Elliott Sadler, driver of the No. 38 M&M's Ford Fusion, is coming off Fusion's first victory in a NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series event after capturing Thursday's first Gatorade Duel qualifying race. Sadler held a Q&A session during the lunch...
Elliott Sadler, driver of the No. 38 M&M's Ford Fusion, is coming off Fusion's first victory in a NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series event after capturing Thursday's first Gatorade Duel qualifying race. Sadler held a Q&A session during the lunch hour to discuss a number of issues.
ELLIOTT SADLER -- No. 38 M&M's Ford Fusion
IS THE FUSION GOING TO BE GOOD ON THE INTERMEDIATE TRACKS AS WELL? "I think so. I think what we've learned so far about the Fusion is that it reacts very well to small changes. It's very adjustable. You're not stuck with fighting the same thing all the time, so I think that's the biggest difference with what we have to work with this year with the Fusion. I think Ford did a great job in the wind tunnel with it and doing a lot of countless hours of work -- Bernie (Marcus) and his staff. When they gave it to the teams, it was pretty much ready to go. We didn't have to hardly massage it any at all. We don't have to manipulate it any kind of way. What I like about it as a driver is that I can really feel the front tires. The front tires are really in the race track, and when we call for small changes -- Tommy and I -- it reacts. So we don't really feel like we have to throw so many things at it to make it work. We can just do small little increment changes here and there and not get our chassis all out of whack and it seems to be very effective. I think that's helped us as a race team. It makes it where we can be smarter about changes and things like that, and we should be fine on Sunday, so I think we have a great tool to work with. Do I think it's gonna be just as good on the mile and a halves as here? Yes. I think they have given us that good of a tool to work with and now it's just our job as a race team to make it work each and every week."
HOW DO YOU THINK THE CAR WILL WORK WITH A FULL FIELD OF CARS IN TRAFFIC? "I think it's gonna work fine. I was able to make a few passes yesterday. Carl Edwards made a good run through the field yesterday. Matt Kenseth made a good run all the way from the back up through the field yesterday. There are different Ford Fusions that made a lot of passes yesterday to work their way up. Biffle had a good car in the second race making some passes. I think those are a few examples. How is our car gonna work? I think it's gonna be fine. We might learn more about that Sunday, but to be honest with you, I'd rather stay up front Sunday and you ask some of the other Ford drivers about it (laughing). But from what I saw watching the other Ford guys in my race and in the second race, it should be fine in traffic."
HOW ARE YOU DRAFTING WITH CHEVYS AND DODGES? "We were fine. Restrictor plate racing is this -- if a guy's got a fast car and they can push you or you can push them, no matter what the make is, that's who you want to be with. Yesterday, Carl and I worked very well up front together and were able to hold back a bunch of good cars. I worked great with Tony, who is in a Chevrolet, and worked good with him, but I think it has to do a lot with the driver's mentality -- who you like to work with and who you don't like to work with. It was great to see Carl and I up front, especially with a green-white-checkered and the 8 car third, knowing he's gonna get a push, knowing he's gonna get a good run on us and Carl was able to hold the guys off and we finished first and second. I think that's good that our guys work together. I know Dale and I wanted to work together more than we could, but we were just in different lines yesterday to see how we could help each other for Sunday, but I'm sure the time will come where we'll all try to help each other as much as we can. I worked very well with Jamie McMurray in the Shootout on Sunday, so I think when we all get stacked up together and if we learn to help each other and race with each other that it's gonna be tough to outrun us, hopefully, Sunday."
