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Ricky Stenhouse Jr. leads tight Nationwide Series title chase to Texas

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (6) and Elliott Sadler bring their battle for the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship to Texas Motor Speedway.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (6) and Elliott Sadler bring their battle for the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship to Texas Motor Speedway.

The NASCAR Nationwide Series heads to Fort Worth this week for the O'Reilly Auto Parts Challenge - one of three stops left on the 2011 schedule - with just 15 points separating the top two championship contenders.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has held the points lead for the past 11 races - the longest stint any driver has led the standings all season - and his position atop the championship has been fueled by two wins and 23 top-10 finishes, including 14 among the top five.

Trailing just 15 points behind Stenhouse Jr. is NASCAR veteran Elliott Sadler, whose season has been paced by 22 top 10s, including 12 among the top five, but no visits as yet to Victory Lane.

"The biggest things that I think us, as a race team, worry about are the things you can't really control on the weekend," Stenhouse Jr. said. "Your transmissions, your engines, etc. Now that we have the lead, we've prided ourselves the whole time on not making mistakes.

"We made mistakes (at Kansas) and fortunately for us we bounced back from it and finished in the top five, but we can't have those mistakes on pit road being a big issue. It's tough in these Nationwide races to come back. The competition is so stout throughout the field that it's tough to just start at the back and come up to the front.

The series is coming off a two-week break after running at Charlotte, where Stenhouse Jr. and Sadler finished ninth and fourth, respectively. Both Stenhouse Jr. and Sadler feel comfortable behind the wheel at the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway, but Sadler has an advantage in terms of experience. Sadler has made seven Nationwide Series starts at Texas - including a best of second - but he also has 18 Sprint Cup starts as well, including a victory in 2004. Stenhouse Jr. has just three Nationwide starts at Texas Motor Speedway.

"I'm pumped to go back to Texas," Sadler said. "We had a great race there back in the spring with a top-five finish. Texas is a track that I've had success at in the past, including a win in the Cup Series back in 2004. I have a lot of confidence coming back here, especially after doing so well here in the past.

"We feel good about our team, about our car and about our plan to battle for this championship. Our team has done their part, so we just have to go out there and put all the pieces of the puzzle together. I'm looking forward to a great race as we try to get our best finish and gain the most points that we can."

Despite the lack of starts at Texas compared to Sadler, Stenhouse Jr. has improved in each visit and is coming off his best qualifying effort (4th) and finish (5th) in April's O'Reilly Auto Parts 300.

"(Texas) is a race track that I've liked since I got there," Stenhouse Jr. said. "It was the first mile-and-a-half track that I ran wide open at when I first got there and really felt comfortable at. I feel like it's a drivers' track and you really have to stand up in the seat and use a lot of throttle and that's the kind of tracks I like."