This Week in Ford Racing October 12, 2004 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Elliott Sadler, driver of the No. 38 M&M's Taurus, goes into this weekend's NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Lowe's Motor Speedway fourth in the championship race after gaining...
This Week in Ford Racing
October 12, 2004
NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series
Elliott Sadler, driver of the No. 38 M&M's Taurus, goes into this weekend's NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Lowe's Motor Speedway fourth in the championship race after gaining four spots at Kansas Speedway on Sunday. Sadler, who is 143 points out of the lead, was Tuesday's guest on the weekly teleconference.
ELLIOTT SADLER - No. 38 M&M's Taurus
LOOKING FORWARD TO A GOOD RUN SATURDAY?
"We are. I think Lowe's Motor Speedway is one of the tracks that I excel at as a driver. I usually qualify good there and usually have a good race car. We led a bunch of laps in the spring. I was running third or fourth there last year in the fall and we got caught up in somebody else's stuff, so I've got a lot of confidence going to that track. The guys have built me a brand-new race car and it's a great piece. I can't wait to sit down in it Thursday and go and just try to keep some of this momentum we've got on our side and see if we can carry it through this whole weekend."
EVERYBODY SEEMS TO BE TALKING ABOUT BUSCH, GORDON AND EARNHARDT, JR., BUT YOU SEEM TO HAVE THE MOMENTUM.
"Yeah, I think we're racing a lot differently than some of the other teams are right now. A lot of people are talking about them because they should be the ones that we need to outrun. I really think the 24 car is gonna be the one, when it's all said and done, who we're gonna have to beat. Kurt Busch and Dale, Jr. have won the same amount of championships I have, so they might not know what's really to come the next five or six races. Jeff Gordon has a lot of championship experience. I think his team understands what they need to do to win. I've got a great crew chief that's helping me in that, but we're just kind of out there having fun. We're having a great time - no pressure is on us. We're just out there making laps and if we can get the win, we'll try to get it. If not, we'll do the best we can. Hopefully, we can use that to our advantage before the season comes to an end."
WHO DO YOU RELY ON AS FAR AS WHAT TO EXPECT DOWN THE STRETCH?
"I tell you, I've got the best teammate in the world. Even after the Richmond race, where my teammate, Dale Jarrett, was so disappointed at not making the top 10 and things like that because they worked so hard at it. Two days after that he called me and we talked for an hour on the phone about what can I expect as a driver. 'Here are the tracks we really need to try to win at. Here are the tracks we just need to try to get the best finish we can at. These are some of the emotions you're gonna be going through.' It really got me prepared for every week mentally as far as what I think I should be facing when I'm in the race car because he's been there and done that in 1999 when he won the championship and he understands what the pressures are. He's come forth and said, 'Look, if there are any questions on your mind, please give me a call and let me know.' But he's already pretty much told me what I'll be thinking pretty much before I get to every race and that's exactly what I've gone through. It's made me so relaxed as a race car driver that I'm just having fun with it. It's pretty cool."
SO IF YOU WIN THE TROPHY WILL YOU LET HIM HELP YOU HOLD IT UP?
"Definitely, and he said he would be the first one in New York with me because he's gonna be my biggest fan. I told him not to be surprised if he gets called up on stage with us because he's been a big coach to me - a best friend, one, and a coach second. He's just a great, great teammate. I can't ask for a better situation than I'm in right now. Robert, Carolyn and Doug and everybody here at Yates Racing has been behind me 100 percent. It's just been fun. I just cannot tell you how relaxed we are when we get to the race track now. We're not feeling any pressure. Whether we were eighth in the points last week or fourth this week we're still feeling the same. We're just gonna go to Lowe's and try to win the race, sit on the pole first because I haven't got a pole yet this year. That's our main goal this weekend. If we do that, then we're just gonna have fun for 500 miles and go from there."
TERRY LABONTE ANNOUNCED HE'LL RUN PARTIAL SCHEDULES THE NEXT TWO YEARS, AND WITH RUSTY WALLACE AND BILL ELLIOTT MAKING ANNOUNCEMENTS AS WELL, HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THESE GREAT CHAMPIONS ENDING THEIR CAREERS WHILE YOURS IS JUST STARTING TO BLOOM?
