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Sadler excited to go for Daytona retribution

January 28, 2012, NASCAR Wire Service, NASCAR.com

WELCOME, N.C. -- After several near-misses, driver gets another shot at 500 with RCR's No. 33

You can't blame Elliott Sadler for thinking that the Daytona 500 might owe him one.

In 2009, Sadler was running fifth and in position to challenge for the victory in the Great American Race when rain stopped the proceedings and made a winner of Matt Kenseth.

"I'm kind of an under-the-radar guy when it comes to speedway racing, but my stats speak for themselves, and we really feel like we can go down there and be very competitive."

--ELLIOTT SADLER

The experience made an indelible impression on Sadler.

"I relive the 2009 Daytona 500 almost every day," Sadler said during the Sprint Media Tour's Wednesday night stop at Richard Childress Racing. "I was so close. In 2002 I was close, finishing second to Ward Burton. If you look at the last 10 Daytona 500s that I was in, my average finish is pretty damn good.

"I'm kind of an under-the-radar guy when it comes to speedway racing, but my stats speak for themselves, and we really feel like we can go down there and be very competitive."

The numbers support Sadler's assertion. In those 10 races, from 2001 through 2010, Sadler posted six top-10s, three top-fives and an average finish of 10.6.

Sadler will have another shot at NASCAR's most prestigious trophy on Feb. 26, thanks to a serendipitous chain of circumstances. Clint Bowyer left RCR at season's end to drive for Michael Waltrip Racing, but the No. 33 car Bowyer drove last year retains its owner points and guaranteed starting spots in the first five Sprint Cup races.

But Sadler had no idea what to expect when he got a call from team owner Richard Childress.

"When Richard called me and told me to come to his office, that he needed to talk to me, you never know what it was about," said Sadler, who will compete for the Nationwide Series title this season. "Richard said, 'Look, if we can get some sponsorship, would you be interested in driving the Daytona 500?'

"I was like, 'Heck, yes.' I wanted to hug him, man. I was just blown away that he would ask me to do it. He said, 'We think it's important to have four cars down there, and we think you can win the race.' That made me feel good. Then Kroger and General Mills came on board. He's had some relationships with them in the past, and they stepped up to the plate and made it happen."

At this point, the 500 is the only Cup race Sadler is scheduled to run for RCR. Brendan Gaughan will drive the No. 33 Chevrolet under sponsorship from his family-owned South Point Hotel Casino in the next four races. Beyond that, RCR has no firm plans to field a fourth Cup car, though additional sponsorship could mean more races for the No. 33.

Not so fast

With Sadler filling out the RCR roster, it might seem logical for Sadler to pair up with teammate Jeff Burton at Daytona -- assuming tandem drafting is still the order of the day -- given that the other two Childress cars, driven by Kevin Harvick and Paul Menard, already are committed to work together.

"I've talked to Jeff Burton about it," Sadler said. "That's probably who I'm going to be paired up with. We're going to meet some more about it before we get down there to make sure we're 100 percent on the same page.

"My spotter [Brett Griffin] who spotted for me for 10 years, is Jeff Burton's spotter, so all that's going to work hand-in-hand."

Burton, however, worked extensively with Regan Smith during mid-January testing at Daytona, before Sadler's deal came together. Smith drives the No. 78 Chevy for Furniture row, which gets chassis, engines and technical support from RCR. To Drew Blickensderfer, Burton's new crew chief, working with a driver who will compete in all four restrictor-plate races has its merits.

"I think, if the 33 were to run every race, I think it would just be common that we would go with the 33," Blickensderfer told the NASCAR Wire Service. "Since the 78 you know will run every race, I think there's a good chance, if we're able to tandem race, we'll be with the 78, because we know at Talladega he'll be there and at the next Daytona he'll be there.

"So Jeff and Regan could work together for an extended period of time and learn each other's nuances. And spotters can work together a lot easier and build a relationship that would improve as the year goes on."

Gaughan's not greedy

In addition to the four Cup races he'll run for RCR, Gaughan has agreed to compete in 10 Nationwide Series events and eight Camping World Truck Series races. Though RCR vice president of competition Mike Dillon intimated that more Cup races could follow, pending sponsorship, Gaughan is content with the 22 events on his calendar.

"Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered," Gaughan said, in a variation on the Wall Street aphorism. "All I'm looking forward to is four races. I'm not going to sit and say, 'Hey, if I do top-five, we can get [more races]. Nope, if I get top-five, I'm going to sit here and cry my ass off in Victory Lane.

"So I'm going to do everything I can in those four races and let Mr. Childress and Mr. Dillon and the marketing group . . . if they come up with something, I'm not going to say 'No.' If they add some to me, I'm going to be the happiest kid in America. If they don't, I'm still the happiest kid in America."