Elliott Sadler believes Ryan Preece cost him the NASCAR Xfinity Series championship on Saturday night at Homestead Miami Speedway.
Running fourth with less than 10 laps to go and having about a one-second lead over William Byron for the championship, Sadler was livid that the Modified Tour ace impeded his progress. Preece was running third and his defensive driving allowed Byron to catch up and recapture the championship lead.
Afterwards, Preece and Sadler made contact, sending the NASCAR veteran into the wall and out of contention. Byron went on to finish third en route to his first championship. It’s the fourth time in the last seven seasons that Sadler has finished second in the NASCAR Xfinity Series standings.
Sadler took that frustration out on Preece after the race, climbing out of his car and making a beeline towards the Joe Gibbs Racing part-timer. Sadler had to be separated from Preece.
„He just cost us a championship, and he’s not even racing anyone,“ Sadler told NBCSN. „You won’t get anywhere in this sport if you race someone like that. You have to race with respect. He cost us a championship. I don’t know what to say.“
For his part, Preece was racing Team Penske’s Sam Hornish Jr. for the Xfinity Series owner’s championship. Hornish was well ahead of Preece for second, but also racing to keep Byron ahead of him for third in the same championship battle.
He says he would have deferred to the championship drivers had his crew told him to.
„I was ahead of him,“ Preece said. „If anything … if there was no contact, I was going to let him go that corner. I pulled down in the middle, not running the top because I was letting him go. I mean, I don’t know.
„The only thing I could’ve done different was realistically gave up second in the owner championship and finished third. You know, hindsight 20/20, we ended up there because of what happened, but I also — as soon as (Byron) got me, I was going to let him go. I don’t know much more that I could really do, other than, than lay over on Joe (Gibbs) and Steve (deSouza, JGR VP). If they came over the radio and said. ‘Hey, give up second in the owner championship and let these guys race,’ I would’ve done it. I’m just … team orders. I’m not afraid to lay over … just doing what I’m told.“
Sadler didn’t accept that response in the immediate aftermath of the race.
„He wasn’t racing anybody because the 22 was a half-lap ahead of him,“ Sadler said. „So he wasn’t racing anybody.“
More than anything else, this was the manifestation of Sadler’s having to accept yet another bitter championship defeat. At 42 years old, he doesn’t know how many more championship chances he will have before retirement.
„To be that close and not win a championship is frustrating,“ Sadler said. „I don’t have many years left. I’m trying to field a childhood dream, and I didn’t know it was going to come down to a guy that is not even racing for anything. It’s disrespectful.
„Within 10 laps to go, he’s not racing a soul.“