Elliott Sadler, driver of the No. 21 Citgo Taurus, will be making his second straight top-10 start after qualifying ninth for tomorrow's Food City 500. Sadler, a devoted North Carolina basketball fan, was overjoyed when the Tar Heels...
Elliott Sadler, driver of the No. 21 Citgo Taurus, will be making his second straight top-10 start after qualifying ninth for tomorrow's Food City 500. Sadler, a devoted North Carolina basketball fan, was overjoyed when the Tar Heels beat Tennessee in last night's NCAA men's basketball south regional semi-final. The dilemma Sadler faces on Sunday is that the race begins at 1 p.m. while North Carolina tips off against Tulsa at 2:40 p.m. for a chance to go to the Final Four. He spoke about his affection for the Chapel Hill branch and how he plans on being in two places at one time.
ELLIOTT SADLER --21-- Citgo Taurus --
HOW DID YOU BECOME SUCH A BIG NORTH CAROLINA BASKETBALL FAN?
"I just grew up a big Carolina fan. A lot of people in my area went to Carolina and my dad has been in the Rams Club for about 30-35 years, even before I was born and he's always donated money there. I've been going there for a long time and went to all the games. Me and my brother went there and now he's involved in the alumni part of it so it's still a big part of our family."
DID YOU HAVE A DESIRE TO GO TO CAROLINA?
"I wanted to go and try to play basketball in college and I knew I couldn't play for them, so I tried to go to a smaller school (James Madison). That's the only reason I didn't go there (to North Carolina). Then I tore my knee all to pieces and quit college so I could come back and race and work at home and learn the family business. That seemed to work out the best for me."
WHAT WERE YOUR THOUGHTS WATCHING THE GAME LAST NIGHT?
"I was pretty happy last night. They played a great game. They got ahead and then got behind. Tennessee was definitely a little bit more athletic than they were, but they used their heads at the end of the game and got back in it and did the right things that you're supposed to do. They usually teach fundamental basketball at Carolina. I went to all of their basketball camps, so it was good to see because everybody has been down on them. At the end of the year they played awful and I'm glad to see that the team has come together and turned the season around. They've made a tough season into a pretty decent one, so that's probably good for all of them."
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR BASKETBALL MEMORIES OF ATTENDING CAROLINA GAMES?
"We always got to sit on the floor, always. My brother and I always sat on the floor right behind the basketball goal, right there with all the photographers. To be able to hear what the players are saying is a lot of fun, but TV doesn't do the game any justice as far as the contact that's involved in college basketball. They really use each other up pretty good. Probably the coolest thing that's ever happened to me, and it sounds weird, but J.R. Reid was a big-time star when he played there. Well, he fell right on top of me one game and I thought that I was the greatest thing that ever lived. He tried to save a basketball, I caught him and I saved his life (laughing). He could have broken a leg or something, but the impact of me cushioning him from the hardwood floor probably helped his career a lot, so that's something I'll always feel good about (laughing)."
WHAT WERE THE BASKETBALL CAMPS LIKE?
"They were awesome. I got Michael Jordan's autograph when he was a freshman in college and I still have it today. Then I got it again when he was on crutches after he broke his foot like his second year in the NBA. I can tell everybody I knew Michael way back when before he was big-time. I got to meet a lot of players and for a little kid to be able to do things like be at the back gate, it's unreal. It's just like these fans who come to the race and come down here in the pits to see their favorite drivers go in and out of these trailers and back and forth between cars, as a kid, that's the coolest thing in the world. That's something I'll never forget."
WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO TOMORROW WITH THE RACE AND GAME GOING ON AT THE SAME TIME?
"We're gonna tape the basketball game so I can watch it later. I might not want to watch it because Tulsa is an awesome basketball team. I think they're gonna surprise everybody. I like underdogs so I kind of like Tulsa, but I definitely don't want them to beat Carolina. We're gonna put it on tape so I can watch it after the race."
WILL YOU ASK YOUR CREW FOR SCORE UPDATES DURING CAUTION FLAGS?
"No, Mike Beam probably doesn't want that too much. I used to do that some with Sandy Jones in the Busch Series. When we ran on Saturday we were all into college football. He was a big Alabama fan and I was a big Carolina fan. We always tried to get scores and stuff during cautions and that was pretty neat, it was a lot of fun, but I probably won't do that tomorrow. We're starting in a good spot and we'll probably be all business."
HOW ABOUT THE RACE TOMORROW. WHAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS?
"I tell you what, we're so happy to be on the frontstretch, that's a big plus. To start in the top 10 we might be out of some of the mess. I mean, last week at Darlington the race didn't get off to a good start for a lot of people, so it's a good deal to be up front. Hopefully, we can save some of our car and brakes and things like that, and we think we're gonna have a bad race car for the race -- we really do. That thing, the last time it raced it was awesome we just started 31st. I think where we're starting at and the way this car races, we'll have a good shot at a top-five or top-10 come Sunday."
IS THIS THE MOST CONFIDENT YOU'VE BEEN IN YOUR SHORT WINSTON CUP CAREER?
