The next-to-last race of the NASCAR Nationwide Series season was where it all unraveled for Elliott Sadler last year. This season, the penultimate event could be a different story.
Sadler's renewed quest for a first NASCAR national series championship enters another turning point this weekend in Saturday's Great Clips 200 (4 p.m. ET, ESPN) at Phoenix International Raceway. The points couldn't be any closer, as he enters the race in a dead heat atop the standings with defending series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Last season, Sadler came into Phoenix facing a 17-point deficit behind Stenhouse, but a multi-car crash triggered by Jason Leffler with 23 laps to go effectively derailed his title shot. Sadler was able to reverse some of the sour taste by winning at the mile track earlier this season, an accomplishment he hopes bodes well for Saturday's 200-miler.
"With two races left in the season, there is still a lot to be decided with this championship," Sadler said. "This time last year, we saw our season basically end after being wrecked toward the end of the race. It was a bit of redemption being able to come back and win at Phoenix earlier this season, and I know that we are looking to do the same thing this weekend."
Top rookie Austin Dillon, Sadler's teammate at Richard Childress Racing, ranks third in Nationwide standings, 21 points behind the co-leaders. Sam Hornish Jr., a distant 95 points off the top as the only other driver still mathematically eligible for the championship, scored his only Nationwide series victory in this race last season.