Elliott Sadler experienced the highest of highs, and the lowest of lows at Pocono International Raceway this past weekend. Sadler won the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race on Saturday, driving the GT Vodka Chevrolet Silverado for Kevin and Delaina Harvick. It was a long awaited win for Sadler, who has seen little success in recent years. Like Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Sadler needed a confidence boost, and he got one the same way that Earnhardt did- by stepping down to a lesser series, winning the Nationwide Series race at Daytona last month.
Unfortunately, and also reminiscent of Earnhardt, Sadler's victory on Saturday did not translate to success on Sunday. The first win of the season for Greg Biffle, Roush Racing, and Ford was overshadowed by an incredibly violent crash caused when Elliot Sadler spun trying to avoid Kurt Busch's Penske Miller Lite Dodge. Jimmie Johnson tapped Busch, sending him spinning into the infield. TV viewers saw Busch's crash, the impact hard enough to knock the whole wheel assembly off of the left front.
The cameras missed most of Sadler's wreck, however. All that was captured on video was the impact of Sadler's car with the guardrail, a vivid image of Sadler's body being thrown violently against the seat belt and harnesses. When the crash was ended, the TV cameras focused on a smoking lump on the track apron that turned out to be the engine from Sadler's Richard Petty Motorsports Ford Fusion.
Veteran race fans flashed back to Don MacTavish's fatal crash at Daytona in the '60's, when the engine separated from the car after hard wall impact during a tire test. NASCAR has now confirmed what many observers had speculated- that Sadler's crash was the hardest impact recorded since black box recording devices were installed in cars to record G-forces in accidents. NASCAR seldom discloses these exact numbers, but the highest figure released prior to this week was the incredible 80 G's incurred when Kyle Petty hit the wall at Bristol in 2003.
Elliot Sadler's crash points out two important facts about NASCAR. First, races are run one at a time, and what you did yesterday or the day before means nothing in today's race. Secondly, while the Nextel Cup race car of today has many critics, no one can seriously question whether it is safer than cars of the past. The fact that Elliott Sadler lives to race again is evidence enough.