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Sadler, team 'want to finish this off together'

November 02, 2012, David Caraviello,

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Looming departures add significance to championship quest

The driver is moving to a different organization, the crew chief is moving to the Sprint Cup level, and the crewmen are moving to different programs within the same shop. For Elliott Sadler, the final weeks of the season represent not only a chance to win the Nationwide Series title but also a chance to do so before his crew is broken up and everyone goes their separate ways.

That much was emphasized again this week, when Richard Childress Racing announced that Luke Lambert, who has won five races this season with Sadler and has the veteran driver on the cusp of his first NASCAR championship, will work with Jeff Burton next season at the Sprint Cup level. For months now, everyone on the No. 2 team has known that the same group won't remain together beyond this year. Now, with the end so near, their title run takes on an added significance.

"We've got a lot of will on our side on winning this championship"


"For sure," Lambert said Friday at Texas Motor Speedway. "It definitely makes it feel like it's even more of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

The series leader by six points over reigning champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Sadler is in the final stages of a two-year run with the No. 2 team that's rejuvenated his career. Between last season with Kevin Harvick Inc. and this one with RCR, he's experienced enough success on the race track to leave behind the bitterness that accompanied his most recent stint on the Sprint Cup tour. Now, there's one last bit of business remaining before everyone on his team moves on to whatever the future holds.

"We've got a lot of will on our side on winning this championship," said Sadler, who lost last year's title to Stenhouse by 45 points. "It's been fun to be a part of. This is one of the funnest seasons I've ever had in my life as a race-car driver, back to racing at South Boston in the mid-'90s when you showed up every week and had a chance to win."

Sadler, who won't be returning to RCR next season, said he all but buttoned down his 2013 plans during the recent Nationwide off-week -- although he added he hasn't signed anything -- but wouldn't specify his future home Friday. Childress said he intends to field three Nationwide programs next season, one of them behind Austin Dillon. Although details of those plans are yet to be publicized, Sadler feels certain all his current crewmen will find jobs somewhere within the organization.

"With Richard coming out and saying they're going to have three Nationwide teams next year ... my guys feel pretty good about their future," he said. "I don't think they know all the pieces to the puzzle, like who's driving, who's crew-chiefing, what position they're going to be in. But as far as jobs and still being there in the same situation, I think everybody feels good about that."

Lambert is bound for a position he's been in before, given that he served as crew chief for Burton during the last 17 races of last season, a span that netted top-10s in four of the year's final five events. Prior to that, he served as Burton's race engineer for more than three years. The move to the No. 31 team was in the works for about a month, Lambert said, and was made public after Burton's former crew chief, Drew Blickensderfer, departed for Richard Petty Motorsports.

"We've worked together for quite some time, and I'm comfortable with it," Lambert said. "We know what to expect out of each other, and we've got a pretty good working relationship, and I think I've got a pretty good feel for what his driving style is and what he needs out of the race car. That side of it is good. I don't think there are a lot of unexpected things coming into play."

Lambert said he already has spoken some with Burton about next season and thinks the implementation of the 2013 Sprint Cup cars will help him start on a more level playing field with crew chiefs who have been in the series for some time. "Everyone's going to have to re-learn what the cars want," he said. But those discussions haven't gone too far, he added, given that he still has work to complete in his current position.

"It doesn't change anything," Lambert said. "Obviously, Elliott and I knew that the way things were going, we probably weren't going to be doing this deal together again next year. For myself, Elliott and everybody else on this team, it doesn't really change our mode of operation. We're still focused on doing the best job we can and trying to win this championship right now. That's our main focus right now."

Childress -- appearing at an event in which sponsor AdvoCare announced its intention to move from associate to full-time primary on Dillon's No. 3 Nationwide car next season -- said he thought one year on the Nationwide tour would help Lambert return to the Sprint Cup ranks a better crew chief. Sadler said he was thrilled that his signal-caller is getting the chance to take a step up.

"He definitely deserves to get back to a crew chief opportunity on the Cup side," Sadler said. "He did a great job last year for Jeff the last few races that he did. I made the comment a couple of times during this season that he's probably one of the best-kept secrets as far as a crew chief. He's very knowledgeable, very even-keeled, very methodical, really knows what he's doing. So I'm very happy for him to get this opportunity next year. I think he's gained a lot of confidence within the RCR organization, doing what he's doing, and with what he's brought to the table."

As with everything associated with this No. 2 team, though, there's also that tinge of the bittersweet. "I've really enjoyed working with this group of guys," Lambert said. "Working with Elliott has been a lot of fun. That's the part I'm really going to miss, working with this group the way it's been set up this year and the way we've been able to work well together. That's a part I'm definitely going to miss, but looking forward to new opportunities."

Understandable, given that like his driver, Lambert had been looking for a chance to return to Sprint Cup ranks. But three races still remain in this 2012 season, and Sadler, Lambert and the rest of the No. 2 team have their sights set on winning a championship together, while they still can.

"Me and him had a sit-down a couple of weeks ago and said, 'Look, he's never won a championship at the NASCAR level, and I haven't, either,'" Sadler said. "That's all the goal we need, no matter what we're doing four weeks from now. The next three weeks, we want to finish this off together."