Story By: HOLLY CAIN / NASCAR – FORT WORTH, TX – Xfinity Series championship leader Elliott Sadler joked several times during Friday’s press conference that he was just glad to come into the Texas Motor Speedway media center and speak formally with the gathered NASCAR press – an opportunity he has looked forward to as the championship points leader.
Sadler joined fellow Xfinity racers Christopher Bell, Justin Allgaier and Garrett Smithley, a 26-year old Georgia native, who proudly noted that Friday’s presser was the first ever in his Xfinity career.
“Pretty cool,’’ Smithley said smiling. “I’ll be a big dork. I’ve been kind of obsessed watching media center footage, so this is pretty cool.’’
Smithley earned a career-best fifth-place finish in February’s Xfinity Series opener at Daytona International Speedway – his first top-five finish in three full-time seasons on the circuit. It was a promising outcome for his No. 0 Chevrolet, which debuts sponsorship from FAME/fame-usa.com this weekend – and one he hopes his team will continue to build off.
This weekend is a chance to make a name and to earn money as part of the series’ Dash 4 Cash program, which debuts next weekend at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway. A good showing would be hugely significant for Smithley and his team. Of course, the entire Xfinity Series field would echo the sentiment.
The top-four finishing Xfinity Series regulars from Saturday’s “My Bariatric Solutions 300” race (3 p.m. ET, FOX, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at the 1.5-mile Texas high banks will qualify to compete in the first round of the popular Dash 4 Cash program next week at Bristol.
The top finisher of the four qualified drivers at Bristol will receive a $100,000 prize. And the top four Xfinity Series regular finishers at Bristol will be eligible for the next Dash 4 Cash race at Richmond (Va.) Raceway. The program continues at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway and Dover [Del.] International Speedway as well, with $100,000 on the line at each venue.
It was certainly top of the mind for Sadler and the rest of his competitors Friday.
“Looking forward to the Dash 4 Cash and we’ll try to qualify this week to be ready for next week,’’ Sadler said.
His JR Motorsports teammate – and fellow championship challenger Justin Allgaier echoed the gratitude for the incentive program.
“The Dash 4 Cash program having it back again, is something for us, it means a lot not only to the drivers but the teams,’’ Allgaier said. “I’m looking forward to it. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. I like the format this go-round. Hopefully we can put ourselves in position. Bristol is a good race track for us.‘’
The teams return to competition this weekend after a two-week break. Sadler – a 2004 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race winner at Texas Motor Speedway – leads the Xfinity Series standings by four points over his JR Motorsports teammate, Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender Tyler Reddick.
Sadler pointed out to media Friday that he was the first driver to ever wheel a race car on the track back in 1997 soon after its construction was finished, but prior to the inaugural April race. And he won here in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series in 2004 – in the closest margin of victory to date at the Fort Worth track; 0.028-seconds over Kasey Kahne.
He does not have a victory at Texas among his 13 Xfinity Series wins, however, he has nine consecutive top-11 finishes here in the last nine races. He’s finished worse than 13th only three times in 20 Xfinity Series starts at Texas and was fourth in the November race here last year. It all bodes well for him as he sets the pace atop the championship standings.
“We’re off to a good start and have some momentum on our side,’’ Sadler said. “We want to keep building on that.
“I’ve learned as a driver, because I’m 42 not 24 years old – it’s all about [the season finale at] Homestead [Fla.], so yes, we’re off to a good start but we’ll keep building on that.
“Keep our emotions level and plug it in the right direction. We look at this race a little differently because it’s the playoffs when we come back.”