NNS: Hard luck night at Daytona for Elliott Sadler

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Elliott Sadler’s rough night on Friday at Daytona International Speedway has cost him the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship lead.

Sadler paced 28 laps in the first half of the Subway Firecracker 250, but after pitting on Lap 36, he had to re-visit pit road under green on Lap 44 due to a loose wheel on his car.

The extra stop ultimately knocked him off the lead lap but a caution at Lap 52 for debris enabled him to get the free pass and return to the lead lap.

From there, he worked his way back toward the Top 10 and was in 12th coming to a restart with three laps left in the scheduled 100-lap event.

But as the race went green, Chase Elliott was unable to get going from the front row as his car ran out of gas. That stacked his inside line and Sadler was among several cars who were sent spinning into the infield grass.

The race eventually finished under Green-White-Checkered, and Sadler took the checkered flag in 21st place. As a result, he’s now 12 points down to new series points leader Regan Smith as the scene shifts to New Hampshire next weekend.

Smith was leading the race at the start of the G-W-C, but lost the trophy to Kasey Kahne in a thrilling finish. Meanwhile, Sadler was left to contemplate a missed opportunity.

“We just had a loose left-rear wheel and that was a shame,” he told ESPN. “[Joe Gibbs Racing teammate] Kyle [Busch] and I had worked so great together all night when we wanted to. We really set the pace and made it hard on everybody else – and then we shot ourselves in the foot.

“We can’t be doing this many more times…On the tracks that we run the best at, we’ve got to get the most points and we weren’t able to do that tonight. So, we’ve dug ourselves a hole, and we gotta regroup and come back at New Hampshire.”

Teammates James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens earn top-fives at Barber

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For the first time this season, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammates James Hinchcilffe and Robert Wickens earned top-five finishes in the same race at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala.

Hinchcliffe finished third in the Grand Prix of Alabama; Wickens was one spot behind in fourth.

Wickens had one previous podium at Phoenix with his second-place finish. Hinchcliffe’s best result was a fourth in the season-opener in St Petersburg, Fla., so this marked his first podium of the year.

Both drivers needed a little help from the rain.

As precipitation began to fall in the closing stages of the race, Hinchliffe asked his team on a couple of occasions if it was wet enough to pit for rain tires. He was told twice to stay out and was then called into to the pits at the optimal time.

“Solid weekend for us after coming here before – not a great test,” Hinchcliffe said. “Two cars in the top 10 qualifying; two cars, top five in the race. Pretty proud of these boys, everybody on the Arrow car.”

The rain helped Wickens’ race strategy come together.

“I was having to save a lot of fuel in that second stint,” Wickens said. “So once (Scott) Dixon starting getting close to me I was thinking ‘Oh God, I’m going to actually have to give this one up.’ And then the rain came, so the fuel mileage happened naturally. So, yeah, it saved us a bit.”

And while both were pleased with their top-five finishes, drivers are rarely satisfied unless they are standing on the top step of the podium.

Wickens’ top-five finish was hard-fought. After winning the pole at St Petersburg and starting sixth at Phoenix, he failed to advance to the Fast 6 in back-to-back races at Long Beach and Barber – qualifying 10th both times.

“I was a little gutted that we came out in a big bunch of traffic,” Wickens continued. “It made the race fun, but a little frustrating as well because of people off sequence and whatnot. We lost a lot of track position there. Both of us could have been fighting for higher steps on the podium, but we need to do a little better job in qualifying. “