Saturday night's 300-miler at Atlanta Motor Speedway begins the final 10-race stretch in the Nationwide Series, and so does Elliott Sadler's vow to compete against Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in a different manner while the two duke it out for the series title.
Last weekend's race at Bristol set the tone for what could be an intense battle between Sadler and Stenhouse, who is the defending series champion. During a green-white-checkered finish, Stenhouse bumped Sadler out of the way and took second place from him.
Stenhouse finished runner-up to Joey Logano, while Sadler ended up placing fifth. Both drivers had a discussion about their incident after the race, but there was no altercation between the two.
"I'm glad he didn't wreck us, but it's not the finish we deserved," Sadler said. "He opened it up. Now we can race differently the last 10 races."
Stenhouse trimmed Sadler's points lead from 22 to 19.
"I definitely didn't expect to do that," Stenhouse said. "He definitely had a better race car than we did, and I didn't expect to get that run on him that we did, but luckily, he was able to save it. I definitely don't want to crash anybody and ended up second, but I was really hoping the last 20 laps or so were gonna go green. I felt like we were running down (Logano) and might have had a shot at a win, but that caution came out, and we ended up second."
One year ago, Stenhouse held just a five-point lead over Sadler when the series headed to Atlanta. Stenhouse went on to defeat Sadler for the championship by 45 points.
Seven of the last 10 Nationwide races this year will be contested on 1.5-mile racetracks, beginning with Atlanta. Stenhouse's first two wins this season came on mile and a half tracks (Las Vegas and Texas). His third and most recent victory occurred in May at Iowa (13 races ago). Stenhouse has finished third and 10th in his two Nationwide races at Atlanta.
"Racing at Atlanta is a lot of fun especially at night," he said. "The track is fast and it is rough, which can be tough on your tires, so we will have to keep a watchful eye on that. I like it because you run up high against the wall. Our No. 6 team is pumped going into Atlanta due to our success this year on 1.5-mile tracks."
Sadler has competed in six Nationwide races at Atlanta. He finished 10th there last year.
"I have always enjoyed competing at Atlanta Motor Speedway," he said. "There are a lot of intricacies to the track because of its slick nature, and there are a lot of bumps on the surface, which I think make it a 'driver's track'. The tires seem to wear out quickly, and you can run the bottom, middle or top line, allowing the driver a lot of options. I'm really looking forward to it."
Sam Hornish Jr. and rookie Austin Dillon are very much in the title hunt as well. Hornish is 28 points behind Sadler, while Dillon trails by 35 points.
Forty-four teams are on the preliminary entry list for the NRA American Warrior 300. Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne and Brad Keselowski are those Sprint Cup regulars scheduled to compete in this race.
Series: NASCAR Nationwide. Date: Saturday, September 1. Race: NRA American Warrior 300. Site: Atlanta Motor Speedway. Track: 1.54-mile oval. Start time: 7 p.m.(ET). Laps: 195. Miles: 300.3. 2011 Winner: Carl Edwards. Television: ESPN 2. Radio: Performance Racing Network (PRN)/SIRIUS NASCAR Radio.