Sadler Believes He Made The Right Move
As drivers fired engines in February at Daytona to begin another season of NASCAR racing, Elliott Sadler found himself starting a new, unexpected venture.
The team he was driving for had its hauler parked in the Nationwide Series garage, a place he hadn’t called home since he competed there full-time in 1997 and 1998.
After a dozen years of racing in the Sprint Cup Series, Sadler, an Emporia, Va. native, had to take a step back in hopes of rebuilding his career. He’s now passing under green flags that wave on Saturdays instead of Sundays.
At the end of the 2010 season, Sadler was faced with a choice. He could remain in the Sprint Cup Series and struggle to run up front, or take a top-flight Nationwide Series ride with Kevin Harvick Inc., and have a strong chance of being crowned champion come November.
In the end, it was an easy choice.
Considering every race driver strives to have strong cars and engines, Sadler knew he had made the right decision. After poor finishes in the first three races of 2011, he logged seven top-fives and nine top-10s and a pole position and is currently leading the division point standings.
“This is fun for me,” Sadler says. “I show up every week with a chance to run up front, get a top-five, lead laps and sit on poles. This is not pressure. This is what we’re supposed to do.
“Pressure is showing up with a knife at a gun fight for three years. That’s pressure. This is fun.”
Sadler’s best season in Sprint Cup came with Robert Yates Racing in 2004. He logged two wins that year and earned a place in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Sadler left Yates to join Evernham Motorsports on Aug. 29, 2006 and over time, George Gillett bought into the team that later became Richard Petty Motorsports.
Those arrangements came with new corporate business philosophies. Sadler was ousted.
But he held firm to his contract and threatened to settle the matter in court. As a result, he remained in the ride, but the economic crisis meant layoffs, which contributed to a lack of performance on the track.
The numbers really told the story. Sadler could only muster 16 top-10 finishes in 108 starts with the organization. Feeling he was at a huge disadvantage, it was time to make a change.
While explaining his dilemma to motorsports reporters at Charlotte, Sadler used an analogy with which everyone could relate.
“I see all you guys in here with your cool computers and you probably have the latest and greatest technology,” Sadler said. “Say I give you a story right now to break, it’ll be the biggest story ever and I give you guys a computer and give one of you a hammer, chisel and a stone.
“That doesn’t make a difference for him. I want him to write the story before the other guy finishes it. If not, I don’t want to hear excuses, he should be able to do that.
“That’s kind of the same thing I went through.”
RPM went through a major restructuring in 2010 with yet another management team now calling the shots. With Sadler’s contract complete at the end of that year, the new business model called for two cars with A.J. Allemndinger and Marcos Ambrose at the controls.
Sadler didn’t have to search too far to find Richard Childress Racing’s Kevin Harvick, a championship-caliber driver who is building strong Nationwide and Camping World Truck teams.
Harvick saw the chance to get a well-established winner in his stable.
“The first three weeks it didn’t work out the way I thought it would but I think as they settled in, it’s by far the most experienced team we’ve ever had as a company,” Harvick says. “To put his experience in there with them, it has all kind of meshed together and we’ve had to make some adjustments along the way.
“For Elliott, I think the biggest adjustment he’s had to make is just to get comfortable racing in the top five every week. That’s just something he hasn’t got to do over the last several years but it’s something he’s been accustomed to through his Cup career, winning races.
“You don’t necessarily forget how to do that but you forget how many small things come with that to be able to compete on a week-to-week basis.”
Harvick feels progress has been made toward getting Sadler to victory lane on a consistent basis. The second half of the season may provide that.
“They’ve got the top-five stuff down, now the next step is to take it to the next level and start winning some races,” Harvick says. “I think they are at that stage but it’s been a great process to see it evolve and I’m very happy with what the team has done and with what Elliott has done. He fits right in.”
There’s plenty of competition in the Nationwide Series to keep Sadler sharp. After all, he still gets to mix it up with many of the Cup regulars.
“I’ve read the things written about the Nationwide guys having a tough time racing against the Cup guys,” Sadler says. ”If you sit back and think, look at the Cup drivers the Nationwide drivers race against. Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, These are not dull guys we’re racing against.
“But we need that. It’s good for our sponsors and good for our sport, especially for all the younger kids trying to make it in the sport. I think the competition in the Nationwide Series … the top-15 cars are as good as I’ve seen in a long time. There is a lot of Cup affiliation in the Nationwide garage.”
Sadler says he does look over to the Sprint Cup garage and realize he’s not there. But he’s also willing to look at the big picture and enjoy the opportunity he’s been given.
“I do miss the Cup series. I would be lying if I said I didn’t miss racing on Sundays,” Sadler says. “Do I miss the situation I’ve been in the past couple of years? Heck no!
“I’ve learned this sport is a whole lot more fun when you have a team around you and a supporting cast around you that believes in you and wants to do well week in and week out.
“If you don’t have a team around you that doesn’t believe in you, it’s just not going to work out. It’s hard enough as it is.
“I think we take for granted just how hard NASCAR racing really is. There are a lot of great race teams and a lot of great race cars. But if you don’t have the whole team pulling in the right direction, it makes it tough. If you feel like you’re out there by yourself, it makes it hard.”
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