It was an emotional moment for longtime friends Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Elliott Sadler when the checkered flag flew Friday night at Richmond Raceway.
When the race was over, Earnhardt, who led won his first ever NASCAR stage, led a race-high 96 laps and finished fourth in a one-off race, hugged Sadler, who has driven the No. 1 OneMain Chevy for Earnhardt’s JR Motorsports Xfinity team since 2016 and is retiring at the end of 2018.
“Well that’s his last race [at Richmond] and my last race with him,” Earnhardt said. “A little emotional. We’ve been really close friends since we raced late models together, and it just dawned on me in that moment, I was like, ‘We’ll never race again together.’
“I’m glad that he’s enjoying it — you know, when we got together [at JR Motorsports], I was like man, you know I hope I can give him everything he needs and get him back to Victory Lane, and we’ve done that, the only thing we haven’t gotten him is a championship, and we came close last year. Hopefully we’ll get him close again and he can seal the deal. What a lot of fun working with your buddies.
For Emporia, Virginia native Sadler, it was a special final race on his home track, and a final race against his friend.
“[Dale] and Kelley [Dale’s sister Kelley Earnhardt Miller] have meant so much to me, and my career these last few years, almost a rejuvenation of life,” Sadler said.
“It really hit me when my kids did the gentleman, you know, ‘Daddy, start your engines,’ and I could hear them, man, that hit me hard. I do have a lot of family and friends here and I love them to death and they know that, and they know what this race meant to me. … to be the last time on this track, I don’t have a win, but I have a lot of great memories here.”
Sadler, who has been in NASCAR since 1995, won 17 times across NASCAR’s three series, with his last Xfinity Series victory coming at Kentucky in 2016. Although he’s never won a national series championship, he’s finished second in Xfinity points four times and ended no worse than sixth in each of the past seven seasons.