Elliott Sadler said Friday that JR Motorsports team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s announcement that he will not return to Sprint Cup racing this season gave his own No. 1 team “incentive to finish on a high note.”
That high note came sooner rather than later, as Sadler held off a fast-charging Joe Gibbs Racing duo of Denny Hamlin and Daniel Suarez to win Saturday’s NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Darlington Raceway.
Following the burnout, Sadler stood on the car across the start-finish line and let out a cheer, full of emotion. The past few weeks have been rough for the No. 1 Chevrolet driver, between his mother’s illness and his uncertain future, with OneMain Financial only recently deciding to re-sign.
And of course, his boss, friend and mentor Earnhardt Jr.’s tough situation that has been prevalent in his mind.
“This is for Dale Earnhardt Jr.,” Sadler said, looking into the camera and giving a thumbs-up in Victory Lane. “… This is for you, my man.”
Earnhardt Jr. also tweeted shortly after Sadler took the checkered flag, wishing his driver a huge congratulations.
— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) September 3, 2016
Fittingly, Sadler’s first call came from the bossman himself shortly after, in the midst of victory celebrations.
“To hear his voice and jubilation and yelling and screaming and saying a lot of the cool things he likes to say — I can’t really repeat a lot right now,” Sadler said. “He and I have a special relationship and have for a long time.”
Junior’s day continued on its upswing, as JRM’s Cole Custer won the pole for the Camping World Truck Series Race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.
For Sadler, this XFINITY win is about giving back to a friend who has afforded him so much.
“Look, he’s a real race car driver, guys,” Sadler said. “He’s a true-grit, blue-collar guy … he’s one of the good guys. And to see him have to take a step back is really tough on him, but to see him handling it the way he is means a lot to me as driver, but also as a friend. He’s given me a great opportunity to drive his cars this year and I think he 100 percent pays attention to what we do and how good we run.
“And I think maybe he can feed some his excitement through us. Since he’s not in a race car, to hear him talking on the telephone today — it’s neat to hear that excitement in his voice and give him something to be proud of, give him something to cheer about when he’s had so much bad news as far as him being able to race.
“… I’m very honored and humbled to be the one to be able to win for him.”
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