Richard Childress Racing
July 14, 2012
Concord Monitor: Down is Up
"It's neat knowing before you ever set foot in the racecar that weekend that you're going to be competitive, you're going to be fast and have a chance to run up front."
Source: Concord (N.H.) Monitor
Author: Dave D'Onofrio
By the end, Elliott Sadler's time as a driver at NASCAR's top level had become complicated by matters far more complicated than merely making the car go fast. There was a contract dispute that involved lawyers and nearly courts. There was rampant dysfunction within the shops where his rides were built. There was the chance his team could be shut down altogether with a month left in his last season.
And, amid it all, there was the absence of results. In his final five full seasons, Sadler
scored a total of just four top-five finishes, that record leaving him without a Sprint Cup ride for 2011 and forced to downshift in the stock car hierarchy. At 36 he was headed back to the Nationwide Series, a tour he hadn't run regularly since it served as his springboard to $46 million in Cup earnings a dozen years earlier, so it was perceived to be a step back.
Turns out, though, it was really a step forward. It was a way for Sadler to leave those frustrations behind. And a way for a racer to have some fun again.
"Oh, God yeah. It's way more fun now," said the driver who'll take the series points lead into today's F.W. Webb 200 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. "I actually know my truck is not going to be barricaded into the shop. I know it's going to leave and be able to get to the racetrack, and I know when we show up we're going to have top-notch equipment with a bunch of good guys on the race team that all believe in each other and all have one common goal, and that's trying to win a race each and every weekend.
"It's definitely a lot of fun driving now compared to stuff we did in the past. It's hard to put into words: It's neat knowing before you ever set foot in the racecar that weekend that you're going to be competitive, you're going to be fast, and you're going to have a chance to lead laps and run up front. Man, it makes racing fun again."
Fun typically relates to winning for a racer. And that explains why Sadler is so enjoying his experience in Richard Childress Racing's No. 2 Chevrolet.
Having not celebrated victory in a stock car since 2004, he won twice in March alone, and those triumphs teamed with his series-best 12 top-10 finishes send him into Loudon with an eight-point advantage in the series standings a season after ranking as its runner-up.
He eagerly points out that his average finish of 7.8 is the best he's ever posted - two spots better than last year's 9.8 - and he's just as quick to credit team chemistry for the health of his sentiments and his standing. Joining RCR when it enveloped Kevin Harvick Inc. over the winter, Sadler was assigned a crew entirely made up of people he hadn't previously worked with, but he says they've jelled into a strong team under chief Lucas Lambert.
And - coming from operations at Gillett-Evernham and Richard Petty Motorsports where fostering such cohesion proved a problem - he's been particularly impressed by the way the entire Nationwide side of the Childress organization has worked in support of the program as a whole.
Sadler's primary competition for the circuit championship is his teammate, Austin Dillon, but he describes the twin units as "first-class teammates" who work together all week to ready their cars, then let the in-race adjustments decide the results. And the elder pilot is so focused on his role as part of the team, he's even made himself available if his nearest rival is ever in need of advice. The 22-year-old Dillon has no shortage of resources - given that his grandfather is Childress, and his father was himself a pro driver - but Sadler went to him early in the year and offered the wisdom of his 630 NASCAR starts whenever the up-and-comer ever needs it.
"If he needs me, he knows he can rely on me, and we talk about a lot of different things," Sadler said. "So far so good on all that. It's worked out real well."
From Sadler's perspective, it'll work out best if he's able to do all that - and still able to hoist the hardware come November. "It'd mean everything in the world to me to be able to do that," he said, especially given the way competing at this level has changed since he last did it in 1998.
Back then the fields were deeper, he said, but now, with more Cup affiliations and stiffer competition at the front of the field, a finish high in the top 15 each week is no small achievement.
"In the races I was able to win this year, I had to outrun some really good racecar drivers who haul butt on Sunday; I had to outrun them on Saturday to win the race," he said. "That's definitely gratifying."
It's gratifying enough that even halfway through the second season in a two-year deal, Sadler said his primary objective isn't proving anything to anybody. He's not racing for his next contract, or racing for a return to the top-tier series where he started his engine in all but one race over 12 years. It's not about getting back there; it's about moving forward. And moving forward faster than anybody else.
"It's all about winning," he said. "This is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately sport, and you've got to win, man. That's what it's all about."
And, as Sadler can vouch, winning sure is fun.
To read this article as it apppears in the Concord Monitor, click here.