An interview with Elliott Sadler and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Let's meet our two championship contenders in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. The second driver, 41 points out of first, is a member of NASCAR's most notable families, Elliott Sadler. Our points leader right now in the NASCAR Nationwide Series has two wins on the year and leads the series with 15 top fives and 25 top 10s. He will lock up the championship with a finish of 37th or better on Saturday. Please welcome Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. Guys, welcome to the press conference.
Elliott, I'll start with you first. It's a longshot, but you have bounced back all season long. After the season opener in Daytona, you went on to lead the points twice. What's your mindset going into this weekend?
ELLIOTT SADLER: It's to try to go ahead and win the race. We feel like last week leaving Phoenix, the wreck and stuff we were involved in put us probably in too big of a hole for anything to happen this weekend.
We come in here and try to end the season on the best possible note we can, and that's to sit on the pole and win the race. That's really all we can do.
It's been a great season. We definitely have had a lot of ups, a few downs. Last week put us in a hole that I don't think we can overcome this week. It's going to be tough.
Ricky and those guys really have to mess up pretty bad. I'll talk to you more about that later (smiling). They have to mess up bad on Saturday for us to have a legitimate shot at the championship. We have to do the best job we can on Saturday, throw caution to the wind and see where that takes us.
SHANNON SPAKE: Last season you had one of the greatest comebacks in Nationwide Series history to win the Rookie of the Year title. Now you're sitting on stage and if you finish 37th or better you'll win your first title. Can you tell me what this journey has been like for you?
RICKY STENHOUSE, JR.: It's been a journey that's been obviously up and down. One of the biggest things that makes me feel good is to be able to bring a consistent year to the guys that stood behind me. Our team, everybody at Ford Racing, Roush Fenway, everybody that stood behind us just to see them as excited as I am, I think that's been one of the key things to me to appreciate this year.
But it's definitely been a journey. I've learned a lot from it.
SHANNON SPAKE: Now to conduct the Q&A portion with the Nationwide Series contenders, we welcome back Kerry Tharp.
KERRY THARP: We now have Elliott and Ricky available for questions.
Q. Ricky, Elliott hinted the only way you could lose if it is there is some colossal screw ups. Do you let those thoughts creep into your head or are you just focused on the race? Do you let that worry you at all?
RICKY STENHOUSE, JR.: I'm not really worried too much. We're just going to go out there and do our same thing we've been doing since Daytona at the start of the year. We're going to go out, get our car as fast in practice, qualify as well as we can, race as hard as we can.
I think when you start trying to control things, I think that's when you get in trouble. So we're just going to go out and do our same deal as we always do. Homestead is one of my favorite racetracks. I think we'll have a good shot to win this weekend. I think that would be a good way to cap off Ford Championship Weekend.
Q. Ricky, we know how Elliott felt after last weekend, obviously. Is there any small part of you that wishes it hadn't kind of ended that way and you could race your way to the finish a little bit more?
RICKY STENHOUSE, JR.: Yeah, we've been having a great battle all year. It was exciting. Obviously it took a lot of pressure off our shoulders. Looking back, I mean, that could have happened to us. You know what I mean? You don't wish that on anybody.
Like I've told Elliott before, I really learned a lot from him coming down the homestretch running for this championship. He's given me a lot of room. I don't think we've touched. We've raced really hard and clean. I really respect that and learned a lot from him.
Q. Kind of a character-building question. Ricky, from your perspective, how has this season gone with your teammate, Trevor Bayne, two young guys? From a character-building aspect, how has that been? And Elliott, as you look ahead to 2012, what has this season done to enable you to be a strong championship contender then?
RICKY STENHOUSE, JR.: Trevor and I, we've obviously had different years, with him having to be out of the racecar for a while. I was there to support him, there to back him up when he came back and started to run with us.
Obviously I was trying to keep up with him when he was running around after Daytona, showed him some support. Now he's getting to do that for me. It's been a good year for both of us.
