NASCAR Race Weekend Central

2007 NASCAR Driver Review: Elliott Sadler

Elliott Sadler

2007 Ride: No. 19 Gillett Evernham Motorsports
2007 Primary Sponsor: Dodge Dealers/UAW
2007 Owner: Ray Evernham
2007 Team Directors: Josh Browne (February – July), Scott McDougall (July – October), Rodney Childers (November)
2007 Stats: 36 starts, 0 wins, 0 top fives, 0 top 10s, 0 poles, 25th in points

High Point: 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 14th at Las Vegas gave way to four more finishes of 24th or lower in the first 10 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 GEM’s No. 19 Dodge finished the season with just a top 10 at Kansas and a 12th 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.

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 CoT. 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 1990s, 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 racecar 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 Grade: B-
2007 Grade: D

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