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Indy victory could be springboard for Sadler

July 27, 2012, David Caraviello,

Nationwide points leader goes for fourth win as he tries to 'rebuild' reputation

INDIANAPOLIS -- The first time Elliott Sadler visited Indianapolis Motor Speedway was in 1997, to test a Cup Series car for Diamond Ridge Motorsports. Years later, he can still remember the feeling.

"When you come through the tunnel of this place, it's just a different atmosphere," said Sadler, the points leader in the Nationwide Series. "There's so much history here, and it's just a very prestigious place to race at."

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Austin Dillon, Elliott Sadler and others talk about how special it is for the Nationwide Series to race at the Brickyard.

This weekend Sadler is part of another first, the inaugural Nationwide Series event at the Brickyard. Although there are seven Sprint Cup drivers entered in Saturday's event -- including Kyle Busch, who led both practice sessions Thursday -- among the Nationwide regulars there are few with more stock-car experience at Indianapolis than Sadler. The Richard Childress Racing driver has three top-10 finishes and a pole racing here at NASCAR's highest level, and could use a victory at Indy this weekend as a potential stepping stone to get back there.

* Speeds: Practice 1 | Practice 2

"From the first part of my career, when I first started coming here -- I think I qualified 15th here my first time here in a Cup car in 1999 with the Wood Brothers -- I liked this place," the Virginia native said. "I've always been fast here. When I drove the 38 car here, we always qualified up front. We always showed some speed and had some good chances to win some races here."

Sadler won the pole for the Brickyard in 2005, and has a handful of strong finishes here including third in '04 and fourth in '08. He was often a contender during his days in Yates Racing cars, and he believes he might have won that 2004 edition if not for a late flat tire. Sadler's more recent efforts at Indianapolis were dispiriting, less-than-competitive runs in last-generation Richard Petty Motorsports equipment that left him dozens of laps down to the leader.

Those races aside, he still loves Indy. "This is a place that's been good to me," Sadler said. No wonder he's hoping all that experience will pay dividends in Saturday's first Nationwide event. "I have very high hopes and high expectations coming back here to Indy," he added.

But will that track record make a difference? Nationwide vehicles have less horsepower than their Cup brethren, allowing drivers to take them deeper into the corners. "These cars drive way different than I thought they were going to drive compared to a Cup car," Sadler said. "I've almost had to forget my lifting points and steering and all that from my Cup car. But where the experience is going to help me is, I know where I needed to be fast ... in my Cup car on Sunday. I knew where I needed to be trying to pass people and where I needed to be on the race track. And that's what I'm trying to do with my Nationwide car."

Saturday will mark Sadler's first Indianapolis appearance since the Brickyard in 2010, when he finished 65 laps down and in 38th place. Last year, he competed in the Nationwide event at Lucas Oil Raceway in nearby Clermont. "You don't ever know how much you're going to miss something until you're not there," Sadler said. "It killed me to not be here at the big track last year."

Now he's back, not only as the Nationwide points leader (standings) but with three victories on the season, and chasing a prestigious triumph Saturday that could help him get back to NASCAR's premier series. "Am I a driver trying to rebuild something? Yeah. Damn right," Sadler said. "I'm trying to rebuild what was taken away from me and what was torn apart from me a couple of years ago, and I'm trying to do the best job I can of building a reputation back of being a good race car driver."

And if he prevails Saturday, will he kiss the yard of bricks just like the Sprint Cup winners do? There seems no question, especially given that the winners of Friday's sports-car events did the same. "If we win the race," Sadler said, "we're going to do that."