Half way home, full throttle. And full emotion.
The NASCAR Nationwide Series hit its halfway point last Saturday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and tempers flared post-race between two of the championship front runners – Regan Smith and Elliott Sadler.
Championship standings leader Smith and defending race winner Sadler tangled on track in New Hampshire this past weekend, and frustrations and tempers exploded following the incident. Sadler vowed in post-race remarks that Smith would not win the championship at season’s end. Smith currently holds a 24-point lead over Sadler, who is in fifth.
“You will not win this championship, mark my word,” Sadler reportedly yelled at Smith afterward in the garage.
Sadler might be on to something, whether he plays a part in thwarting Smith or not. Smith has seen a once-robust points lead shrink to five points heading into this Sunday’s STP 300 at Chicagoland Speedway (3 p.m. on ESPN, MRN Radio and SiriusXM Satellite Radio). Four races ago, that lead stood at 58 points.
“The past two weeks have been frustrating for our Speedco team,” Smith said. “At Daytona and Loudon we ran well and in the top five. We’ve just been unable to put an entire race together and have it play out like we need to. Top 10s are good, but when you run top-three and top-five all day, it makes them difficult to accept. I won’t say I don’t think about the points. It’s just that right now our main focus is getting back to maintaining positions in the closing laps and capitalizing on opportunities. If we can do that, the points will take care of itself.”
Only 24 points separate the top-five drivers, with Sam Hornish Jr., Austin Dillon, Justin Allgaier and Sadler sitting two-through-five.
On Sunday, the Nationwide Insurance Dash 4 Cash (#Dash4Cash) will reach its third round, a race-within-a-race program for NASCAR Nationwide Series points eligible drivers. Elliott Sadler banked the first round of Dash 4 Cash in Daytona with a third-place finish. Austin Dillon won the D4C $100,000 bonus with a third-place finish of his own at New Hampshire last weekend.
Dillon automatically qualified for the next payout this Sunday at Chicagoland. He will compete against Brian Vickers, Brian Scott and Michael Annett for the bonus. The top finisher among that group will win $100,000 and automatically qualify for the final D4C race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.