- Asked why he wouldn't just hand the steering wheel over to a relief driver if he was too sick to race, Elliott Sadler proudly recalled a similar situation he encountered earlier in his career.
If he could throw up three times in his helmet and keep driving like he did that day a few years ago, he certainly wasn't going to let some stomach virus get the best of him on Sunday.
To Sadler, it was a test of his toughness.
"I pride myself being in shape, not getting hot," Sadler said. "Because we talk every week about putting extra fans in the car, and I don't need none of that (stuff). I take care of myself at home, I work out a lot and do a lot of stuff outdoors. I'm an outdoors guy. I'm not an air-conditioned gym guy."
After spending most of the week sick in bed, Sadler brushed off questions from team owner Richard Childress about a potential replacement driver, then held off a charge by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on a green-white-checker finish to win the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Chicagoland Speedway on Sunday.
Sadler said he was unable to eat anything beyond a single biscuit before the race, and acknowledged it was taking a toll.
"I'm very, very weak right now," he said.
Childress said he thought about putting a backup driver in place as an insurance policy, but understood why Sadler didn't want to give up the wheel.
"I've seen drivers when it gets down to it, that's worse than giving your wife away, I think," Childress said.
Childress then sheepishly apologized to Sadler's wife, who was sitting off to the side in the postrace interview room.
Stenhouse finished second, followed by Justin Allgaier, Kenny Wallace and Michael Annett.
Wallace's car was found to be too light in postrace inspection. NASCAR officials are expected to determine any penalties early this week.
Stenhouse appeared to have the stronger car and was chasing down Sadler in the closing laps. But a late caution bunched up the field for NASCAR's version of overtime, Sadler got a push from Allgaier on the restart and pulled away.
Had the race gone green until the end, Stenhouse was certain he would have ended up in victory lane.
"We had it won," Stenhouse said.
It was the third win of the season for Sadler, who has eight Nationwide victories in his career. Sadler won at Phoenix and Bristol earlier this season.
He leads the series standings by 11 points over Austin Dillon, who finished sixth.
Track officials held a moment of silence before the race and the No. 24 car driven by Benny Gordon carried the message "Remember Aurora Colorado" on its rear fender.
Danica Patrick finished 14th.
Sunday's race drew a sparse crowd, although no official attendance figure was immediately released. The Sprint Cup Series was off this weekend and will resume racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway next week.
Many of the leaders had just made their final pit stop of the day when Brad Sweet spun to bring out a caution. It was a boost to several drivers, including Sadler, Allgaier and Kyle Busch, who were able to pit under caution.
The ill-timed caution flag hurt several drivers who already had pitted — especially Sam Hornish Jr., who expressed his annoyance to his crew on the radio.
Hornish finished eighth, and questioned his team's strategy after the race.
"We had a good car throughout the race but for some reason, I got talked into pitting early on the final stop," Hornish said. "We were on the same sequence that Sadler was on and we had the better car. They did the right strategy. We didn't. When you have a plan, you need to stick with it, not go do something else."
Sadler led when the race restarted with 28 laps to go.
Stenhouse then made a charge, taking third place from Busch with 20 laps to go and second from Allgaier with 16 to go.
Sadler had a lead of just under 2 seconds, with Stenhouse closing quickly.
Then Hornish tapped the rear bumper of Busch and sent him crashing into Brendan Gaughan with eight laps left, bringing out a caution and bunching up the field.
"Sam Hornish came over and apologized to us," said Rick Ren, the general manager of Busch's team. "He ran into us in the backstretch and turned us into Brendan Gaughan. Sam came over and apologized, Brendan Gaughan came over to see if Kyle was OK. Of course, Kyle had already left."
Stenhouse was hoping officials would stop the race with a red flag to clean up the track and run a few more laps to the finish, but it didn't happen.
Sadler and Stenhouse lined up for the green-white-checker restart, and Allgaier gave Sadler a push when the green flag fell. Sadler surged away and Allgaier couldn't stay in contact.
In the end, a weakened but proud Sadler was the one celebrating, knowing that he had to back up his big talk after he told Childress he could tough it out.
"A lot of pride," Sadler said. "And my big mouth."