By Jerry Bonkowski
Special to NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
JOLIET, Ill. -- As if the temperatures at Chicagoland Speedway were not hot enough on Saturday in preparation for Sunday's STP 300 Nationwide Series race, Elliott Sadler was even hotter, still seething over the wreck he had with series leader Regan Smith last week at New Hampshire.
"I'm still pissed about it and Regan knows that," Sadler said. "He knows where I stand; he took 100 percent of the blame (and) understood why I'm upset."
Smith called Sadler during the week to apologize about the wreck, fully taking the blame. Even team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. reached out to Sadler to try and make amends.
"It was a situation I felt I needed to call, even though it was not one of those calls you really don't want to make, when you say, 'Hey, I wrecked you. It's my fault. Sorry,' " Smith said. "You don't know how that call is going to go and what's going to take place.
"It was pretty obvious from the start that I took blame for the wreck. My right front got into his left rear and there's really no denying it. It was a situation where it was the end of the race, I was trying to be aggressive and was trying to get positions and felt like I had a pretty big run.
"I made the move and got pushed down lower than I wanted to on corner entry. Yes, he did give me room after that, but the problem was I was already losing my nose at that point and I was already getting ready to get into him. With that said, was that the right move there? Probably not for our situation with the points and stuff like that. But the fact of the matter is it happened, I made a move and you can't take it back."
But Smith's apology and explanation of what happened apparently wasn't enough to cool Sadler's temper.
"It's a courtesy thing," Sadler said. "We usually all have a good gentlemen's agreement with each other. If we have an issue, we'll come talk it out and go from there.That's why I confronted him after the race, I wanted him to know I didn't appreciate it, we talked about it and he was very nice and upfront about it and I was too, and we'll go from there."
While he wishes Sadler accepted his apology, Smith said he'd likely feel the same way if he was in Sadler's shoes.
"I understand his anger 100 percent," Smith said. "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 this week (in the special Nationwide Series Dash 4 Cash bonus program), and who knows if he would have gotten it or not."
And Smith regrets the way a long friendship with Sadler is now on the rocks.
"I lost the respect of one of my competitors based upon what happened last Saturday and I'm fully aware of that, and I'm also man enough to stand up and say I caused a wreck and if that's what's going to come back as repercussions, then that's fine," Smith said. "But we're also smart enough to know we're going to race each other a lot this year and there's a lot of racing left to go and both teams are strong race teams that are going to have opportunities at the championship."
Despite Smith's apology, Sadler said he will race his opponent differently from here on out.
"We talked and agreed our racing is going to change a little bit between us," Sadler said. "But we know we're going to be racing around each other a lot between now and Homestead. They feel they have a chance to win the championship and we feel we like we have a chance amongst other drivers, so we're probably going to see each other a lot between now and November."
Smith said, "It's a situation where going forward, I'm sure he's going to race me considerably harder than he has in the past and that's to be expected. I would do the same."
But at the same time, Sadler -- who is currently fifth in the Nationwide standings, 24 points behind the series-leading Smith -- said he won't let his anger get in the way of his focus - even though after last Saturday's race, Sadler said in the heat of the moment, "Regan Smith will not win the championship this year. I'll make sure of it."
"My number one goal is to win the championship and win races," Sadler said. "The effect of me and how I race Regan is going to change as far as giving room and give and take and stuff like that. ... I'm focused on what we're doing as a team and how we're running and things that way. I just think we're here to win the championship, period. And as good as we've been running the last month or so, I don't think he's going to run good enough to run with us anyway."
Even though the feud continues, there was a bit of levity about the incident, at least on Smith's part.
"I don't know if I've ever had an incident with him," Smith said of Sadler, adding with a chuckle, "Hell, we got spun off his bumper at Daytona this year and I haven't even brought that up."
Austin Dillon even chimed in with his thoughts, not minding to stir the pot a bit, if necessary.
"I love it," Dillon said. "I hope they're mad at each other. If not, I'm going to tell Elliott that Regan is talking about him behind his back."
PASTRANA HOPES LUCK WILL TURN HIS WAY
Travis Pastrana will be the first to admit it has been a struggle in his first full Nationwide Series season. The former extreme sports star struggled during the first third of the season, but he has begun to turn things around and is looking ahead to continue his forward progress in the second half of 2013.
"I think every driver wants to win and we haven't got a win yet, that's for sure," said Pastrana, currently 14th in the Nationwide standings, 205 points behind series leader Regan Smith. "We haven't even got a top-five yet, actually. To be perfectly honest, we were well off the pace (earlier in the season).
