While Kasey Kahne got a million dollars richer Saturday night, Elliott Sadler had a million reasons to wonder what might have been. Polesitter for the Sprint Showdown preliminary race, contact with AJ Allmendinger on lap 7 sent the No. 19 Dodge hard into the wall, ruining any chance Sadler had of transferring into the main event. It’s been that kind of year for the Virginia native; 28th in the standings, Sadler has yet to crack the top 10 since a sixth-place finish at the Daytona 500 in February.
But just because the chips are down for Sadler doesn’t mean he’s down and out. Frontstretch found Sadler upbeat and uplifting as we sat down with him earlier this month to talk over his season to date. We asked the Gillett Evernham Motorsports driver about his team’s rebuilding efforts, his future goals, and why he’s so in love with a hometown that he may never leave.
Amy Henderson, Frontstretch: Gillett Evernham Motorsports seems to be in the middle of a rebuilding year. What are you in the middle of working on as a driver? What has changed so far, and what are you still working on changing?
Elliott Sadler: We’ve just tried to add a little more depth to our team, and we are rebuilding some things. We’re definitely running better; we’ve just had some bad luck the last couple of weeks that just killed us in the points. But we’re running well, and we’re way more optimistic going to the racetrack each and every weekend. We’ve still got some little things to do to catch up with Hendrick, to catch up to Gibbs and to Roush; but we’re definitely making some headway. And we’re definitely a lot better than we were last year… so that’s a great thing. We feel like we can turn the corner here any second.
Henderson: Dodge seems to be struggling a little more than the other makes this year. Is there anything that NASCAR should do, or can do, to help the Dodge teams out?
Sadler: Just help us a little bit on restrictor-plate races. The gears we have to run in restrictor-plate races is not really for the Dodges; it’s really just for the Toyotas and the Chevrolets, so I really wish they would help us a little bit [with that]. Dodge is doing everything they can do; we’ve got a new engine coming [soon], so we’re just trying to do all we can.
Henderson: What are your personal goals for the rest of the season?
Sadler: I just want to make the Chase. I still want to try to make the Chase. There’s a lot of good teams right now on the outside looking in, and everybody wants to do it. That’s my goal going to the track every weekend – get the most points we can and go from there. That’s not going to change until we’re mathematically eliminated. I just want to make the Chase and do the best I can in order to make that happen.
Henderson: Tell me about Emporia, Va.
Sadler: It’s a very small city, kind of like Mayberry, if you’ve ever watched that. Everybody knows everybody, and I find a lot of great fan support there. I love it. I love being at home. I love living at home and being near my family. It’s a small rural town with a lot of farmland and a lot of backwoods country roads. Not many stoplights – only three or four, a few fancy restaurants, and that’s about it. It’s just a good hometown. It’s nice – it’s got that Southern way, and it kind of keeps that feeling about it, if you live there… it’s just a great place to live.
Henderson: Talk about your family’s influence – you’re a very close family, right?
Sadler: It’s great. My Mom and Dad have given up so much of their time so that Hermie and I could race for a living and do the things that we wanted to do. They sacrificed so many of their weekends to be able to go with us. I love being around my family. I still live beside my Mom and Dad; I live on the same farm I was born and raised on, and spend a lot of time with my brother and my sister and my nieces. It’s cool to be able to have my family come to the races with me.
Henderson: How is your Mom doing? (Mrs. Sadler was diagnosed with cancer last year)
Sadler: Mom’s doing great. She’s been a huge inspiration because she’s pretty much fought against cancer, beat it. She’s in remission and definitely getting better by the day. I’m so proud of my Mom – after everything she’s been through, she still finds time to take care of me and come to the races. She’s a great mom, and I’m looking forward to having her at a lot more races.
Henderson: Tell us about the foundation you have with your brother Hermie to raise money for autism.
Sadler: We started the [Hermie & Elliott Sadler Foundation] and we try to raise money, as much as we can, to raise awareness for autism – for the Autism Society of American and Autism Speaks. He and I try to do four or five things a year to raise money. We put things together, but the fans are the ones who show up and donate and spend the money and the time and effort to help the cause. It’s something that’s very close to us, close to my heart. It definitely means a lot to me to be able to have the Foundation and be able to give back. That’s something about NASCAR drivers – we’re all competitors on the track on Sundays, but we’re all big family members the rest of the time, trying to help each other out.