Just under a month ago, Elliott Sadler announced he was stepping away from full-time NASCAR competition following the 2018 season. Since then, he’s had a lot of time for reflection.
Sadler, 43, has spent more than half his life traveling the NASCAR circuit, spending 12 full seasons in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series — the elite racing series in the country. However, the Virginia native made the NASCAR XFINITY Series his stomping grounds, thus far finishing second in the points four times, with 13 career victories.
Sadler’s biggest reasons for stepping away is to spend more time with his beloved family — getting to see his two children, Wyatt and Austyn, grow up, hoping to watch them live their own dreams.
But Sadler’s NASCAR legacy won’t be forgotten. He just hopes people recognize that he did it his way.
“I want people to know that I did it the right way and did it the fair way,” Sadler told Frontstretch last weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “I enjoyed myself. I love this sport and had as much fun as I could have doing it. I’ve definitely cherished the fans who have voted us the most popular driver, or walk up to me in a restaurant and shake my hand, or people telling me, ‘You’re my kids hero.’
“All those little things that wouldn’t have happened to me if I just stayed at home. I hope they remember me of being a guy’s guy who did it the right way.”
Indeed, the right way. Sadler started off his national touring career at South Boston Speedway — his hometown track — finishing eighth in a family-owned ride. His first full-time season in the XFINITY series came in 1997, scoring the pole in the season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway. He drove the No. 29 to three victories in his rookie year, ending the season fifth in the championship standings.
The young hot shoe spent an additional season in the XFINITY Series before jumping to the Cup Series in 1999, competing for the historic Wood Brothers Racing. In 2001, he scored his first Cup victory at Bristol Motor Speedway, the company’s first win in eight years, dating back to Morgan Shepherd in 1993 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Nearly two decades later, Sadler is still battling for victories and even the championship. Sure, there have been some tough moments along the way, but he did his family proud, though he’s not sure if he lived up to everything he wanted in the sport.
“I definitely have a career of would have, should have and could have’s,” Sadler said. “I’ve been close in some Daytona 500s. I finished second in the XFINITY Series points four times, that could have easily gone the other way to be championships. There’s definitely some things that I could have definitely done better or have better finishes. At the end of the day, I have no regrets.”
Sadler believes missing out on a few race wins at the World Center of Racing, specifically 2009 when leading on the last lap of the Daytona 500, only to finish fifth, was a few of the lows of his career. He also thinks the second-place finish in the XFINITY championship last year to JR Motorsports teammate William Byron was a low, when Ryan Preece slowed him down enough with 10 laps to go that he couldn’t race for the win.”
Through it all, the 17-time NASCAR winner stays positive.
“I’ve got to practice what I preach,” Sadler said about staying positive despite heartbreaks in the sport. “I tell my kids all the time when I’m coaching that you’ve got to stay positive, you’ve got to move ahead, and you learn from your mistakes. I’ve got to do the same thing as well.”
Heading into the regular season finale, Sadler sits fifth in the regular season standings after crashing out early at IMS, losing more than 50 points on JR Motorsports teammate Justin Allgaier.
The experienced driver still believes it’s been a successful year.
“It’s been pretty good,” Sadler said. “To lose both races at Daytona by as close as we did. [At] Talladega [Superspeedway], we were leading and almost got wrecked on pit road, speeding penalty. At Dover [International Speedway], we were right there. We’ve been close. We want to pull it off. I would give ourselves a B for being fast and consistent, but not going to Victory Lane yet.
“That’s on me, I take that responsibility. I’ve got to do a better job during the race, communicating with my guys to make sure I’ve got something at the end to go after it.”
Meanwhile, the two-year anniversary of Sadler’s last series win is quickly approaching, though he believes that could change at any moment. The last time he was approaching a two-year anniversary of a consecutive winless streak, he pulled the car into the Winner’s Circle at Talladega in 2016 — the exact race he had won two years prior. The No. 1 team won three races that year.
“I think we’re close. We had a decent run the past couple of weeks,” Sadler said. “We’ve got some speed in our cars, so we will continue to try and go down that path.”
Believe it or not, Sadler doesn’t think that announcing his retirement puts more pressure on him to get a victory before his career is up.
“I’ve always put pressure on myself to win because at the end of the day that’s what you race for is trophies,” Sadler said. “No added pressure, just want to do a good job for my guys… The deal with the championship is we know it’s our last hoorah at it, so we can kind of throw caution to the wind. That allows us to go after it and go from there.”
In 25 races this season, Sadler has 12 top-five finishes and 20 top 10s. The No. 1 car has been out front for 205 laps, the most Sadler has led since joining JRM in 2016.
Whether Sadler wins the championship or not this season, it likely won’t change his perception of his career. Sure, he’d have a championship to his name, but he’s currently one of just 30 drivers to have a win in each of the top three national touring series, which means more to him as of right now. What’s more important to Sadler is being one of just 16 drivers to have a pole and a victory in each of the top three series.
- There are 39 drivers on the entry list for the regular season finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. No Cup drivers are allowed to compete since it’s the regular season finale.
- Ross Chastain will be back behind the wheel of the No. 42 car for Chip Ganassi Racing this weekend. At Darlington Raceway, he won the pole and picked up two playoff points for winning the first two stages, but finished 25th after a miscalculation with Kevin Harvick.
- With a recent hot streak, Justin Allgaier has all but closed out the regular season championship. The No. 7 team heads into the regular season finale 49 points above Cole Custer. Second through fifth in points are separated by just 20 points.