NASCAR Race Weekend Central

2011 NASCAR Driver Review: Elliott Sadler

Elliott Sadler

2011 Ride: No. 2 Kevin Harvick Incorporated Chevrolet
2011 Primary Sponsor: OneMain Financial
2011 Owner: Kevin Harvick
2011 Crew Chief: Ernie Cope
2011 Nationwide Series Stats: 34 starts, 0 wins, 12 top fives, 24 top 10s, 1 DNF, second in points

High Point: Kansas in October. With the 2011 championship battle narrowed down to Sadler and eventual champ Ricky Stenhouse Jr. by this point in the season, Sadler and the No. 2 team arrived at an intermediate oval that Roush Fenway Racing has been accustomed to dominating on… and delivered a heavyweight performance of their own.

The third-place finish was a huge shot in the arm for Sadler, coming a week after the team’s disastrous showing at Dover (they won the pole, but dropped like a rock and were a non-factor in their sponsor’s title race). In being the top-finishing Nationwide Series regular and making up ground on the No. 6 team, Sadler kept his title hopes very much alive on this October weekend.

Low Point: Any hopes of Sadler capitalizing on that Kansas race and scoring a title ended late in the desert at Phoenix. The driver made a hard charge on the apron of the backstretch on lap 176 of the 200-lap event, trying to pass both Jason Leffler and Aric Almirola. Sadler cleared the two cars, then visibly slowed after cutting ahead of Leffler’s machine entering turn 3 to avoid blowing the corner.

Leffler, side-by-side with Almirola at the time, did not adjust his braking point and hit the back of Sadler’s machine, sending him spinning and catalyzing a nasty wreck that collected not only those three drivers, but the underfunded rides of Morgan Shepherd and Jeremy Clements as well. The wreck brought out the red flag and effectively ended Sadler’s pursuit of the Nationwide Series championship.

Summary: Sadler made the move down to the Nationwide Series for the first time since 1998, trying to get his career back on-track after a stretch of underwhelming seasons in Cup. The intent was to contend for a championship right out of the box, and Sadler did just that under the KHI banner. Scoring 24 top 10s in 34 races, Sadler kept his equipment intact and returned to relevance in 2011.

That being said, the season was a shortcoming on a number of fronts. For all the consistency, Sadler was unable to return to victory lane, a winless streak in NASCAR extending all the way back to the Pocono Truck race in August of 2010. On a number of occasions, the team rolled out new cars and setups in an attempt to gain ground in the title chase, only to see those experiments go south.

Most notably, the team’s new car and setup for the fall race at Dover proved to be utterly disastrous, an ugly afternoon played out in front of hundreds of sponsor executives present at the track. And when all was said and done, Sadler the veteran proved incapable of catching and passing young gun Stenhouse Jr. when the grand prize was on the line during the season’s final homestretch.

Team Ranking: First of one. Sadler was KHI’s only full-time Nationwide Series competitor in 2011, although his performance was often a step behind that of his Teammate of the Week. Sadler’s points total with the No. 2 car resulted in a sixth-place owner points finish, three positions behind KHI’s No. 33 patchwork of Cup-and-development drivers overall.

Off-Track News: Sadler and wife Amanda welcomed their second child, daughter Austyn Rose, on Nov. 7.

2012 Outlook: With no Cup rides opening for Sadler to return to the premier ranks of NASCAR racing in 2012, the upcoming season becomes a repeat of 2011, with the goals the same as they were a year ago: return to victory lane and win the Nationwide crown. There are bound to be some growing pains this year, with KHI’s merger into Richard Childress Racing and the debut of a new teammate for the No. 2 in 2011 Truck champion Austin Dillon.

However, RCR has a long history of fielding stout NNS entries and the transition should be more seamless then people expect. Further, with the state of Roush Fenway Racing’s Nationwide program in need of both sponsors and a certain driver lineup, a second season at this level may well deliver the championship driver and team set out to score in 2011.

2006 Frontstretch Grade: D
2007 Grade: B-
2008 Grade: D
2009 Grade: D
2010 Grade: D
2011 Grade: B+

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