"It's scary to me because I think us young drivers that are in this sport really need to open our eyes and pay attention to where these guys have taken us. We have to take the torch forward and keep carrying it. You're not gonna mention any other higher class names than Terry Labonte or Rusty Wallace or Bill Elliott or Mark Martin or Dale Jarrett or these people that have been in this sport a long time and have gotten us to this point. I think us as young drivers really need to realize that and really take this sport and keep it going on the path that they've got us going in. I watched the teleconference this morning on TV and, like everything else he's ever done in his career, he did it with class and so was Rick Hendrick and their whole organization. It was a neat, neat deal. I do have to say congratulations to Terry. He's set a lot of records and his name will be in the history books for a long time, but us as young drivers really need to pay attention to how these guys do things and what they have represented to the sport and what they have meant to the sport and just keep it going down that line."
DO YOU ENVISION RACING INTO YOUR LATE FORTIES LIKE THESE GUYS HAVE?
"No, I haven't. I was thinking around 40 years old that I would like to maybe start throttling back around then and spend more time at home with my family and things like that. I think our time, because of sponsors and stuff now, we spend a lot more time away from home now than what you did 10 years ago, so it kind of uses you up a little bit more each and every year. So maybe the driver span might not be as long as it used to be by the time I get to 40 years old. That's what I was thinking right now. If I'm still competitive and winning races at 40, I'll continue to do it. But, if not, I might throttle back and spend a lot of time at home with my family and try to do things that way. I have a great respect for these guys that have been in this sport a long, long time - that are still able to do all the appearances and all the obligations that you need to do off the track plus running well on the track. It takes a lot of dedication, a lot of heart and your mentality has got to be great too, so I really commend those guys that are able to do that up into their late forties."
HAVE YOU HAD A CLOSE ASSOCIATION WITH TERRY LABONTE?
"I'll tell you what's funny about Terry that maybe a lot of people don't know. He has got the driest humor. He's one of the funniest guys we have in the garage. I know he's the iron man and the ice man and he's got all these nicknames being calm, cool and collected, but as a person out of his race car, he is one of the funniest and driest humor guys in the world. He'll just make you laugh with joke after joke and he can just tell great stories and stuff like that. His brother, Bobby, is the same way - just great people. That's how I'm gonna remember Terry being around him away from the race track. I love racing with him. He races you the way you race him, which most great veterans do, but I'm just gonna remember all the time away from the race track - how fun he is and how good a guy he is. He always has time for people. You can always go up and ask him any kind of question in the world. He always has time for you. Class is the best word I can use to explain him and his whole family."
WHAT HAS THIS CHASE BEEN LIKE? ONE WEEK YOU THINK YOUR HOPES ARE DONE AND THE NEXT WEEK YOU MOVE UP FOUR SPOTS. IS THIS LIKE ANYTHING YOU'VE DONE BEFORE?
"No, it's not. I've been through every rung on the ladder it seems like in the first four races - from good to bad to thinking we've got a break to, wow, we've got a big hole to dig out of. We still have a big hole to dig out of because Kurt Busch is doing a phenomenal job and Jeff Gordon is right where he wants to be and Dale, Jr. is also. And some guys behind me, I think, are gonna be very tough the last couple of races. As far as my emotions, I think we want to win this championship. That's our ultimate goal. We've dug ourselves a little hole, but the best way to dig ourselves out of that hole is to just keep going to the race track and doing the same things we've been doing all year - and that is to run every single lap we possibly can. At Kansas City, when it came down to that last pit stop, when a lot of the guys filed off to get fuel or whatever and that moved us up, Todd asked me what I wanted to do. It's the attitude we've got. I said, 'Todd, what do we got to lose? Who cares if we run out of gas with two or three laps to go? We came here to win this race. This is the best opportunity for us to win the race. Let's stay out.' And we did and it ended up giving us a fourth-place finish, which is almost like a win to us because we outran everybody else that's in the points chase with us. That's the attitude we have. I was frustrated after Talladega because I just made one little mistake that cost us 20 or 30 points and they're hard to come by nowadays, but, you know what, we're gonna take what it gives us. The final 10 races are a bonus to us anyway and a bonus to our sponsors. We know we're going to New York and I'm very happy about that. I just hope I get to talk later in the show, instead of the first one that has to come on stage. That's kind of the way I'm looking at it right now."
HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH THE EMOTIONAL SWING ON A WEEKLY BASIS?
"It's taken you through every emotion that I think a human can possibly have. I'm not a person that hides his feelings very well. I wear my feelings right out on my sleeve where everybody can see them. When I'm in a bad mood everybody knows it. When I'm in a good mood everybody knows it. What's been helping me is Todd's been really good to me. My teammate, Dale Jarrett, has really been talking me through a lot of things because he's been there and he understands it and understands my age and how I'm looking at things. I think they've been the best two - even after a frustrating day. As soon as I landed at home Sunday night back in Charlotte my phone rang and it was Dale Jarrett and we talked for 40 minutes about what could have happened and what should have happened. 'OK, this is how we're gonna fix it and this is how we're gonna get ready for Kansas City.' That's really got me more prepared than anything and really has gotten my attitude to where it needs to be to be successful in this deal."
YOU'RE A HUNTER. IS THE RACE SEASON TOO LONG FOR YOU?
"What's messing me up this year is that hunting season is coming in a week early in Virginia. Deer hunting comes in the Saturday I'm at Darlington, so, yeah, we need to work on that. I need to get with the state of Virginia and see if they can't back hunting up a week or so because I'm gonna miss the first couple of weeks. I'll be in Homestead doing stuff also all week, but I do look forward to when Homestead is over with and I get to go spend time at home in Virginia - doing some deer hunting with some friends I went to high school and all with, so I always look forward to that time. But as far as the race season being too long, it is a long season. It is tough, but I think the way that we've done the points now and split it up, it kind of seems like it's not that long anymore. It's like two separate seasons, so that's kind of made the time go by a lot quicker this year."
IF THERE WAS A DRIVER'S CUP FOR GOLFING WOULD YOU WIN THAT?
"It would be close. My teammate is probably the best golfer. I might get him some days, but he can putt so much better than I can. He won't tell me all the secrets of putting yet. He kicks my butt on the green every time, but I'd be close, I'd be first or second - probably second. He's probably a little better golfer than I am, but I'd give him a run for his money."
HAVE YOU HAD YOUR BEST MOMENT IN RACING YET?
"I get asked that question some about your best moment and what you're thinking of. I think my best moment in racing, and some people think of things differently, I remember the first time - when I was like 20 or 21 years old - I remember the first time a tractor-trailer actually pulled in the race track with my name on the side of it. I thought that was the coolest thing in the world. It's almost like, 'wow, you made it.' I think that as a kid growing up and watching my older brother race and being a big fan of NASCAR, that's probably the most special thing that's ever happened to me and something that just sticks out in my mind. I've had a lot of great things happen to me on the race track - winning races and running good and stuff like that, but as far as this is a cool great childhood dream came true is when I was standing there and watched the trucks come in for the first time and watched my name on the side of the truck come into Daytona - 1997 actually for the first race at Daytona. I was in the Busch Series race there and I thought that was the coolest thing in the world."
WHAT'S UP WITH YOUR HAIR?
"I just wanted to do something different. There are no excuses to it. There is no sideline stuff going on. It's something different. I've been clean-cut, crew-cut like haircut my whole life and I saw a guy's hair on TV one day and thought, 'You know what, that would cool.' So I'm starting to let it grow. I'm probably gonna even bleach it this winter when nobody is around to see what it looks like blond while I'm hunting. That way it'll have time to grow back into my color by the time I get back to Daytona. It's just something to do different. I'm gonna let it grow all the way out all during hunting season and if it doesn't look good, I'll probably cut it by the time I make it down for the Daytona 500 next year. But it's just something different. I like it. It's different. I don't even have to comb it when I get out of bed. I kind of just let it go wherever it wants to go. All of my guys on the team are calling me 'Shaggy' but I don't care. It's cool. I'm also a little bit superstitious. I haven't had a DNF. We made it in the top 10 and we won at California. A lot of good things have happened to me since I've gone on this strike as far as not cutting my hair, so I'm kind of just gonna let it all play out right now."
HOW MUCH DO YOU PRIDE YOURSELF ON FINISHING RACES?
