New crew chief, new chance for Sadler

New crew chief, new chance for Sadler

Elliott Sadler's love affair with Daytona has always seemed short-lived. Under the tutelage of new crew chief Tommy Baldwin, Jr., Sadler is hoping that lady luck smiles through to the Daytona 500. Elliott Sadler. Photo by Eric ...

Elliott Sadler's love affair with Daytona has always seemed short-lived. Under the tutelage of new crew chief Tommy Baldwin, Jr., Sadler is hoping that lady luck smiles through to the Daytona 500.

Elliott Sadler.
Photo by Eric Gilbert.
Sadler and the No. 38 Ford team always get off to a gangbuster start at Speedweeks. They won their Gatorade Duel event in 2004 and started on the outside pole for the 500 grabbing a seventh place result. He had a breakout year in 2004, his second with Robert Yates Racing, finishing ninth in the Chase for the Championship and scoring two wins.

Unfortunately, the team lost momentum towards the end of the 2004 season and the strain was starting to show at Speedweeks 2005. The No. 38 Ford lost a transmission during their Duel qualifying race forcing them to start 39th for the Daytona 500. They pulled out an 11th place finish but it was a harbinger of things to come.

Sadler and Team 38 just couldn't stop the hemorrhaging last year. Despite garnering four poles the team had just one top five all season. Things came to a head after the fall New Hampshire event when veteran crew chief Todd Parrott was ejected from the team. Head Robert Yates Racing engineer Kevin Buskirk stepped in but it was too late to make a difference. Sadler missed the Chase, earned just three top-ten's in the years last nine races and after 11 finishes of 23rd or worse which kept him mired in 13th in final standings.

"We have plenty of room to improve from last year and I think we are on our way to doing that," said team owner Robert Yates. "I am pretty excited. The cars are running good and handing good.I think we'll be good. I am looking forward to it."

Hopefully, the dark cloud has now lifted.

The energy and organization Baldwin has brought to the No. 38 Ford has this team hopeful. The duo appears to have gelled personalities and Sadler is benefiting from Baldwin's frenetic pace.

"He is more organized than any person I've ever worked with in racing," said Sadler of Baldwin. "The things that he makes me aware of are 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.'"

Baldwin forced Sadler to drop some pounds and get into shape. He ended up losing about 10 pounds, cutting the carbs and kicking up his workout routine.

"I was close," said Sadler of his weight loss target. "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. 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."

Race winner Elliott Sadler celebrates with this team.
Photo by Eric Gilbert.
Sadler looks fit and energized, despite his shaggy hair and two-day stubble he is bright-eyed and bubblier than he has been in a good 30 races. Right now, he's got a lot to smile about. He won his Duel race which puts him in the third starting spot for the Daytona 500.

"Man, this is a great feeling," Sadler said after his Duel victory. "Tommy and the guys have been pumped up so much coming back down here. To get a win for M&M's is a great feeling. We were shut out last year and Tommy came on board and it gave us a new outlook on racing and new ideas about things. To get Ford Fusion's first win in NASCAR is great and something I will always remember."

Sadler chose not to run the risk of wadding up his Daytona 500 car during a feisty three-wide practice session on Friday. He ran just three laps and was 39th quickest before parking the No. 38 M&M's Ford.

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Series NASCAR-CUP