"Like in Kentucky, I was quickest in practice, qualified second. We're finding the speed. The problem is the harder I try to drive, the more crashes we're getting into, the more mistakes I've been making."
Pastrana has wrecked out four times in his last 10 starts, but he still believes he's making good strides.
"On a positive note, I'm learning what to tell the team about where I need the car after practice to make my best run in the race and I really think we're making some great progress," he said.
Pastrana has been leaning on Roush Fenway Racing teammates Trevor Bayne and especially former two-time NNS champ Ricky Stenhouse Jr. for advice. And even though he doubts he'll end his rookie season in the top-10, he's still hopeful to get his first win before the season finale.
"I'm still not as good at this sport, but I believe I can get there," Pastrana said. "That's debatable at this juncture, but we're working hard and I think the second half of the season is looking good.
"I'm a good ways off right now (for his first win). We'd have to get a real lucky first win - but I'd rather be lucky than good any day."
FOUR RACES IN THE NEXT WEEK FOR DILLON
In a span of eight days, Austin Dillon is going to be a very busy race car driver. On Sunday, he races in the Nationwide Series' STP 300 at Chicagoland Speedway.
On Wednesday, he climbs back into a race truck for the first time since he won the 2011 Camping World Truck Series championship to compete in the first trucks race on dirt in the CarCash Mudsummer Classic Presented by CNBC Prime's The Profit at Eldora Speedway.
"I'm really excited," Dillon said. "I feel like we'll have a shot to win. Eldora is a place I grew up dirt racing on, set the pole for the World 100 once and feel like it's an unbelievable opportunity that NASCAR is giving us drivers to go and run on dirt.
"I'm looking forward to it and I think it's going to be a great race, and if all goes well, I think you'll see more of those come around. I'm just excited to be in the inaugural dirt race in the truck series."
Three days later, he will race in the Indiana 250 at the fabled Indianapolis Motor Speedway, followed the next day by his first career appearance in Sunday's Brickyard 400 Sprint Cup Series race.
"It's going to be a pretty busy week and I'm looking forward to it," Dillon said. "As far as starting the Brickyard 400, I think it's going to be a very emotional day. Our first one is going to be very special."
Dillon, who has finishes of sixth, fifth and third in his last three Nationwide races, comes into Sunday's race third in the NNS standings just 12 points behind series leader Regan Smith.
"We've been able to win a truck race here (at Chicago), been successful here in the past and coming to a mile-and-a-half right now I think is really good for our team," Dillon said. "We've showed some speed this year at mile-and-a-halves and I really love this place. It's got a lot of character; we've had a good week leading up to it and I'm just excited about being in Chicagoland."
Dillon, who is one of four drivers in the hunt for the $100,000 Nationwide Dash 4 Cash prize Sunday (along with Brian Vickers, Brian Scott and Michael Annett), is still looking for his first win of the season and thinks he has a pretty good chance to do so at Chicagoland the same day.
"It's been a real good year as far as speed, a decent year as far as us getting the finishes we deserve. Things are starting to turn at the right time. We're still going to take our same mentality into everything and just try to win races because foremost we want to get that first win off our back."
He'd like nothing better than to be singing Frank Sinatra's famous song, "Chicago, it's my kind of town," if he is fortunate enough to win Sunday's race.
"I sure hope so," Dillon said. "I love this town and the city. It's a great place to come and see and we love coming here to Chicagoland."
VICKERS LOOKS TO WIN TWO IN A ROW
After winning last Sunday's Sprint Cup race at New Hampshire, Brian Vickers hopes to make it two wins in a row in Sunday's STP 300 Nationwide Series race at Chicagoland Speedway.
Asked if, after all the things he has endured in recent years -- including health issues, loss of his ride because of the team folding and lack of sponsorship for another Sprint Cup ride -- does he feel vindication with his win at New Hampshire, Vickers took pause.
"For me, it was just a very special moment," Vickers said. "I don't know if that's a word I've thought of. I suppose you could apply that. But I think more than anything for me, it was just enjoy the moment and a very special occasion and I'm very thankful and blessed to be have the opportunity to get back in a race car.
"To be able to race again period, much less to have the opportunity with a team and crew and a sponsor like Aaron's that gave me the opportunity to win again."
Vickers is sixth in the Nationwide standings, 46 points behind series leader Regan Smith, and is one of four drivers competing for the $100,000 Dash 4 Cash bonus in Sunday's race.
"I'm excited about being here," Vickers said. "Chicagoland's a great racetrack and obviously the opportunity to race for an extra $100,000 with the Nationwide Series Dash 4 Cash is pretty cool. I look forward to accomplishing that goal and capturing victory."