Elliott Sadler 2013 year in review
December 17, 2013, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com
In an interesting turn of timing, Elliott Sadler was among the happiest drivers walking the luxurious halls of the Loews Miami Beach last month. But the source of popular veteran driver’s good mood was not so much the NASCAR Nationwide season being celebrated at the Awards Banquet there that night.
He was smiling about the season to come.
A day earlier, Sadler found out OneMain Financial had re-upped its sponsorship on his No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota for 2014. And only hours before he put on his tux to accept the fourth place trophy for 2013, Sadler got word his other primary sponsor Sport Clips Haircuts was on board for next season too.
"Isn’t it crazy how all that works?" Sadler said after accepting his title hardware.
"Things are tough (economically) so it means a lot and says a lot about the team I race with.
"Everybody knows Coach Gibbs is amazing, leads by example and represents all the good things our sport has to offer. And (team President) JD (Gibbs) is such a good guy that’s why they wanted to come back and partner with JGR."
It also speaks volumes to what people expect of Sadler in 2014 -- particularly what Sadler expects of himself and his team, which returns completely intact.
"To be able to have that opportunity to get those guys some more wins, more poles, maybe a championship, is definitely a goal I take personally," Sadler said. "One thing the sponsors know and they understand is I take very personal what we do on and off the race track representing their brand.
"When we have a good day I’m happy for them as well as myself. When we have a bad day, they’re the first people I think of and that we should have done better for them. I think that’s why our relationship has been so good."
After back-to-back runner-up finishes in the Nationwide championship in 2011-12, Sadler’s fourth place effort in his first season with JGR left him disappointed – although for other drivers, that might have been a career highlight.
He scored 20 top-10 finishes and nine top-fives, including had a pair of runner-up finishes at Darlington, S.C. and Kentucky.
But it was the first time Sadler hadn’t won multiple races and/or pole positions as a full-time competitor in the series. And that weighed on him.
"I give myself a C probably," Sadler said, grading his season. "It was a tough year.
"I think looking back I could have done a better job communicating and it took me a little longer than I wanted to get used to what happens on that side of the fence. But my guys did a good job rebounding."
Sadler climbed as high as second in the championship rankings – after Las Vegas in March and again in August following the Mid-Ohio road course race. But there were dramatic shifts of fate in between.
A frustrating 28th place finish at Dover in June dropped him to a season-low seventh in points – 64 behind then leader Regan Smith. But five consecutive top-10s, including the second place at Kentucky and a third place finish the next week at Daytona put Sadler’s team right back in the title mix for the summer and fall months.
"We all looked at each other in May when we were 70 points out and it was like, 'man we’ve got to keep digging.'
"Look, this stuff is hard. Racing’s hard. People take that for granted. If you drop the ball, someone else is going to pick it up.
"I think a few races this year, we were a little bit off here and a little bit off there and it showed. We did fall behind, but we fought back and that showed a lot of guts in my team and it showed a lot oftrust in each other. I’m proud of how much we fought back in June, July and August to get back in the middle of this thing.
"We definitely have some things to work on and definitely something to build off. I’m looking forward to next year already."