Race Weekend Central

XFINITY Breakdown:Elliott Sadler Survives Late Race Onslaught to Win VFW Sport Clips Help a Hero 200

Intro: The Lady in Black was once again a test of man and machine for the drivers of the XFINITY series for the 56th time in the track’s history. Six drivers led through eight lead changes. Elliott Sadler took the top spot on the final restart of the race and held off a furious charge over the final two laps by Denny Hamlin to take the first trophy of his career at Darlington Raceway.

Recap: . Thanks to Hurricane Hermine, qualifying was canceled for the race so Paul Menard started on the pole based on the field being set by owner points. Menard led the first six laps before surrendering the point to Sadler. The caution flew for an incident between Mike Harmon and BJ McLeod on lap 20. Sadler maintained the lead on the restart after the caution until lap 48 when Hamlin swept past him in turns one and two to grab the top spot. Hamlin led for 43 laps before Kyle Larson chased him down and passed him on lap 91. Larson attempted to pit on lap 103 and spun out. The result was three other cars, including Ryan Blaney, attempted to miss him and tangled, bringing out a caution. Blaney stayed on track to take the lead, Hamlin was on pit lane which put him in position to battle for the lead after pit stops under caution. Larson would end up restarting fifth after getting everything sorted out. On the restart Sadler took his No. 1 to the high side and rode the momentum off of turn two to secure the lead. He pulled away from Hamlin but hit the wall off of two on the 145th lap. Hamlin made a bonsai run to the bottom but was unable to clear Sadler in three coming to the white flag. He attempted the same thing on the final lap but again could not clear the leader. The end result was Sadler running to the trophy.

Points: Thanks to his win Elliott Sadler extended his point lead to 54 over Daniel Suarez and is all but guaranteed to be the point leader going into the Chase. Unfortunately for Sadler, Erik Jones has more wins at this point so he will be ahead of Sadler when the playoffs start unless Esad can garner another triumph. Suarez leads Justin Allgaier by 11 points and Ty Dillon by 19. Brendan Gaughan rounds out the top 5, 83 points behind Sadler. Jones is in sixth in the standings but will be no worse than second when the Chase starts thanks to his three victories this year.Brennan Poole, Brandon Jones and Darrell Wallace Jr. are seventh through tenth and all locked their positions into the playoffs thanks to their point standing and difference to 13th after Darlington. The remaining three drivers currently eligible are Ryan Reed, Blake Koch and Ryan Sieg. The first driver on the outside looking in, 18 points out, is Dakoda Armstrong

The Good: Suarez didn’t manage to lead a lap during the event but he was right there knocking on the door when the laps wound down. He had a spirited battle with Hamlin before settling for a podium finish. He rebounded from back-to-back poor outings at Mid-Ohio and Bristol with two top 4 runs in the last two weeks. He is hoping the momentum from this run will position him for a strong run at the title when the Chase starts in three weeks.

Poole continued his strong effort at consistency with a top 5 finish. This is his eighth top 11 effort in the last nine races. A top 5 finish at Darlington is an accomplishment for anyone but in your very first run at the challenging track it is even more impressive. While Poole hasn’t been a threat for many wins this year, he has consistently run near the front and is poised for a breakthrough win in the next 10 races.

Ryan Preece turned in a yeoman like effort on Saturday. Starting 22nd he methodically picked his way through the field, ultimately securing a 10th place finish. Preece has climbed to the national touring series the old fashioned way, through the local short track ranks, and continues to show he has the talent to make it at this level. Hopefully someone with a quality ride will give him a shot soon.

The Bad: Menard started on the pole and battled near the front for much of the race but eventually slid back into the middle of the pack and finished with a 20th place run. The point leading team expects better than that. They were caught out on pit timing but it was still a less than championship effort.

Speaking of RCR, Ty Dillon is another driver who started in the top 10 and moved forward early but ended up slipping back over the last third of the race. A 12th place run is not a good momentum builder for the Chase with a team that has serious title aspirations.

The Ugly: Backmarkers are still a nightmare in the XFINITY series. They are out there chasing a dream and scraping by on limited budgets but they can be a danger to the front running cars. John Jackson was lapped in four laps, on a 1.336 mile oval. That is 7.5 seconds a lap slower than the leader based on a 30 second lap time. It is unacceptable and dangerous to subject the cars running for the win to that kind of rolling chicane.

Underdog Performance(s) of the Race: Josh Berry came home in 27th place on Saturday. That doesn’t sound that impressive until you realize he found out two days ago he was going to be driving for this extremely underfunded team. They ran the entire race, and finished eight laps down to the leaders. That sounds underwhelming but in a race where teams in a similar plight were parking or double digit laps down, it was a great run by the budding race driver.

Interlopers: Hamlin tried hard to put his car in Victory Lane Saturday but Sadler held him off. Larson finished fourth and Ryan Blaney was seventh. The other seven top 10 drivers were XFINITY regulars. Menard was 20th and Kevin Harvick was relegated to a 35th place finish with an engine failure.

Quotable:

We started off okay, but not great. We made some changes on one run and we drove up to fourth and were coming to pit road and down the whole backstretch, someone, I don’t even know who it was, rear-ended me pretty hard and destroyed our race car. After that we weren’t very good. I don’t know if I had a tire coming apart or something the last little bit or what but the last 10 laps was bad. I am not sure. We will have to check that out. It was an unfortunate day because I thought we could have run third or fourth. Oh well. Next time.” – Ryan Blaney

That paint scheme is awesome. Very proud to come out here with the Mt. Dew/Darrell Waltrip throwback car. I wish it was faster for him and all of the people who paid for that car. We are still up in the points and the big picture is to make the Chase and we are still in it.” – Blake Koch

We were really loose the first run and lost some time. I thought I was a little on the tight side and so we loosened it up and that just made it worse and we slid backwards. We made some good changes the last stop, got some track position and that was all we needed.” – Brennan Poole

Comparing Rockingham to Darlington – “This place is so narrow. On tire wear it is similar but it is crazy running that close to the wall all afternoon. The cars are right on the edge. I ran into the wall like 10 times today.” – Brennan Poole

The Final Word: Darlington is a challenging track that was designed for cars that were running 100 MPH top speeds. Today’s stock cars are pushing 180 into the corners on the egg-shaped oval. Just like most of the other Intermediate tracks on the schedule, aerodynamics are still a big factor. Once the field was stretched out there was not a lot of passing. Let’s hope that they will fix the series in the not too distant future with a similar aero package to the Cup series.

The win for Elliott Sadler was very emotional. Weeks ago he was of the opinion he was out of a ride with no real prospects for anything new. His mother has been battling serious health issues and his team has been struggling to get a second win this season. Today he not only won the race. His mom is doing better, his softball team that he coaches won their championship and he finally won at one of his favorite race tracks.

Up Next:

The cut off of the XFINITY Chase is not until Chicago, so the next race at Richmond is the penultimate round of the XFINITY regular season. The top 9 drivers in points that are currently eligible for the Chase are locked in. The remaining three, Ryan Reed, Blake Koch and Ryan Sieg have the unenviable task of racing two more events with their Chase hopes in limbo. The next event at Richmond is on Friday, September 9th, at 7:30 PM. It can be seen on NBCSN. It can be heard on MRN affiliates and SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.

About the author

Frontstretch.com

What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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