"That's great because last year I did have a lot of DNF's and I was driving over my head half the time. This year I think I've learned so much about when to race, when not to race, race the race track and pick your battles. That's something I've really learned this year. I've been a big student of picking my battles on the race track and it seems to have worked out good. That was the first thing I said to Todd after we wrecked at Talladega. We flipped and he said, 'No DNF, buddy. We crossed the start-finish line. I don't care how bad the car looks.' That's something with my whole team. They've got a lot of pride right now. In the engine shop, we haven't had any engine problems. There's nothing falling off the car. We've just been very lucky to stay out of everybody's problems and way and get the finishes. That's what our team wants to do the rest of the year. We're nothing flashy. We're not gonna go out and lead the most laps every week and run in the top two every week, but we're gonna run every single lap that's on that schedule. We think if we keep doing that, anything is possible."
YOU TESTED MARTINSVILLE, RIGHT?
"Wow, Martinsville is fast. Martinsville is very, very fast. It's a very smooth race track. It's got a lot of grip. We ran about a second faster than we did last year, so there definitely will be a new track record set when we go up there next week. I don't know about the two grooves yet. We've got to get more cars on the race track moving around a little bit to see if the second groove is gonna come in. Right now, it's just everything is right around the bottom. But Clay Campbell and his bunch did a great job. They spent a lot of money and we as drivers really appreciate the soft walls - not only on the outside, but he also put them on the inside. So we do have to say thank you to him for that, but I think you're gonna see a lot of fast times. They made it a lot more driver friendly, which will probably bunch us up a lot. There should probably be some good racing by the time we get there."
HOW COMFORTABLE ARE YOU AT LOWE'S AND HOMESTEAD?
"Lowe's has always fit my driving style. I really always qualify good there and I usually have a good car and got a good feel. There are certain places that just fit your driving style more than others. Homestead, I really enjoyed going there last year. I had a great Busch car there last year and I think we had an engine problem with a couple laps to go. We were running like second or third. We didn't really run that good there in the Cup car, but we learned a lot. But I really liked Homestead. You could race on the bottom. You could race up high. They really made it a two-groove race track, so I was glad to see when they added banking. At Homestead we'll be going there and testing for two days. We'll get down there in some hot weather and check things out. Miami will be pretty cool and I can't wait to go down there. Homestead is a great track. It's fun. I'm glad they changed it and I can't wait until we finish the season up down there."
HOW DO YOU SEE YOUR CHANCES FOR THE TITLE?
"We're gonna continue to do the same things we've done all year and that's just to try and run every lap. We've got a good car for this weekend. We went and tested for Martinsville. My teammate is going to test Phoenix and we're gonna go off his notes a lot I'm sure. We're preparing ourselves as best we can. We really tried to cross ever 't' and dot every 'i' and we're just gonna go out there and run every lap and whatever happens happens. We're gonna try to go to Lowe's Motor Speedway and win this race this weekend. I don't care what it does for the points. If it's a fuel mileage race, we're gonna take that chance. We're gonna do whatever we can to try to get in Victory Lane because I think it would be cool to win at Lowe's Motor Speedway. That's the kind of attitude we're gonna have for the rest of the year and we're gonna sit down at Homestead at the end of the year and see what that gives us."
HOW WOULD YOU VIEW A TITLE IF IT WAS BY 25 POINTS OR LESS OVER DALE, JR.?
"I'd look at it as if my team did a great, great job to get me in that situation. I think where the media is messing up is that it shouldn't be that it was Dale Earnhardt, Jr., it should be any driver. Whether it was the 8 or the 89, it doesn't matter who the driver is. If you break a rule of NASCAR's, then you've got to pay the price no matter who it is. So I think that's a mistake a lot of us are making is that it's all because it was him. NASCAR told us when we went to New Hampshire that they're gonna call the races the same as they always have and they've stuck by that. I have to applaud NASCAR for being consistent, but I think it's hard to ask a race team how they're gonna feel if they win the championship by less than 25 points if it's over the 8 car because I can't look my guy straight in the face and feel like that's gonna be a tainted championship because I've seen how hard they've worked all year long. We've done ourselves a great job to put ourselves in this position and we've beaten 43 other great, great race teams to get ourselves in this position. The 8 car might feel a little bad maybe of what happened or what maybe put themselves in that position, but whoever wins the championship, I can't see that their team would feel bad about it because their team has done a lot of great things to get themselves in that position."