Dale Earnhardt Jr. surely needed a break from his unsettled future in racing. Elliott Sadler provided the perfect distraction Saturday with his Xfinity Series win at Darlington (South Carolina) Raceway.
Sadler, who drives for Earnhardt’s JR Motorsports, held off Denny Hamlin over the final two laps to win at the track “Too Tough To Time” for the first time since first lining up here in 1996. It was also a joyous finish that Sadler and his team knew would please the boss, who announced Friday that his season behind the wheel was done because of concussion-like symptoms.
It wasn’t long after reaching victory lane that Earnhardt called Sadler with congratulations.
“To hear him talking on the telephone today, it’s neat to hear the excitement in his voice,” Sadler said. “It gives him something to cheer about when he’s had so much bad news. This has got to be good for him.”
Earnhardt, who’ll come to the race track Sunday to talk about his recovery, Tweeted his happiness at Sadler’s win. “I’m so proud of (at)Elliott–Sadler and (at)JRMotorsports!!!!! A win (at)TooToughToTame is so hard to accomplish,” Earnhardt posted.
Sadler was second in this event in 2013 and 2014, trailing Sprint Cup star Kyle Busch both times. In this one, Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Hamlin, made a late charge and nosed in front two laps from the end.
But Sadler held strong through the final turns and crossed in front to earn the checkered flag at Darlington for the first time in 32 career starts – 18 in Sprint Cup, 13 in Xfinity and one in the truck series.
“I’ve been wanting to win here for a long time,” Sadler crowed after.
Hamlin ended second after leading 47 of 147 laps. Daniel Suarez was third and Kyle Larson, last week’s Sprint Cup winner at Michigan, was fourth.
Sadler, the series points leader, took the lead from Hamlin with 35 laps to go. He had opened a wide gap on the field until Hamlin, who’s won four Xfinity races at Darlington, steadily ran him down.
It looked like Hamlin would send Sadler to another second at Darlington as Sadler bobbled near the wall with two laps left and Hamlin ducked underneath and nosed ahead.
But Sadler, who led a race-high 75 laps, found the power to keep in front.
Hamlin closed in one last time on the final lap, but again Sadler maintained his position for the victory.
Hamlin said his car struggled in second gear that cost him on restarts. “It was exciting. Wish I was on the other end of it for sure,” he said.
Larson looked like he would make it two straight victories when he passed Hamlin with 57 laps left. But 13 laps later, Larson had a flat tire and slid trying to enter pit road.
Scott Dixon has won the IndyCar pole at Watkins Glen (New York) International for Sunday’s Grand Prix at The Glen. Fastest in all three practices, Dixon topped the Fast Six with a track-record time of 1 minute, 22.5259 seconds at 147.008 mph. It was Dixon’s second pole of the season and 25th of his career, tying him with Paul Tracy for 11th all-time.
Will Power, second in points to Team Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud, will start second, followed by Sebastien Bourdais, Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan, and Max Chilton.
Lewis Hamilton took the all-important pole position for the Italian Grand Prix in Monza, Italy, beating Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg’s time by nearly half a second in a commanding performance. Since 2000, the pole sitter has won 13 of 16 races in Monza and each of the past six years – with Hamilton himself taking three of those victories.
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