The Frontstretch: Driver Review: Elliott Sadler by Amy Henderson -- Thursday January 3, 2008

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Driver Review: Elliott Sadler

Amy Henderson · Thursday January 3, 2008

 

Elliott Sadler
2007 Ride: No. 19 Gillett Evernham Motorsports
2007 Primary Sponsor: Dodge Dealers / UAW
2007 Owner: Ray Evernham
2007 Team Director: Josh Browne (February – July)
Scott McDougall (July – October)
Rodney Childers (November)

Stats: 36 races, 0 Wins, 0 Top 5s, 0 Top 10s, 0 Poles, 25th in Points.
Average Finish : 25.5.
Best Finish : 6th – Daytona 500, February.

High Point: Elliott Sadler looked to be on the rise heading into last season, and the Daytona 500 seemed to solidify his up-and-coming status when Sadler finished sixth in the Great American Race. Aside from an eighth-place run at Kansas, it was Sadler's finest moment of 2007.

Low Point: The other 34 races. Whether it was inner turmoil at GEM – Sadler saw two crew chief changes in 2007, as well as a new team owner – the curve thrown by the Car of Tomorrow, or something else entirely, Sadler would probably like to forget most of the year. The worst of it was a serious slump in the summer, a span from Loudon and back that saw Sadler finish higher than 27th place just once during the nine races in between. He didn’t do well in those two Loudon events, either, with an average finish of 35.5 for both.

Summary: Sadler followed up his outstanding Daytona 500 with a 24th-place effort at California, a finish that was, unfortunately, much more indicative of how his season would unfold. A fourteenth at Las Vegas gave way to four more finishes of 24th or lower in the first ten races, and it was clear the team’s momentum from late 2006 never came close to carrying over. It didn't get better as Spring rolled into Summer – Sadler had just two Top 20s from Memorial Day to Labor Day, ironically both on the road courses of Infineon (14th) and Watkins Glen (17th). Sadler is decent on tracks with right turns, and his skill overcame the subpar equipment on those tracks.

Things were supposed to improve with an August infusion of cash by new team co-owner George Gillett. However, while the move appeared to boost momentum for GEM’s No. 9 car and Kasey Kahne, nothing seemed to help the No. 19 of Sadler get going. When all was said and done, the driver of Gillett Evernham Motorsports’ No. 19 Dodge finished the season with just a Top 10 at Kansas and a twelfth at Texas to brag about. In all, he tabulated just two Top 10 finishes in one of the worst seasons of his nine-year career at the Cup level. At least he can point to his consistency in finishing races as a plus – Sadler went longer than any other driver before failing to finish a race in 2007; it took a crash at vaunted Talladega in October to finally end that streak.

Clearly, though, this 2004 Chase participant viewed things as a step back after moving over from Yates midway through the 2006 season to join teammates Kahne and Scott Riggs. All three wound up with disappointing years, and Riggs will actually be replaced in 2008 by open-wheel standout Patrick Carpentier.

Despite finishing 35 of 36 races this season, Sadler still took his share of hard knocks – this Happy Hour wreck at Chicagoland proved key to a disappointing 33rd place finish during his summer slump.

2008 Outlook: In his second full season with GEM, Sadler looks to lead the comeback charge of the three-car effort. To do so, this team needs to find both stability at the crew chief position as well as figure out the Car of Tomorrow. Rodney Childers hopes to fulfill that first requirement; brought on in November from GEM’s No. 10 car, he hopes to build on the chemistry with Sadler that led to a 12th place finish in the duo’s first run together at Texas.

Of course, that accomplishment was in the old car, now a thing of the past heading into 2008. As Childers leads the team ahead with the CoT, he can find consolation in the fact the No. 19 Dodge didn't seem to finish much differently in either model in 2007 – both sets of performances were mediocre. However, being able to concentrate on just one body style may actually help their cause more than hinder it.

What may hinder the team the most, though, is team co-owner Ray Evernham's apparent backing away from his teams on race week. Evernham said that he will scale back his time at the track in 2008, and the jury is out on what, exactly, that will mean. Should he spend time back in the shop working on the type of innovation that made him famous as Jeff Gordon's crew chief in the mid-to-late 1990's, that could be a huge boon – but don't count on it.

Bottom line, Sadler is a likable driver who has shown considerable talent in his Cup tenure, but never had the top equipment to show just how far that talent can take him. However, 2008 could be a do-or-die season for the veteran – with solid financial backing from
Gillett and new sponsors Best Buy, Stanley Tools, and Valvoline, he needs to bring this race car to its potential. For starters, he’ll need to concentrate on simply finishing back in the Top 10 – those building blocks of success need to come before the team can truly concentrate on winning consistently.

2006 Frontstretch.com Grade: B-.
2007 Grade: D.

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Editor's Note : The 2007 season is over, and even the Final Chase exam has come to a close - which means it's time to give each driver their annual year-end evaluation. For the second straight year, your favorite Frontstretch staff members are giving driver reviews for every full-time wheelman on the circuit, giving you insight into the seasons of anyone from A.J. Allmendinger to J.J. Yeley. Want to know when your favorite driver's getting featured? Check out this link for our writing schedule, and be sure to keep coming in every weekday this offseason for even more original content by the Frontstretch!

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