"By far. I'm looking forward to each and every week, every race track we go to. I know we can race good, I know that now. I know we've got good race cars, we've just gotta hit the setup. We feel like if we can hit it, we can run with anybody."
MIKE BEAM, Crew Chief --21-- Citgo Taurus --
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT ELLIOTT'S DEVELOPMENT OVER THIS LAST YEAR?
"I think he's really maturing as a Winston Cup driver. I think some of the Busch Series ideas he brought and the stuff you could run on a Busch car, I think he thought it would work on these cars but he's learning that you really can't. He's really come a long ways as far as himself. We're still basically running the same cars we had last year, but I think the big key is Elliott's just matured as a Winston Cup driver."
WHAT'S THE KEY FOR ELLIOTT TOMORROW?
"The key for him tomorrow is that if the car won't do something, he has to find a real comfortable rhythm and try to make the best of it until you have a caution and can work on it. So many times here you see people that when they force the issue that's when they get in trouble."
IS THIS THE KIND OF TRACK THAT ELLIOTT CAN EXCEL ON?
"For someone so young, I call him a kid which he is compared to me, but he's got a lot of patience. We'll talk to him on the radio, but he's aware of his surroundings and he's aware of what he needs to do. He's really focussed and that's one thing that has really impressed me. He doesn't force the issue and I'm very thankful for that."
HE'S A BIG NORTH CAROLINA FAN.
"Well, I'm a big Duke fan. We don't want to talk about last night."
WHAT IF ELLIOTT ASKS FOR A SCORE OF THE CAROLINA GAME DURING THE RACE TOMORROW?
"If I was a Carolina fan, I'd probably tell him but since I'm a Duke Blue Devil fan I probably won't. I'll probably care less (laughing). I think once he gets started here racing he's not gonna worry about that game and I'm not gonna worry about the Tar Heels."
Dale Jarrett, driver of the No. 88 Quality Care Service/Ford Credit Taurus, is also a Tar Heel basketball fan and was equally thrilled over North Carolina's win last night. He spoke about that and tomorrow's race in which he will start 20th.
DALE JARRETT --88-- Quality Care Service/Ford Credit Taurus --
WILL YOU ASK FOR CAROLINA SCORE UPDATES IN THE RACE TOMORROW DURING CAUTION FLAGS?
"It's gonna be hard for me because my spotter (Bob Jeffrey) is a Tennessee fan. I'm sure he's not gonna give me much of an update. There's no way of us getting finished before the game starts, but if I'm having a good day I might ask if anybody knows what's going on."
HOW DID YOU BECOME A CAROLINA FAN?
"Glenn, my brother, went to Carolina. It's just their program and the way Dean Smith developed those guys on and off the court, but we had that family connection with Glenn going there. I don't go to see many games, but I just enjoy watching them play and the way the conduct themselves on the floor."
CAN YOU GRADE YOUR SEASON SO FAR?
"I look at this season a lot like last season to this point, other than Daytona which was totally opposite. Otherwise, I look at it as pretty much the same thing. We struggled qualifying at the beginning of last year, maybe all of last year, but especially at the beginning and we struggled on the race track some but I think we're hitting on some things that are better for us and we're kind of gaining some momentum. I guess I'd have to say that maybe we're a B right now because we had the success at Daytona, but the other places when we got into the race, other than last week and it took us the first half of the race to get competitive, we still have some work to do. I think we're gaining some momentum and, hopefully, it'll keep going and we can do the same things we did last year." HOW IS YOUR CAR HERE AT THE TRACK? "I fought tight all day yesterday and that's something we fight here most of the time, but it doesn't seem that I'm as tight as what I have been. I think loose race cars come along with increased speeds and I think if you see times pick up and, obviously, a new track record was set and, even though my time is the fastest I've ever been around this place officially, it was only good for 20th. When you increase the speeds then you're gonna start to hear more about loose."
DOES THIS TIRE HELP YOU TURN QUICKER IN THE CORNER?
"I think maybe they put that word out there to kind of get it in your head to help you think that's what happening and I guess it does to a certain degree. Obviously, it has to or else we wouldn't have run the speeds that we did yesterday. From what I see I think the race pace right now is a little bit quicker than what we've seen, but it seems that the tire starts to go away a little bit and then you start sliding the front end. The turning part may help you at the beginning of a run, but I'm not sure it's gonna be there after you run 40 or 50 laps."
Scott Pruett, driver of the No. 32 Tide Taurus, hit the wall during his second-round qualifying attempt and did not make the field for tomorrow's race.
SCOTT PRUETT --32-- Tide Taurus -- "I was just going for it. We had a good session this morning and this was gonna put it in the field one way or another and it just got out from underneath me coming off four and that was it. I hate for it to happen for the whole team because everybody's working so hard. This is part of it, just learning where those boundaries are. We knew coming into it there was gonna be those kind of days. There's a bright spot here somewhere and we're gonna keep looking for it until we find it."
WHAT DID YOU BANG UP, YOU'RE LIMPING PRETTY GOOD?
"My left ankle hit one of those pedals pretty hard and it took a pretty big bruise on the top of it, but that's about it."