Elliott Sadler heads back to Victory Lane in Nationwide at Talladega

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Elliott Sadler successfully held off the swarm in the final three laps to win the NASCAR Nationwide Series’ Aaron’s 312 at Talladega Superspeedway for his first NNS triumph in almost two years.

In the final dash to the checkers, Sadler was pushed on the bottom by David Ragan while Chris Buescher and Regan Smith hooked up on the outside.

That was how they looked as they crossed the stripe side-by-side at the white flag, but in the end, Sadler was finally able to clear Buescher and lead the pack home in a clean finish.

“We just got on the inside line and we just had to make some good moves, and the sea kind of opened up for us,” Sadler said to ESPN. “It means a lot to me to get these guys in Victory Lane. I disappointed them last year when I wasn’t able to do it.

“To do it at Talladega – everybody’s always asking [me] about flippin’ at Talladega. [Darn it], man, we’ve won one at Talladega, so this feels a lot better.”

The stage was set for a wild finish with 10 laps remaining, when Chad Boat was spun hard into the inside backstretch wall to bring out the caution flag.

David Starr had been able to get in front of JR Motorsports’ trio of drivers (Smith, Elliott and Kasey Kahne) in the short green run that began with 14 to go, but lost the lead to Elliott right before the race went yellow for Boat’s wreck.

Elliott would lead the field to the restart with six laps to go, but quickly fell back on the outside. Then, as the field went into Turn 3, Elliott Sadler and Ryan Blaney made contact while fighting for the lead.

Blaney skidded into the outside wall then came back down into Elliott, who in turn sent Jeremy Clements hard into the wall. Kahne and Ryan Sieg were also impacted by the incident, which triggered a red flag period of just over nine minutes.

When the cars got rolling again under yellow, Sadler was now leading ahead of Buescher, Ragan, Smith and Starr. The green came back with three to go, and Sadler was forced to play some great defense before finally earning a hard-earned W.

“Under the red flag, I was playing all these scenarios in my head – really on how many races I’ve lost in the last couple of laps by not making the right decision,” Sadler said.

“But we just stayed to the bottom and stuck to our guns. David Ragan did a good job pushing us and we were just able to hold those guys off at the end.”

Today’s race proved to be a war of attrition, as the Sadler-Blaney incident was just one of several crashes that kept crossing out potential winners.

On Lap 45, James Buescher was tagged by Blaney in Turn 3 and spun to the bottom, where he ended up hitting Darrell Wallace Jr. and Dylan Kwasniewski.

Wallace was especially frustrated, declaring flatly “I hate plate racing.”

“I’m gonna be the Debbie Downer here,” said Wallace, a regular in the Camping World Truck Series. “I’m not looking forward to Talladega for the Truck race. That’s just the way it goes.”

Then on Lap 62, Brian Scott – who had won the pole just hours earlier for tomorrow’s Sprint Cup main event – was caught in an eight-car pileup that began after he was spun by Trevor Bayne in Turn 3.

Scott’s teammates at Richard Childress Racing, Ty Dillon and Brendan Gaughan, were also involved in the crash (Gaughan was knocked out of the race along with Scott, while Dillon kept going and finished 15th).

NASCAR NATIONWIDE SERIES AT TALLADEGA
Aaron’s 312 – Unofficial Results
1. Elliott Sadler, led 40 laps
2. Chris Buescher, led 1 lap
3. Regan Smith, led 20 laps
4. David Ragan
5. Sam Hornish Jr.
6. Joe Nemechek
7. J.J. Yeley, led 1 lap
8. Landon Cassill
9. David Starr, led 5 laps
10. Trevor Bayne
11. Joey Gase, led 1 lap
12. Mike Bliss
13. John Wes Townley
14. Tommy Joe Martins
15. Ty Dillon, led 3 laps
16. Jeffrey Earnhardt
17. Eric McClure
18. Dakoda Armstrong
19. Chase Elliott, led 3 laps
20. Ryan Sieg
21. Ryan Blaney, one lap down, led 2 laps
22. Kasey Kahne, Lap 111, Accident
23. Jeremy Clements, led 1 lap, Lap 111, Accident
24. Ryan Reed, Lap 108, Running, led 29 laps
25. Chad Boat, Lap 107, Accident
26. Josh Wise, Lap 91, Engine
27. Jamie Dick, Lap 87, Running
28. Mike Harmon, Lap 86, Accident
29. James Buescher, Lap 86, Running
30. Kyle Larson, Lap 78, Running
31. Darrell Wallace Jr., Lap 74, Running
32. Robert Richardson Jr., Lap 63, Engine
33. Brian Scott, Lap 61, Accident
34. Brendan Gaughan, Lap 61, Accident
35. Dylan Kwasniewski, Lap 43, Accident
36. Bobby Gerhart, Lap 31, Engine
37. Carl Long, Lap 14, Electrical
38. Jeff Green, Lap 4, Vibration
39. Matt DiBenedetto, Lap 3, Vibration
40. Blake Koch, Lap 1, Vibration

F1 Preview – 2018 French Grand Prix

Photo: Getty Images
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It’s hard to believe that the French Grand Prix, the oldest grand prix event on the planet, as it dates back to June of 1906, was ever removed from the Formula 1 calendar.

Alas, not since 2008 at Magny-Cours has Formula 1 held a race on French soil. Yet, that all changes this weekend, as Formula 1 visits the Circuit Paul Ricard for its first French race in a decade.

