HOMESTEAD, Fla. — While his rookie teammate William Byron celebrated as the NASCAR XFINITY Series champion Saturday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Elliott Sadler was left fuming at yet another opportunity that slipped away.
Though Sadler was in contention for his first series title down to the bitter end, passing Byron for fourth on-track and the provisional points lead with 36 to go, Byron kept his foot in the gas and ran the veteran back down on the extreme high lane.
The battle came to a head with nine laps left, when Byron re-passed Sadler before placing Ryan Preece in between himself and Sadler as a buffer, when he moved to third a couple of laps later.
As Sadler looked to pass Preece and stay on Byron’s bumper at the five to go mark, the two came together entering turn three and the resulting contact sent Preece skidding sideways and Sadler into the outside wall, causing significant damage to the right side of Sadler’s No. 1 OneMain Financial Chevrolet and dropping him out of contention as Byron scooted away.
Sadler ultimately coasted home in eighth, finishing an excruciating second in points for the fourth time in his career, but the battle wasn’t done as Sadler parked his Camaro right behind Preece and jumped out in a furor, exchanging words with Preece as NASCAR officials jumped into the fray.
A livid Sadler didn’t back down, blaming Preece for the late race incident that cost him a shot at the title.
“He cost us a championship and he’s not even racing anybody,” Sadler said. “He was holding me up and the (No.) 9 (Byron) would have never gotten to us if he wasn’t there. If you’re going to race people like that in this sport, you’re never going to make it very far. You have got to have respect. It’s definitely a shame to be that close and to 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 (Preece). It’s definitely a let down to lose one like this. We got the (points) lead fair and square and passed him (Byron). Then a lapped car, with someone who wasn’t even racing for anything … raced us that hard and let William come back to us.”
“He cost us a championship, I don’t know any other way to look at it.”
From Preece’s perspective, staying in front of Byron was the only way to keep his goal of winning an owner’s championship for Joe Gibbs Racing alive.
He entered the night in the No. 18 Toyota as one of four eligible cars racing for that honor, and though Team Penske’s Sam Hornish Jr. was 10 seconds ahead in the closing laps, Preece knew he needed to stay as far forward as he could if a late-race caution had come out to give him a crack at capitalizing.
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