FONTANA, Calif. (AP) – Elliott Sadler gets a little wistful when he thinks about his trip to California Speedway a year ago.

“That was a real good situation,” said the driver of the No. 38 Robert Yates Racing Ford. “Wish we were in that same position today.”

Sadler arrived here last August a solid seventh in the Nextel Cup standings, then solidified his spot in the inaugural Chase for the championship with a victory on the 2-mile oval.

The situation is very different heading into Sunday’s Sony HD 500. Sadler has slumped at just the wrong time, slipping from third place in the standings at the end of June to 13th.

After finishing sixth in Sonoma on June 26, Sadler was just 177 points behind then-series leader Greg Biffle. Now, he’s 645 behind pacesetter Tony Stewart.

But Sadler is only 34 points behind 10th-place Jeff Gordon in the battle for the final spot in the Chase.

For Sadler, who has not won since last year’s race, a victory Sunday would be good medicine.

“My emotions are really good,” he said. “We’re very happy with the way we’ve been running.”

He is very aware of being locked in a battle for a spot in the Chase with all the drivers from eighth in the points to teammate Dale Jarrett, who is 14th, 44 points behind Sadler. Carl Edwards, eighth in the standings is 128 points ahead of Jarrett.

Between them are Ryan Newman, Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Jamie McMurray and Sadler.

Jarrett, who hasn’t won since the second race of the 2003 season, also has fallen out of the top 10 in recent weeks. The performance last Saturday night in Bristol was particularly devastating for the 1999 series champion.

After being bumped by Newman in an apparent accident, Jarrett, usually a cool-headed veteran, appeared to retaliate and was penalized two laps by NASCAR. He finished 31st, slipping almost out of the championship picture.

Jarrett has been mum on that subject this week, keeping his focus on the upcoming race.

“I think Dale is just upset that we’re all trying to race to get into the Chase and he’s not going to take it anymore, and I’m not either,” Sadler said. “We’ve had a couple of guys run over us this year we’re going to stand our ground, and we’re not going to take it anymore.”

Sadler noted that some drivers “run over you each and every week and then just get on TV with a little smile and say they’re sorry and act like everything is OK. That doesn’t stand anymore.

“We’re tired of being the nice guys and try to race clean. We race for a very clean owner who wants to do things the right way. Dale is a great gentleman and a champion in this sport, and probably has more integrity than anybody else in the sport, but you can’t let all these guys run over you. You’ve got to defend yourself.”


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