NASCAR: Step down moves Sadler up in standings
By Jenna Fryer
CONCORD ó Elliott Sadler will be on standby for Paul Menard on Sunday, just in case the 20 stitches closing a cut in his foot prevent him from completing the Coca-Cola 600.
Itís the closest Sadler will be to a Sprint Cup race so far this season.
After a dozen years racing in NASCARís elite division, Sadler had to take a step back to get his career on track. Heís now one level down, in the Nationwide Series, driving on Saturdays for Kevin Harvick Inc.
Make no mistake, Sadler is hardly slumming.
Heís running up front again, contending for wins for the first time in years, and goes into Saturdayís race at Charlotte Motor Speedway leading the Nationwide standings.
ěThe biggest adjustment heís had to make is just to get comfortable racing in the top five every week,î Harvick said. ěThatís just something he hasnít got to do over the last several years. Winning races, you donít 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.î
Sadler had his share of good days at the top level, beginning with his 2001 victory at Bristol driving for the Wood Brothers. It led him to a ride at Robert Yates Racing and a breakthrough season in 2004, when he won two races, earned a spot in the inaugural Chase for the championship and finished a career-best ninth in points.
Sponsorship issues eventually made the situation at Yates shaky, and Sadler bolted in the middle of the 2006 season for Evernham Motorsports. Thatís where things went bad. Evernham sold majority interest in the team to George Gillett, and a merger eventually morphed Gillett-Evernham Motorsports into Richard Petty Racing.
All those business deals made Sadler the odd man out, and he once had to threaten to sue to stay in the car when the team tried to dump him.
Sadler kept his ride, but layoffs and money woes took its toll and the team was not competitive. Sadlerís performance suffered ó he had only 16 top-10 finishes over the last three years ó and nobody at his organization wanted to hear about his problems.
ěI see all you guys in here with your cool computers and you probably have the latest and greatest technology,î Sadler told reporters. ěSay I give you a story right now to break, itíll be the biggest story ever and I give one of you guys a computer and I give one of you guys a hammer, a chisel and a stone. I want you to write the story before the other guy finishes it. If not, I donít want to hear no excuses, you should be able to do that.
ěThatíd kind of be the same thing I went through.î
RPM was restructured and scaled down to a two-car organization this season, and Sadler was sent on his way. But he refused to sign with an underfunded race team, and had no interest in being a start-and-park driver.
In looking for the most competitive ride, he found Harvick, who offered him a chance to get in stellar equipment again. After a rocky opening three weeks, Sadler has scored seven top-5 finishes in the last nine races.
ěTheyíve got the top-five stuff down … the next step is to take it to the next level and start winning some races,î Harvick said. ěItís been a great process to see it evolve, and Iím very happy with what the team has done and with what Elliott has done.î
Under a new rule that only allows drivers to race for one championship, Sadler doesnít have to worry about Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski in his push for his first NASCAR championship.
Sadler said he feels no pressure to win the title.
ěThis is fun for me. I show up every week with a chance to run up front, get a top-five, lead laps and sit on poles,î he said. ěThis is not pressure. This is what weíre supposed to do. Pressure is showing up with a knife at a gunfight for three years. Thatís pressure. This is fun.
ěI have 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.î