TO WHAT EXTENT IS THIS RACE WHERE YOU DRIVE FOR SHOW AND THE OTHER TRACKS ARE LIKE PUTTING FOR DOUGH? "I don't know. There's a lot of dough that's gonna be handed out on Sunday. I want to be a part of that, but I think we all come in here and test. We spend a lot of time on our Daytona cars in the wind tunnel and preparing them in the off-season. We come here and test for three days, which is an important test for everybody. It's an important test for the manufacturer. It's an important test for the teams, but my favorite test was going to Vegas. It's an intermediate track. It's a downforce track. This is where we struggled as a team last year. OK, what do we got? We've got a new nose and tail. We've got a new car, so how is it gonna work? How is it gonna work with my driving style? How is it gonna work with Tommy and the way he does adjustments to the car? So we went to Vegas and had a great test and learned a lot about the Fusion. We learned a lot about our setups with the car. That's when we really learned how versatile it was and how well it reacts to changes. We've got a good feeling about it. We know when we get to California and we get to Vegas that we still need to work on our stuff a little bit, but we know we have a car that's gonna be able to change as we change and how we need to change as the year goes on."
WHAT KIND OF RACING DO YOU THINK WE'LL SEE IN THE 500? "I think two reasons why yesterday was calm. One, NASCAR's new rule with the bump drafting in the areas. We don't know the line yet as a driver. I don't know what's too much and until a driver gets penalized for bump drafting too hard, we don't know where the line is drawn at. So I think everybody was being a little careful yesterday for that. The second reason, we got so much wind tunnel time and so much hard work has been put into our primary cars for the Daytona 500 that nobody wants to destroy your car in the Duel 150s. So I think they're the two reasons why you saw more of a safer race, kind of saving our stuff, but when it comes down to the last 30 or 40 laps, getting close to that last pit stop for the Daytona 500, I think you're gonna see a lot of bump drafting. I think you're gonna see everybody pushing the envelope as much as they can until NASCAR steps in, so I think you're gonna see the same aggressive Daytona 500 you've always seen."
I'M SURE YOU DON'T WANT TO BE THAT FIRST GUY PENALIZED. "Yeah, as a driver I don't want to be the first guy, so I'm gonna be careful and that's probably what happened yesterday. Everybody is looking around going, 'OK, how much is he bump drafting.' Because when we were in line at the beginning of the race, not only was I paying attention to how close I was to Jeff Burton, I was paying attention to how close Clint Bowyer was to Dale Jarrett. Is he bumping him? Is he not? Who is pushing? Who is not? Is Kurt really hitting me? As a driver, we don't want to be the first one, but we also don't know where the bar is set at. Mike Helton was very vague in his explanation, which is good because it leaves an open area and makes us drivers think a little bit, which means we'll probably be more careful."
IT SEEMED LIKE YOU GUYS GAVE EACH OTHER A LOT OF ROOM. "Yeah, we did because he gave us zones for us to think about, but, like I said, we don't want to be the first driver penalized. You don't want to lose the draft because you're gonna get a lap down and that just makes your day that much longer. So until a driver steps across the line and gets penalized, we really don't know where the mark is at and I don't think that's a bad thing to be honest with you."
DO WRESTLE WITH WHETHER OR NOT TO GET BEHIND A YOUNGER DRIVER COMPARED TO SOMEONE YOU'RE MORE COMFORTABLE WITH? "Those are decisions we have to make as drivers, but I think NASCAR has done a good job of building parity in this sport, where whatever type of car you're in, whoever the car owner is, it doesn't matter because we're all gonna run pretty close to each other. I think that's why we've come up with this new bump drafting rule. When we came in here five years ago, there were four cars that could win the Daytona 500. Now there are 20 cars that can win the Daytona 500. We're all on top of each other. The competition level is very, very thin, so rookies can get up there and have fast cars. I think a lot of them watched us on TV and watched bump drafting and thought it was cool, and just felt they'd knock the mess out of you wherever they got to you. That's pretty much what Mike Helton said in the driver's meeting that some kids know how to do it and some kids don't, so we're gonna implement this rule just to keep us all safe until they can do something maybe with their cars before we go to Talladega. I think it's fun for the rookies. The guys that have good equipment come up there and run. I think they're gonna learn a lot, but at the end of the day I'm gonna try to stay with the experienced guy, too. Most of the time they'll lead you to the promised land, so we'll see how that all plays out on Sunday. Whoever has the fastest car is usually my best friend. That's who I want to be around."
