For Elliott Sadler, the most experienced of the four drivers racing for the XFINITY Series championship on Saturday, the current playoff format has made the whole season very simple. There is but one race that is truly important.
“What I learned in [recent years] is with how you run and how many wins you get, it just doesn’t matter until you get to Homestead,” Sadler said at Championship 4 Media Day. “In the position I’m in at my age (42), finishing second in points three of the last five years, Homestead is really the only thing that matters to me.”
Before you ask, Sadler was not putting down the whole season in favor of the season finale. In fact, he stated that the rest of the season is very enjoyable. There isn’t quite as much pressure on him. He just has to put himself and his team in position.
However, Sadler appears to be unsure about how much longer he’s going to get to race. While he doesn’t have plans to retire anytime soon, it could be inferred from his media availability Thursday that he might not have a lot of time left. Sadler has been racing in one of NASCAR’s National Series since 1995 and full-time since 1997. 2017 might be one of his last chances to score a National-level championship.
“It’s either win the championship, or we don’t,” Sadler continued. “Second is not a moral victory. Third is not a moral victory. We need to win this championship. I think we’re going to have to win the race Saturday night [to do it].”
Sadler’s not saying that just because he can. There was a time in which in the No. 1 team’s 2017 season in general was in doubt. In July last year, longtime primary sponsor OneMain Financial announced that they were not going to return as Sadler’s sponsor in 2017. Naturally, that announcement triggered a scramble to find a replacement. Six weeks later, OneMain Financial changed their mind and decided to return with a 20-race schedule. OneMain Financial’s sponsorship has been supplemented with backing from Armour, Dale’s Pale Ale, Golden Corral, Chevrolet, Hunt Brothers Pizza and Cessna. Given the pull out experience, Sadler knows that his career could be in danger once again if a key financial partner backs out.
If Sadler were to win Saturday’s Ford EcoBoost 400, it would be a standout race in 2017 for the veteran racer. Despite a year in which his on-track performance (without a playoff) would have clinched him the title at Texas, Sadler is still winless in 2017. He’s currently on a 38-race winless streak that stretches back 14 months.
Luckily, Sadler does have one thing that he doesn’t have to worry about this year. That would be his crew chief. Last year, Sadler’s car was found to have two loose lug nuts in post-race inspection in Phoenix. As a result, crew chief Kevin Meendering was suspended for Homestead.
“[Homestead] was really hard last year [without Meendering],” Sadler explained. “Harder than I thought it would be. I thought it was going to be fine and [that] we were going to mosey right along. It was a big right hook to me during the race.”
With Meendering out, JR Motorsports tapped Mike Bumgarner to serve as the substitute crew chief. With Bumgarner on the pit box, Sadler finished third at Homestead and second in points. Despite that performance, having his regular crew chief is one less thing for Sadler to worry about.
“When you get in the heat of the moment, things get stressful and decisions need to be made, having my crew chief this year makes me feel more relaxed,” Sadler continued. “I’m way more optimistic about [the race] because we’ve gone through these steps together all season long. It’s nothing new to us.”
For Sadler, he plans to come out blazing as soon as practice opens Friday afternoon. After all, the longevity of his career just might depend on it.
About the author
Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.
Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.
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