The emotion in Elliott Sadler’s voice was as real as real gets after he took the checkered flag at the Pocono Mountains 125 on July 31.
“It's hard to put in words what this means to me,” said Sadler, who qualified on the pole and put the No. 2 Kevin Harvick Inc. Chevrolet Silverado into victory lane in the first visit in Truck Series history to the 2.5-mile Pocono Raceway triangle.
Sadler survived two green-white-checkered finishes and a determined challenge from fellow NASCAR Sprint Cup regular Kasey Kahne to earn his first career victory in eight NCWTS starts. Matt Crafton was third, followed by Aric Almirola and Justin Lofton.
The victory gave Kevin Harvick Inc. its third consecutive victory with three different drivers: Harvick, Ron Hornaday Jr. and now Sadler.
But no victory meant more to a driver than this one did to Sadler.
“I'll be honest, tears filled my eyes when I crossed the start/finish line,” said Sadler. “I've had a tough couple years in the Cup Series, and until Kevin and DeLana (Harvick) gave me the opportunity to drive the No. 2 truck for KHI, I haven't had many opportunities to run up front, lead laps and win races.”
Prior to Pocono, the last time Sadler had won a race in any of NASCAR’s top three divisions was all the way back in September 2004, when he drove a Robert Yates Racing Ford to victory in a Sprint Cup race at Auto Club Speedway.
“You sit at home a lot wondering if you're ever going to make it back to victory lane,” said Sadler after his Pocono Truck Series victory. “I know that it's easy to say because it just happened today, but I feel that this is the biggest win in my career.”
“We had the best truck, but we didn’t win the race,” said runner-up Kahne, who was Sadler’s Sprint Cup teammate at Richard Petty Motorsports. “I’m a little disappointed in myself.”
The race got off to a rocky start: On the opening lap, Timothy Peters nerfed Jason White in Turn 1, sending the No. 23 gunbroker.com Dodge into a spin and bringing out the first caution flag.
But once they got underway again, pole-sitter Sadler immediately asserted himself, opening up a big lead in his No. 2 GT Vodka Chevrolet Silverado out of the Kevin Harvick Inc. racing stables.
With the race just 50 laps around the 2.5-mile Pocono triangle, there was no time to waste. Kahne caught Sadler by Lap 19, but he couldn’t get his No. 18 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota Dealers Tundra past Sadler’s Chevrolet. Behind them where Denny Hamlin, points leader Todd Bodine and Aric Almirola.
Kahne got the lead on Lap 21, passing Sadler in Turn 3 for the first lead change of the race. Kahne held the point after Bobby Hamliton Jr. smacked the Turn 3 wall just past halfway to bring out the second yellow of the day and send the leaders down pit road.
The race restarted on Lap 31, Kahne leading Sadler as Bodine moved to third.
On Lap 33, Sadler retook the lead between turns 1 and 2, as a furious five-way battle emerged for fourth place.
Two laps later, the yellow waved again for debris in Turn 3, forcing another restart.
The green came out on Lap 38, Bodine exploding into the lead midway through Turn 1, as Hamlin dropped Sadler to third place.
Two laps later, Hamlin took his first lead of the day, and moments later Austin Dillon dumped Bodine in Turn 2, sending the track into another caution period. Bodine kept his truck off the wall, but his chances of victory were dashed.
The race restarted with six laps to go, Kahne taking the lead as Dillon bumped Hamlin and sent him into the wall in Turn 1. At the end of the lap, Donny Lia spun at the exit to Turn 3 and got nailed by Chase Mattioli, bringing out yet another yellow.
The order on the green-white-checkered restart was Kahne, Sadler, Almirola, Lofton and Skinner.
Kahne got a bad restart, allowing Sadler to break into the lead. Ron Hornaday Jr. got spun by Johnny Sauter in Turn 2, which set up green-white-checkered attempt No. 2, Sadler now leading Lofton, Matt Crafton, Kahne and Almirola.
Sadler took the lead, as Kahne, Crafton and Almirola fought for second. And that’s how they finished, with Lofton bringing up fifth place.
Not only did Sadler score the victory at Pocono, but it helped him earn an even bigger prize for 2011: A full-time ride in the No. 33 KHI NASCAR Nationwide Series Chevrolet, with sponsorship from CitiFinancial.
“Kevin and DeLana and everyone at KHI have really rejuvenated my career,” said Sadler. “I've been in some very fortunate situations throughout my career and I feel like running the races for KHI this year is a perfect example. It opened a lot of doors for me and obviously helped get us to this point. We're committing to race for the Nationwide Championship in 2011. That's a very achievable goal and one that I'm very hungry for. CitiFinancial is a partner I worked with when I drove for Robert Yates. We had a lot of fun during those days and I feel like this time around is going to be even better.”
Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEED.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100 and e-mail him at Jensen is the author of “Cheating: The Bad Things Good NASCAR Nextel Cup Racers Do In Pursuit of Speed,” and has appeared on numerous television and radio shows. Jensen is the past President of the National Motorsports Press Association and an NMPA Writer of the Year.