Elliott Sadler had held off Kasey Kahne and Mark Martin to win the Pop Secret 500 Sunday at California Speedway and all but clinch a spot in the Chase for the Nextel Cup. So crew chief Todd Parrott was already smiling.
But Parrott's grin ramped up a couple of notches as soon as the topic of how Sadler had been coping with the pressure of nailing down a spot in the top 10 was broached.
"It has been so much fun to watch him," Parrott said. "He doesn't know it, but I've had a great time. It's cool to see the intensity in his face and to see somebody who cares about what they're doing and what they want so bad."
Sadler has been in the top 10 after every race this year, but he's also been close enough to the crevasse between 10th and 11th under this year's championship format to keep him in a nearly constant tizzy.
"The last month has been like a circus around me," said Sadler, who needs only to start Saturday's race at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway to lock up his Chase berth. "I've been about to throw up before every race."
Sadler was particularly on edge before last week's race at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.
"I was just white as a ghost before the race started," Sadler said. "I blew out my uniform -- I was trying to zip it up, and it didn't zip. I had to race the whole Bristol race with my uniform open. I had to duct tape it up. It was a big mess."
Sadler finished fifth at Bristol and came to California with a car he'd finished third in at Indianapolis.
Sadler goes into the race in his home state with an enormous sense of relief and, now, anticipation of the battle for the title that will follow during the season's final 10 events.
"I think we can win this championship," said Sadler, an Emporia, Va., native whose previous career-best points finish is 20th but who now knows he'll be going to NASCAR's awards ceremony in New York City as one of this year's top 10. "Everybody asks me every year, 'Are you going to New York?' I'm not going to New York unless I get an award on stage."