Formula 1 teams are not strangers to Paul Ricard. It has been a popular testing facility for years, as evidenced by the below photo from 2016, featuring Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari in a wet tire test.

LE CASTELLET, FRANCE – JANUARY 26: Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Scuderia Ferrari drives during wet weather tire testing at Circuit Paul Ricard on January 26, 2016 in Le Castellet, France. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

However, in terms of racing, Paul Ricard has also been absent from the calendar for quite a long time – the last time Formula 1 race at Paul Ricard was in 1990. Alain Prost won for Ferrari that day.

1990: Alain Prost of France punches the air in celebration after passing the chequered flag in his Scuderia Ferrari to win the French Grand Prix at the Paul Ricard circuit in Le Beausset, France. Mandatory Credit: Pascal Rondeau/Allsport

As such, despite being a known quantity as a testing facility, how a race weekend will shake out is anybody’s guess.

And what’s more, it marks the beginning of three consecutive race weekends – The French Grand Prix, The Austrian Grand Prix, and The British Grand Prix – which F1 teams and drivers are calling “the triple header.”

Talking points ahead of the French Grand Prix are below.

A Journey Into the Unknown?

Like all new venues, or resurrected and refurbished ones in this case, the Circuit Paul Ricard represents somewhat of an unknown, as there’s no available race data to make predictions off of.

And the 3.61-mile, 15-turn track itself represents a range of challenges. It has fast corners, like Turns 1 and 2 (S de la Verrerie), a technical section between Turns 3 and 7 (Virage de l’Hotel through the Mistral Straight Start), and a 1.1-mile straightaway in the Mistral Straight, though it is separated by a chicane (Turns 8 and 9).

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff discussed the challenge of the circuit, highlighting the lack of data to build off of as well the tough three-race stretch ahead as especially challenging, in a preview on Formula 1’s website.

“France should be an interesting race. We don’t often get to race on a track where we have little to no historical data. It makes preparing for the weekend a bit trickier than usual, but that element of the unknown also adds to the challenge. The French Grand Prix marks the first race of the triple header, which will test all F1 teams to their limits, but also offers the chance to score a lot of points over the course of three weeks – which is precisely what we’re setting out to do,” said Wolff.

That element of the unknown makes Paul Ricard one of the biggest wildcards on the 2018 F1 calendar, and a championship shake up could be in the cards as a result.

Ferrari, Mercedes Continue Their Back and Forth

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 25: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H leads Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 on track during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 25, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Ferrari and Mercedes have traded jabs throughout the 2018 season, with neither able to pull away from the other so far through seven races.

Sebastian Vettel enters the French Grand Prix with a one-point lead over Lewis Hamilton, and holds a slight edge in victories – three to Hamilton’s two – and comes off a thorough domination of the Canadian Grand Prix.

Vettel led every lap at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on his way to victory, while Valtteri Bottas had to carry the Mercedes flag in finishing second. Hamilton languished in fifth, a surprising and disappointing result given his previous success there.

The aforementioned Toto Wolff described it as a “wake up call,” though Mercedes will roll out a power unit upgrade this weekend – Ferrari and Renault, which also powers Red Bull Racing, rolled out upgrades of their own in Canada.

With four long straightaways present at Paul Ricard, power will certainly be at a premium, so such upgrades will be vital in giving Mercedes a chance to make amends after Canada’s disappointment.

Trio of French Drivers Look to Impress on Home Soil

It comes hardly as a surprise that the three French drivers – Romain Grosjean, Pierre Gasly, and Esteban Ocon – are keen to make an impression at their home race.

And all three could certainly use a boost. Gasly has only one finish inside the points (seventh in the Monaco Grand Prix) since his stellar fourth place effort in the Bahrain Grand Prix. Ocon is coming off back-to-back points finishes (sixth in Monaco, ninth in Canada), but he has only one other finish inside the points this year (tenth, in Bahrain). And Grosjean, despite showing the speed to finish in the points, is yet to score any in 2018.

As such, all three are hoping for big things in their home race this weekend.

“I want to get a good weekend, have some luck, get my first points of the season, and get a lot of support from the fans,” said Grosjean. “I think we should be in a nice place at Paul Ricard. I’m always looking forward to jumping back in the car. I just love driving an F1 car.”

Ocon, who has raced and won at Paul Ricard in the past, expects his prior experience could be a big help.

“I did race at Paul Ricard early in my career – it was actually where I had my first victory in single seaters in 2013 so I have some fantastic memories of the place,” Ocon described. “I hope we can add some more success this weekend. Having been there in the junior categories makes getting used to a new track in a Formula One car much easier. I think I will find my rhythm quite quickly.”

Gasly’s excitement level obviously matches that of his French compatriots, with the added bonus that the return coincides with his rookie F1 effort.

“For me it will be absolutely incredible that my first full season of Formula 1 coincides with the return of a French Grand Prix to the calendar for the first time in 10 years,” said Gasly. “That has to be a reason for me to be very happy and I’m really excited to be racing in my home country. I can tell it will be a special feeling going out on track and actually, I have spoken to Jean Alesi and Alain Prost about it and they both told me that it will feel really special and something that you really have to experience as a Frenchman racing in France.”

Qualifying for The French Grand Prix begins at 9:55 a.m. ET on Saturday, with Sunday’s race at 9:30 a.m. ET.

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