DALE JR. SAID BUMP DRAFTING IS THE BEST WAY TO PASS AND HE LIKES IT WHEN HE GETS BUMP DRAFTED. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THAT? "I think he's right because we're learning so much as drivers -- how to side draft off each other, how to stall each other down, how to bump draft, how to get the guy behind you to help you. Really, when two cars are side by side, the best way to move the guy in front of you, the best way to get your line going is a bump draft. You don't want to have to get up to him and then have to use your brakes and let off and just kind of push him a little bit. I mean, you want to go up there and bump him and hit him and give him a shot, which gives you a shot by the guy and kind of get your line moving. So, yes, the guys who know how to use the bump draft effectively, you want to be in their line because if they know how to do it the right way down the back straightaway and do it before you get to the tri-oval, you're line is gonna move. So I'd rather be in that line. But some guys that are hitting you going into the corner and hitting you going through the tri-oval, I don't want to be in their line because something is gonna happen. I don't think during the Shootout we were all in control of our cars that well with the way everybody was hitting them. But Dale Jr. is right. The best way to make passes and get your line moving is bump drafting."
HOW DO YOU KEEP YOUR COMPOSURE DURING THE 500? "This is the Daytona 500. This is what we live for, so we're focused from the green flag to the checkered flag. It is a long race and it's a very trying race. There are so many things to think about -- getting on and off pit road the correct way -- not losing the draft -- not knocking your fenders in. Those are all things that can hurt you, so this is a very trying race -- not really physically as much as it is mentally. It's a 200 mile an hour chess match. At the end of the day, you're drained. Yesterday was only 60 laps, but at the end of the day I was glad it was over with with all the restarts and the things you've got to do correctly. This is a tough race to run, but it's worth it. This is our Super Bowl."
WOULD YOU LIKE TO HAVE KNOWLEDGE OF EVERYTHING YOUR CREW CHIEF DOES WITH THE CAR? "No, I don't want to know. I don't want to know. If they're doing something that's in a gray area, don't tell me. I don't even want to know. I just want to drive the car and we'll work on the handling side of it, but all the tricks of the trade for qualifying and stuff that these guys do, I don't even want to know."
POINTS ARE TAKEN FROM YOU, THOUGH. "I trust my crew chief. The crew chief and driver have to get along period. We've got to trust each other, whether I'm telling him everything I'm doing in the car or he's telling me everything he's doing it doesn't matter. We've got to have trust. If I don't trust him, and it's not just my 25 points. If he's on my team, it's his 25 points too. So if he wants to take that chance, it's his race team -- let him do it, but I don't want anything to do with it."
WHAT SHOULD THEY DO TO CHAD? "The 25 points doesn't work. One, you've got to give Chad an A-plus. He knows how to manipulate the rules. He's always in the gray area. He makes his car run each and every week. But when it comes to heights and stuff all the time, I think NASCAR really needs to draw the line. If it's a minimum rule, it's a minimum rule. If it's a maximum height rule, it's maximum -- like last year at Dover. There should be a rule, not a one-hour grace period to see if it comes up or goes down, whatever the rules may be. I think if it's your second infraction on the same penalty, or third infraction, then the points and the fines should keep going up and not stay the same. If you get caught once and then you get caught doing the same thing again, the same excuse shouldn't work."
CHAD HAS BEEN CAUGHT A NUMBER OF TIMES. "That's what I'm saying. I think it should keep going up the more a crew chief gets caught. Twenty-five here, then 50, then 100. Penalize the car. Make it sit out for a couple of weeks until they figure out how to go by the rules. I don't care who it is. We need rules in this sport to stay on line, so let's use them. Let's use them. That's what the rules are there for and I just think if a car is too high or too low, or whatever the rule may be, if it's in that rule book black and white."
