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Deb Williams: Sadler Finds A Home At RCR

Deb Williams | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, March 18 2012

Richard Childress Racing's Elliott Sadler won his second NNS race of the year at Bristol on Saturday. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

BRISTOL, Tenn. – Elliott Sadler isn’t shy about letting people know Bristol Motor Speedway is his favorite track; that he loves it and its race dates are always circled on his calendar.

Saturday the high-banked, half-mile speedway became a little more special to the Virginia native as he collected his second Nationwide Series victory in three weeks. And unlike in previous celebrations his parents were there to share victory lane with him, so was brother Hermie. The only ones missing were his wife, Amanda, and their two children.

“After what I’ve been through the last few years in my career, this damn sure feels good,” a jubilant Sadler said in victory lane.

Sadler first won at Bristol in 1998 in a Busch Series [now Nationwide] event. Three years later he collected his inaugural Sprint Cup victory at the tough speedway, taking the checkered flag in his Wood Brothers Ford in March 2001. Two more Cup career victories followed in 2004 with Yates Racing. Those were added to three Busch Series career victories in 1997 and two in 1998. His lone Camping World Truck Series career victory came in 2010. That’s a total of nine victories in NASCAR’s three national touring

Elliott Sadler is welcomed to Victory Lane at Bristol. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

series since 1995 with two of them at Bristol.

Enter Richard Childress, a team owner who has had to fight his way back from one of NASCAR’s darkest days, the day he lost his best friend and driver, Dale Earnhardt.

A former driver Childress is a racer at heart, he understands drivers, crewmen and what it takes to make an organization successful. He understands the psychology involved and the peaks and valleys a person’s career maneuvers through in the sport.

Childress provided Sadler with something the driver readily admits he hasn’t had in recent years, confidence and a group of people who believe in him.

“When you have an owner that believes in you as a person, believes in you as a driver means all the difference in the world for my self-confidence and what I can do as a driver,” Sadler said. “When you have people around you that believe in your talent, believe in what you can do in a race car then it just makes you feel like a different person. Compared to what I was going through three or four years ago to where I am now, I’m a totally different person, mentally and physically, especially in the race car. I feel like now whatever decision we make or the information I’m giving (crew chief) Luke (Lambert) is the correct information for him to work on the race car.”

Sadler won Saturday’s Ford EcoBoost 300 thanks to a late race call by Lambert to stay on the track during the race’s final caution flag. The 36-year-old Sadler had started down pit road, but cut back onto the track just before the commitment cone. The sudden move caught Brad Keselowski off-guard and Keselowski said he “clobbered” Sadler in the rear. Neither car was adversely affected by the incident.

Initially, Sadler was uneasy about Lambert’s decision, but then the young crew chief reminded him that was the way he had obtained his initial Cup victory in 2001. That day Lambert was a senior in high school, sitting in the first-turn grandstands with his father. After that reminder, Sadler settled into the task at hand and led the final 35 laps in the 300-lap race. It was the only time during the event that Sadler set the pace. The victory gave Sadler a 25 point lead over defending series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. It also meant that for the first time since 1995 the season’s first four Nationwide races had been won by non-Cup competitors. Seventeen years ago it was Chad Little, with two, Kenny Wallace and Johnny Benson.

“One of the neat things about seeing the Cup guys in this new point system (where they can’t go for the Nationwide championship) is it’s really great because the Nationwide drivers have had to really step up,” Childress said. “Seeing the Cup guys, you go out and outrun them. When I was watching Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer and a couple of other drivers I’ve had move up, it’s because they were out there and they outran the Cup guys. It’s great to see the Cup guys out there and these young guys racing them.”

Keselowski, who finished third, described the Nationwide Series as a “fit-all series.”

“Whether it’s young drivers or guys like Elliott who have gone through some struggles, it’s good to have a series that provides opportunities for a guy like him, or really for anybody, when the Cup level is not an option,” Keselowski said.

Childress said Sadler, who competed in the Daytona 500, may get to race in some other Cup events this year. That, however, isn’t foremost in Sadler’s mind. He’s focused on the Nationwide Series championship and his Phoenix victory two weeks ago returned a confident swagger to his walk and a smile to his face. Neither of which are expected to leave any time soon.

– Deb Williams can be reached at dwilliams@racintoday.com

Deb Williams | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, March 18 2012
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