened his car out. After the race, a shouting match took place on pit road between Sadler and Preece. Sam Hornish Jr. and Team Penske ultimately won the Owner’s Championship.
Sadler put the blame squarely on Preece,
“Preece cost us the Championship. He’s not even racing anybody. He was holding us up and then 9, and I don’t have respect for that. You don’t race people like that in this sport and make it very far. You have got to have respect. It’s definitely a shame to be that close and not pull it off. I appreciate my race team, I let them down tonight. I should have taken care of business when I got to Ryan. It’s definitely a letdown to lose one like this.”
For a while, it looked as if Sadler was going to earn the Championship. As he and Byron battled, both drivers had trouble navigating around Casey Mears. This allowed Byron to pass the veteran. Sadler, fought back, got back by Byron before lapped traffic once again intervened. Byron once again took the lead in the Championship before the duo eventually ran down Preece.
Sadler didn’t know what else to say,
“We got the lead fair and square. And then some lap cars, or someone that is not even racing for anything races us that hard and lets the 9 come back to us. He cost us a Championship, I don’t know any other way to look at it.”
This was Sadler’s fourth career runner-up finish in the Xfinity Series Championship. He finished runner-up in 2011, 2012, 2016, as well as tonight. Sadler also became the Series’ first Regular Season Champion this year. He earned 12 top-fives, 25 top-10s, and one pole position in 2017.
Despite his frustration, Sadler still made it to victory lane to congratulate his Rookie teammate, and 2017 NASCAR Xfinity Series Champion Byron. Now he will have the entire off-season to prepare for another attempt at the Championship with JR Motorsports in 2018.