LONG POND, Pa. -- Tears welled up in Elliott Sadler's eyes as he drove his No. 2 truck past the white flag. Finally, victory was within reach.
After cutting off Matt Crafton's pass attempt inside on a restart, the veteran driver pulled away from Kasey Kahne on the final lap of Saturday's Truck Series race at Pocono for his first NASCAR win in six years.
"You sit at home a lot wondering if you're ever going to make it back to Victory Lane," said Sadler, a former Sprint Cup series contender who has struggled in recent years. "This time, I know it's recent, I know it's today, but it feels like the biggest win of my career."
The inaugural trucks race at Pocono Raceway was a hit with drivers despite a flurry of late mishaps around the 2.5-mile tri-oval. Kahne finished second, Crafton was third and points leader Todd Bodine wound up 12th.
After a relatively smooth start, things got bumpy in the second half of the 125-mile race with drivers often going three-wide -- or sometimes four-wide -- around the turns. The racing down the straightaways was just as exciting to Crafton.
"You get two trucks side-by-side, and you'll be 10 back, and by the end of the front straightaway, you'll be on top of them," Crafton said. "I honestly didn't know with the race what to expect here."
No one was happier than Sadler, whose first trucks win made him the 21st driver to get victories in all three NASCAR series. It was also Sadler's first spin down Victory Lane since finishing first in the Sprint Cup race at Fontana in 2004, when he contended for the title.
Sadler has struggled since then, and Pocono may be just the spark that he was looking for to boost his Sprint Cup fortunes.
"It's hard to put into words what this means to me ... to have a tough couple years like we've had in the Cup series," said Sadler, who hasn't finished better than 17th in a Sprint Cup race this year. He'll start 29th for the 500-mile race Sunday at Pocono.
Other than Sadler, the first Pocono trucks race also featured Sprint Cup stars Kahne and Denny Hamlin, who finished ninth. Each took their shots challenging Sadler, who never strayed too far from the front after starting on the pole.
Kahne took the lead on a restart on lap 44 before Donny Lia and Chase Mattioli got tangled up less than a lap later to bring the caution out. Sadler took the lead on the next restart before Ron Hornaday spun off to bring out another caution.
Sadler started outside on the final restart, turned aside Crafton on the inside, then pulled away for 0.90-second lead in the final lap over Kahne.
"The restarts were crazy because it was drafting so much into Turn 1 and people were getting pushes and two-car tandems," Sadler said, adding that his strategy for the last restart to slow down on the accelerator and make sure drafting wasn't as much of a factor in the first turn.
Kahne, who will also race in Sunday's race, enjoyed his first spin around the track in a truck since 2004. He won both his truck starts that year -- and came close to making it 3 for 3.
Sprint Cup series drivers have typically complained about the length of the 500-mile races at Pocono, but there were no such gripes Saturday with the trucks race.
"It was probably as a front straightaway, or all three straightaways, as best it has been, that I've been on," Kahne said. "Hopefully the trucks come back next year, and race more laps."
Sadler was just fine with the length, which went five laps more than the scheduled 50 because of the late cautions. An anxious Sadler had just 90 minutes of sleep the previous night, optimistic he could do well at Pocono. He called the victory "great timing" for his career.
"I screamed to the top of my lungs when I sat on the pole today," he said, "then to come back and win the race, I felt I was putting all my eggs in this basket to run good in this truck."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press
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