By Jay Cohen
The Associated Press
JOILET, Ill. — Just as predictable as the weekend fender bashing is the awkward conversation a few days later.
This time, it was Elliott Sadler and Regan Smith. And they talked, too. Even Dale Earnhardt Jr. waded into the fray.
The latest NASCAR feud arrived at Chicagoland Speedway on Saturday when Sadler, Smith and rest of the Nationwide drivers held two practice sessions for today’s STP 300. The stop in suburban Chicago comes one week after the championship contenders got into a heated discussion in New Hampshire.
“For him to do what he did at New Hampshire, I’m still ticked about it,” Sadler said. “But we talked and we agree that our racing’s going to change a little bit between us. But we know that we’re going to be racing around each other a lot between now and Homestead.”
That means the dispute could have staying power, especially after the conversation between Sadler and Smith produced little headway.
It all started when Smith spun Sadler around on the final restart in Saturday’s race at Loudon, costing him a shot at a solid top-10 finish and a potential $100,000 bonus. An angry Sadler then confronted Smith after the race, insisting he would not win the series title this year.
“I made the move and I can’t take it back,” Smith said. “I understand his anger 100 percent, and I know exactly where he was coming from. He was racing for a lot of money and the opportunity to race for a lot of money again this week.”
Throwing out what was at stake, Sadler thought the collision was particularly egregious because he felt he handed a big break to Smith when he gave him extra room to maneuver in a tough spot at the series’ stop in Iowa and said he went out of his way to race him cleanly earlier in New Hampshire. The two talked during the week, and Earnhardt, the co-owner of Smith’s No. 7 Chevrolet, also reached out to close friend Sadler.
“We talked and if it’s a situation where we’re going for it, I’m sure he’s going to race me considerably harder than what he has in the past,” Smith said, “and that’s to be expected. I would do the same.”
Sadler, who won last July’s Nationwide race at Chicagoland, shook his head from side to side when asked if he felt any better after the conversation.
“My No. 1 goal is to win the championship and win races,” he said. “The effect of me and how I race Regan is just going to change, as far as giving room and give and take and stuff like that is probably going to change a little bit.”