JOLIET, Ill. – As if the temperatures at Chicagoland Speedway weren’t hot enough on Saturday in preparation for Sunday’s STP 300 Nationwide Series race, Elliott Sadler was even hotter, still seething over the wreck he had with series leader Regan Smith last week at New Hampshire.
“I’m still pissed about it and Regan knows that,” Sadler said. “He knows where I stand, he took 100 percent of the blame (and) understood why I’m upset.”
Smith called Sadler during the week to apologize about the wreck, fully taking the blame. Even team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. reached out to Sadler to try and make amends.
“It was a situation I felt I needed to call, even though it was not one of those calls you really don’t want to make, when you say, ‘Hey, I wrecked you. It’s my fault. Sorry,’ ” Smith said. “You don’t know how that call is going to go and what’s going to take place.
“It was pretty obvious from the start that I took blame for the wreck. My right front got into his left rear and there’s really no denying it. It was a situation where it was the end of the race, I was trying to be aggressive and was trying to get positions and felt like I had a pretty big run.
“I made the move and got pushed down lower than I wanted to on corner entry. Yes, he did give me room after that, but the problem was I was already losing my nose at that point and I was already getting ready to get into him. With that said, was that the right move there? Probably not for our situation with the points and stuff like that. But the fact of the matter is it happened, I made a move and you can’t take it back.”
But Smith’s apology and explanation of what happened apparently wasn’t enough to cool Sadler’s temper.
“It’s a courtesy thing,” Sadler said. “We usually all have a good gentlemen’s agreement with each other. If we have an issue, we’ll come talk it out and go from there. That’s why I confronted him after the race, I wanted him to know I didn’t appreciate it, we talked about it and he was very nice and upfront about it and I was too, and we’ll go from there.”
While he wishes Sadler accepted his apology, Smith said he’d likely feel the same way if he was in Sadler’s shoes.
“I understand his anger 100 percent,” Smith said. “I know exactly where he was coming from, he was racing for a lot of money and the opportunity to race for a lot of money this week (in the special Nationwide Series Dash 4 Cash bonus program), and who knows if he would have gotten it or not.”
And Smith regrets the way a long friendship with Sadler is now on the rocks.
“I lost the respect of one of my competitors based upon what happened last Saturday and I’m fully aware of that, and I’m also man enough to stand up and say I caused a wreck and if that’s what’s going to come back as repercussions, then that’s fine,” Smith said. “But we’re also smart enough to know we’re going to race each other a lot this year and there’s a lot of racing left to go and both teams are strong race teams that are going to have opportunities at the championship.”
Despite Smith’s apology, Sadler said he’ll race his opponent significantly differently from here on out.
“We talked and agreed our racing is going to change a little bit between us,” Sadler said. “But we know we’re going to be racing around each other a lot between now and Homestead. They feel they have a chance to win the championship and we feel we like we have a chance amongst other drivers, so we’re probably going to see each other a lot between now and November.”
Added Smith, “It’s a situation where going forward, I’m sure he’s going to race me considerably harder than he has in the past and that’s to be expected. I would do the same.”
But at the same time, Sadler, who is currently fifth in the NNS standings, 24 points behind the series-leading Smith, said he won’t let his anger get in the way of his focus – even though after last Saturday’s race, Sadler said in the heat of the moment, “Regan Smith will not win the championship this year. I’ll make sure of it.”
“My number one goal is to win the championship and win races,” Sadler said. “The effect of me and how I race Regan is going to change as far as giving room and give and take and stuff like that. … I’m focused on what we’re doing as a team and how we’re running and things that way. I just think we’re here to win the championship, period. And as good as we’ve been running the last month or so, I don’t think he’s going to run good enough to run with us anyway.”
Even though the feud continues, there was a bit of levity about the incident, at least on Smith’s part.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever had an incident with him,” Smith said of Sadler, adding with a chuckle, “Hell, we got spun off his bumper at Daytona this year and I haven’t even brought that up.”
Austin Dillon even chimed in with his thoughts, not minding to stir the pot up a bit, if necessary.
“I love it,” Dillon said. “I hope they’re mad at each other. If not, I’m going to tell Elliott that Regan is talking about him behind his back.”