Lambert’s astute call to keep Sadler on the racetrack under the final caution gave Elliott Sadler the boost he needed to win his second Nationwide Series race of the season, two weeks after he broke a 14-year drought in the series at Phoenix.
The Nationwide points leader drove away from Kasey Kahne and Brad Keselowski after a restart on Lap 273 of 300 and beat Kahne to the finish line by 1.159 seconds. The victory was Sadler’s second at Bristol, the seventh of his career, and it came at the .533-mile track that gave him the first of his three Sprint Cup victories in 2001.
That was part of Lambert’s reminder when Sadler questioned the call to stay out on old tires late in the race.
“He reminded me that I won a race here in 2001 by doing the same thing,” said Sadler, who celebrated with his parents in victory lane — a special moment, because Sadler’s parents never before had been on hand for one of his NASCAR victories. “Luke made a great call to stay out.”
Though he was a high school senior at the time, Lambert, 28, remembers that 2001 race—because he watched it from the grandstands with his father.
“I was here, and I watched it, but I was definitely a spectator,” Lambert said. “I do study all the history of our driver and what track we’re going to and everything else — but I was here for that one. And I was pretty young.”
Keselowski finished third, followed by polesitter Joey Logano and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Justin Allgaier, Trevor Bayne, Kevin Harvick and Ryan Truex completed the top 10.
Keselowski didn’t think the pit call necessarily made the difference. In his view, Sadler simply had a potent No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet.
“He drove by me under green there, right before the caution came out,” said Keselowski, the 2010 series champion.
“I think he was legitimately running the fastest lap times. He had a fast car. You can’t say he won that on strategy, in my mind.
“He’s been doing a good job. The 2 and the 6 car (Stenhouse) have been the two fastest cars since the end of last year. They’ve both got it going on.”
With a two-tire stop on Lap 160, Bayne took the lead off pit road and held it until Stenhouse passed him in traffic on Lap 224. Stenhouse drove away as Bayne and Keselowski battled for the second spot; with 40 laps left Stenhouse held a 2.873-second advantage over Sadler, who had blown by both Bayne and Keselowski to take over the second position.
Sadler stayed out under caution after Kyle Busch’s No. 54 Toyota pounded the wall between Turns 3 and 4 to bring out the fourth caution of the race on Lap 262. Kahne stayed out with Sadler, but all the drivers behind the top two came to pit road.
It didn’t matter to Sadler that the drivers behind him had new tires. On old rubber, he pulled away for his second win in four Nationwide starts this year.
Notes: Danica Patrick finished 19th, two laps down… Logano led a race-high 119 laps… Nationwide Series regulars have won the first four events of the season, the first time that’s happened since 1995, when Chad Little won the first two races, Kenny Wallace the third and Johnny Benson the fourth.