DOES IT MAKE YOU MAD WHEN YOU'VE DONE IT THE RIGHT WAY BUT SOMEONE IN FRONT OF YOU GOT AWAY WITH SOMETHING. "Yeah, that's tough and you know nothing is done to him. Yeah, that's hard to swallow when your team is working day and night just like everybody else to try to win races the fair way. When there's one winner and 42 losers every week and the guy who won or runs up front is not going by the same rules you are, it's tough. But I think NASCAR is stepping in more and more each and every time and, hopefully, they'll make an example out of somebody pretty soon and kind of straighten everybody up."
SO YOU WOULD SEND THE DRIVER AND WHOLE TEAM HOME? "I think if you get caught doing the same thing over and over again that the penalty should go up. They should set a guideline. The first time offense, this. The second time offense, this. The third time -- and set a guideline. Make sure all the drivers know it. Make sure all the crew chiefs and car owners know it where there are no surprises and nobody is mad and all of that -- where everybody knows what's going on."
DID YOU HIT YOUR TARGET WEIGHT THAT TOMMY SET FOR YOU? "I was close. I missed it by three pounds. I weighed 216 at Homestead and I weighed 203 when I got here to Daytona. I feel so much better now and so much more alive. It's a good feeling I have."
WHAT DID YOU DO? "I walked a lot. I cut a lot of bread out. I got in the gym. I'm getting old now. I'm 30 years old. When I was 29 I was fine. When I got to 30 I started getting tired and winded, so I had to start working out (laughing)."
WHAT'S YOUR BIGGEST SURPRISE ABOUT TOMMY? "He is more organized than any person I've ever worked with in racing. The things that he makes me aware of is amazing. Yesterday before we got in the race car I went up in the front of the truck and he goes, 'OK, these are the five things you did wrong here last year in the duel race and these are the five things you did wrong in the Daytona 500. I want you to keep this in the back of your mind. This is what's gonna be important to us today. You need to get on and off pit road good. Make sure you race aggressive. We need a good starting spot for Sunday.' He just kept me aware of all the things that we needed to do right as a race team, so going into it I'm like, 'Wow, this is great.' Already this morning, he's already been to the bus and talked to Brett (Griffin), my spotter, about the cars that are pitting around us for Sunday. What pit stall we're in. Who is probably gonna be coming in late when we're probably leaving -- to be watching out for those cars. He's already highlighted it for us. Where the pit road lines are. He's already getting us thinking and getting ready for Sunday, so his preparation and his organization is absolutely amazing. He's just got my guys working as a great group. Together they believe in him, they're gonna go to war with him. He is just a great guy. I was very impressed the first time I worked with him at the race track and how prepared he was. It was amazing."
WHAT ABOUT YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH KEVIN BUSKIRK? "Kevin has moved on to a new job now. He's kind of the head engineer pretty much for both teams. He's trying to get the 88 and the 38 working together as best he can. Part of the reason we hired Tommy and Slugger is, one, they're great guys. They know how to win races, but, two, they're working together so well. Kevin is the bridge between the two gaps and to get these guys working together and get both teams working together, where if we try one thing and they try something, we're sharing information more as a team now than we ever have, and a lot of that is due to Kevin."
WILL HE BE INVOLVED IN THE RACE? "I think he'll be going back and forth. 'The 88 tried this and this helped them. That hurt them. The 38 tried this and it helped, and that hurt them.' So that's kind of where he's at right now. He's working really close with all the engineers and all this front travel and things you've got to have now, but his biggest deal is make sure both teams are working together."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT TOMMY'S ENERGY? "He's got a ton of energy. He's just wired all the time and fired up all the time. He shows up early at work. He stays late. He's right there with the guys on the surface plate helping them do their things. It's not like a rah-rah thing, but he's with you. He's with you all the time. You feel like you're never by yourself. When I'm out there in the race car at the test sessions and the races, I feel like he's pretty much in the seat with me. That makes me feel more confident as a driver. He just keeps everybody aware of everything. He understands the game. He understands what the driver is thinking. I think his dad being a race car driver for so long he's heard that side of it. He pretty much knew exactly what I was thinking every lap I ran yesterday, so he's got his stuff together. His energy is just trickling right on down through the shop."