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Sadler returns to Cup series at Kansas

April 15, 2013, Kenny Bruce,

The JGR driver has made 430 starts at NASCAR’s premier level

Elliott Sadler returns to the seat of a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car this weekend for the first of three scheduled starts with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Sadler, 37, will attempt to qualify for the April 21 STP 400 at Kansas Speedway, as well as both races slated for Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway later this year.

Alert Energy Gum, a new Mars/Wrigley product that will launch in stores April 22, is providing sponsorship for the No. 81 Toyota Camry.

JGR fields three full-time entries in Cup and two in NASCAR’s Nationwide Series. Two of Sadler’s three Cup attempts will fall on weekends when the Nationwide Series, in which he drives the No. 11 entry for JGR, is idle.

“I know what kind of opportunity this if for me to be able to go to Kansas in a fourth JGR car and go kind of get my feet wet again in the Cup series, “ Sadler said. “I understand the opportunity … and the challenge it is for us to go there and do a one-off race and be competitive, to put all these things together.

“My guys have worked very hard to make sure we’re going up there ready to go. It’s definitely a great situation to be in.”

Weekend support will come from Sadler’s Nationwide team, led by crew chief Chris Gayle.

JGR President J.D. Gibbs said that when the Alert sponsorship materialized, choosing Sadler as the driver was an easy decision. Although he hasn’t raced in Cup since the Daytona 500 of 2012, Sadler has 430 starts in the series and three career wins. His last full Cup season came in 2010 with Richard Petty Motorsports.

"You’re always being judged in this sport."

-- Elliott Sadler

“He’s just a good fit,” Gibbs said. “Both he and (Brian) Vickers, they didn’t have to run Nationwide, they could have done some other Cup stuff. But they chose Nationwide to get their stability rebuilt and we really appreciate that. And when you look around to see who’s out there, Elliott’s name goes right to the top pretty quick.”

Because the team has no owner points, Sadler will have to earn a spot in the field based on his qualifying speed. Having tested the new Generation-6 Cup car, he said he knows what to expect. It’s the unexpected that can be “stressful.”

The last time he had to qualify for a race because the team wasn’t locked in by owner points was 2006. Hired to replace Jeremy Mayfield in the No. 19 Dodge fielded by Evernham Motorsports, Sadler qualified second and finished 10th in the GFS Marketplace 400 at Michigan International Speedway.

“Honestly I am not worried about that at all,” Sadler said. “I feel like the car is going to be fast enough … we should easily make this race.

“But the things you can’t control are the (qualifying) draw –- they don’t go off practice speeds anymore so hopefully you’re not the first car or two out to make a run; and the other thing is the weather. If it’s raining, we don’t make the race. Both of those things are out of your control.”

Sadler has never been hesitant to discuss his desire to return to Cup on a full-time basis. The opportunity to compete in three races for JGR, he said, could help speed up that process.

“Damn right,” he said. “You’re always being judged in this sport. It’s a ‘what have you done for me lately’ sport. And I feel like the last two years I’ve been very competitive in the Nationwide program. Won some races, won some poles and have always, it seems like, been in contention. And I feel like I’ve gained a lot of confidence back and this year we’ve been fast.”

Solid results in the abbreviated effort, he said, could open doors. Or start conversations.

JGR fielded one full-time team for seven years (1992-98) before expanding to two teams, then seven more (‘99-05) before expanding to three. Is a fourth team in the works for 2014?

“We have the capacity, we could do a fourth team, but everything has to line up … before you do that,” Gibbs said. “This is a great fit. We can do it for a few races but we’re not ready to do it for all the races. We can, but we’ve learned you’re better off being a little more patient than just jumping at any chance you’ve got.

“If it was more than 3-4-5 races, it would probably be hard. …  We’ve learned if it doesn’t work, you’re better off saying no thanks. But I think our guys have a great plan laid out and I think Elliott will do a heck of a job.”


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