News & Media

Title-contender Sadler buoyed by turnaround, committment

June 29, 2011, Joe Menzer,

Elliott Sadler said he sensed what was coming toward the end of last Saturday's Bucyrus 200 at Road America in Elkhart, Wis.

It was, after all, a road-course race.

"You kind of know. You get that feeling that the storm is coming," Sadler said. "One thing about road-course racing -- you saw it Saturday at Road America and you saw it Sunday at Infineon [Raceway] -- is that there are certain drivers who feel like that is their one chance to win. That's their one shot at the spotlight; that's their one shot at Victory Lane. Man, it's all or nothing. It's almost like the All-Star Race for those guys; it's bring back the trophy or the steering wheel, and nothing else in between.

"When you bunch cars up like that on a road course, you know people are going to start driving over their heads and dive-bombing into the corners and things like that. It usually creates a lot of excitement for the end of the race and definitely for the fans. ... I think the fans got their money's worth."

So did Sadler, who said he knew what he had to do to achieve his stated pre-race goal of finishing within the top five so he can continue hot pursuit of his stated pre-season goal of capturing the Nationwide Series championship

"It's tough. It's guys who feel like it's now or never, and it's a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately sport. So some guys get on these road courses and feel like it's now or never," Sadler said. "There's nothing wrong with that. But as a different driver, one who is worried about the points, you have to just try to put yourself in position where none of that bad stuff is going to happen to you.

"I'll give you a perfect example: on the first green-white-checkered at Road America on Saturday, I lined up sixth -- right beside Jacques Villeneuve, who was lined up right behind Brian Scott. And I just knew in my mind, I had a funny feeling ... Jacques had gotten a penalty earlier in the race and made his way back up to the front, and I knew he was going to be very aggressive trying to go get the win. So going into the frontstretch, I just pretty much lifted and let those guys go. I did not want to be on the outside of those guys, going three-wide into a corner. And it paid off, being the right move, because those guys ended up getting in a wreck and taking out my teammate Max Papis.

"That's just the way road-course racing is for some guys these days. You've just got to use your head as a driver, especially if you're running for the points -- which on a road course is a big disadvantage, because you can get caught up in somebody else's mess very, very easily and very quickly like Kasey Kahne did on Sunday [in the Sprint Cup Series race] at Infineon. It's tough racing."

By using his head and staying out of trouble Saturday, Sadler finished fourth at Road America and remained second in the Nationwide point standings, only five points behind leader Reed Sorenson, who won Saturday's race when Justin Allgaier ran out of fuel during a caution on the final lap.

"Reed and I talked before the race on Saturday -- because he and I used to be teammates and we're still good friends -- about staying on the track, letting everybody else take care of themselves. Usually you get a good finish, thinking like that," Sadler said. "Congratulations to those guys for pulling out the victory."

What is even more exciting as far as Sadler is concerned is the way his team has rebounded after digging an early hole by finishing 38th in the season-opening event at Daytona International Speedway.

"We're stoked. We're happy as hell. We've really come on in the last month or month and a half," Sadler said. "We feel like after Charlotte, it's been a big turnaround for us. We've got our short-track program going very well, our speedway program is in good shape, and our mile-and-a-half program has really come into its own.

"We led a lot of the race in Chicago and should have won that race, but we had a tire go down there at the end. Michigan, we led some of that race and were in the top two or three all day. ... The point I'm making is that we're running very competitively and up front. If we can keep running that competitive -- with eight top-fives and 11 top-10s in 16 races -- the wins will come. It's not like we're feeling the pressure because we haven't been to Victory Lane yet. Of course we want to go. But we want to get as many points as we can so we're in position to go for the championship at the end."

Sadler said he can't wait to return to Daytona this weekend to hopefully make up for his poor finish in the season's first race this past February.

"The coolest thing about our sport is that NASCAR goes to a different place each and every week. And a lot of times it's a different style of race track," Sadler said. "So this is something we're used to. I always was used to going from Sonoma and then back to Daytona, or onto New Hampshire or Chicago. You're always going to a different place week in and week out, so no big deal.

"We have a great game plan for Daytona this week. To show you what kind of owner I have in Kevin Harvick, he's entered four cars into the Daytona Nationwide race. So everybody has a partner [for drafting], and I've got some great teammates. Everybody knows Tony Stewart's record at Daytona, Clint Bowyer has won some restrictor-plate races there in the past; plus my owner, Kevin Harvick, is a former Daytona 500 champion. But we've got a really good team and a really good game plan for Daytona this weekend, so we're really looking forward to getting there and getting after it in the race."

Sadler is in his first season of driving full time in the Nationwide Series for Kevin Harvick Inc., after spending several years as a full-time driver for various other owners in the Sprint Cup Series. He said he couldn't ask for better owners than Kevin and his wife, DeLana Harvick.

"I tell you what. It's been above and beyond what I expected. He and DeLana both are so hands on with that race team -- not only from the money side and the spending, but from the marketing, from how aggressive they are in going after sponsors, and going after things on the competition side," Sadler said. "They spend a lot of money on testing -- wind-tunnel testing and seven-post stuff. I mean, all those things, as a driver you're in heaven.

"It's great as a driver to have an owner whose No. 1 goal is winning and being competitive. There are no side shows or BS or circus going on. It's just all about competition and racing. It's fun to be a part of.

"I'll give you a perfect example: The car I raced in Daytona, which is one race, went to the wind tunnel more times than I went with any of my Cup cars over the last three years combined. That's telling you how much time, how much effort, how much money that KHI puts out to make sure our cars are competitive every time we come to the race track. We have all the tools we need -- and as a driver, you can't ask for more than that."

Sadler laughed when he was asked if Harvick is getting impatient to see his No. 2 Chevrolet visit Victory Lane.

"He'd like to see us there, no question. But he knows we're coming on and that the wins will come," Sadler said. "He's a very passionate owner. He tells you when you do a good job -- and he also tells you when you mess up. Honestly, that's the best way to be. You always know where you stand. There's no guessing going on. It's a very comfortable situation to be in."