ELLIOTT SADLER: I think for me, for 2012, is to just build on the things we've learned this year, what we've learned in the championship hunt good and bad. A lot of things changing this winter. We're merging with RCR, moving to their campus. We're going to be a three-car Nationwide team, Austin and I will be teammates. There's a lot of stuff to build on what we know this year.
Looking forward to being back in the championship race again and maybe add to that and maybe have a little bit better shot coming into Homestead. Just learn from the positives and negatives from this year and go after them again, see what happens.
Q. Ricky, if you were able to win the championship this coming Saturday, how important is that for you guys heading into next year? Will it give you a drive saying, It will be fantastic, we'll win more races, or are you going to go back and say, We'll start fresh next year even if we won the championship?
RICKY STENHOUSE, JR.: It will give our team confidence, for sure. But we got to get some sponsorships sold before we can get back out there and keep going. Obviously that's been a struggle for us this year, to secure that sponsorship. I think that's going to be our first goal, is to get that secured.
But after the championship is over, we're going to go back to the grind. The guys are going to keep working hard. You can't ever relax. These guys have got to work as hard as they can in the off-season and make our cars better. It's a business that if you're not keeping up with it, you'll fall behind.
Q. Elliott, obviously everybody wants to be in Cup. You're a father of two kids now. Have you enjoyed having Sundays off?
ELLIOTT SADLER: I tell you what. I love being in a competitive racecar. That's the number one thing I've loved being a part of this year. I definitely want to be back in Cup, but I would only do it if I'm back in a competitive ride.
I've had so much fun this year racing hard on Saturdays, racing for the wins.
I think the best thing that's helped me cope with being home on Sunday is my two kids. My daughter was just born, but I could spend every Sunday home with my son, playing with him, laying on the floor, rolling around, watching the race. That's definitely helped ease the pain of not being a Cup Series driver.
I don't want to be a Cup driver just to say, Hey, I'm a Cup driver. The things I've been through this year make it seem so much more fun, so much more relaxing at the racetrack. When you're a competitor, you show up, you have a chance to do something good every week, it is so much more fun. My wife likes it a lot better at home, too. When I'm at home, I'm easier to be around.
My son helped me be easier to be around when I'm home on Sundays than if I were not part of a family.
Q. Elliott, a few Cup drivers next year from this season, they're probably going to have to drop back to the Nationwide Series. What kind of advice would you give them as far as how to handle that, to leave the top series, take a step back?
ELLIOTT SADLER: I tell you what, it's to make the most of it is my advice. Have fun with it.
I promise you, if you ask them a question how they feel about how they're racing, give them six months in a Nationwide car and they're competitive, they'll give you the same answer, they're having a lot more fun when you're racing with good equipment.
I had a ball with it this year, I had a ball each and every week. I still get to race against a lot of the guys that race on Sunday.
This is the most fun I've had in a racecar since I drove for Robert Yates this year. It was a lot of fun. I had a great connection with my owner, the same connection I had with Mr. Yates when I drove his car.
Hopefully those guys that are looking at maybe having a career path change this year will find something that will keep them in competitive equipment and keep them a part of the sport.
Q. This year in Nationwide it's been a tight fight. What is your take on the excitement?
ELLIOTT SADLER: The excitement of all of our races? You mean Nationwide or everything?
I think it's been great. For a while we had three of us really racing each other hard, with Reed Sorenson there being part of the battle. Seemed like every week one of us would mess up, the other two would do good, we kept rotating the top spot. Then we lost Reed kind of out of the battle. Then Ricky and I felt like we had some good, competitive runs against each other the last few months.
I hope it was exciting for the fans. It was definitely exciting from our seat. You never knew when we got to Homestead who would be part of this battle. We've seen a lot of teams get strong as the years go on, Brian Scott, Aric Almirola, people that are definitely going to be better for next year's championship.
Hopefully the fans like how things went this year. It's been good, hard, close racing with this new car in the Nationwide Series.
KERRY THARP: Ricky and Elliott, thank you very much. That concludes our Q&A for the Nationwide Series contenders.