Sadler hopes to take his place in Woods' lore By Matthew Leach STUART, Va. (Jan. 13, 2000) You would have had to feel for Elliott Sadler -- except that he was having so much fun. Here was the Wood Brothers' prized young driver,...
Sadler hopes to take his place in Woods' lore By Matthew Leach
STUART, Va. (Jan. 13, 2000) You would have had to feel for Elliott Sadler -- except that he was having so much fun.
Here was the Wood Brothers' prized young driver, surrounded by men decades his senior swapping stories about how well they used to do things before he got there. And the man who was the subject of most of the stories sat just two seats away from him -- David Pearson, recently named by at least one publication as the driver of the century.
Pressure? Just a little. But instead of wincing or flinching, Sadler was laughing. He was enjoying being on the stage for the Woods' celebration of their 50th year in racing, and thrilled to sit so close to Pearson, one of his childhood heroes.
"To be on the same stage as David Pearson is a big thrill," Sadler said during the 50th-year celebration, part of the UAW-GM Motorsports Media Tour. "I grew up watching races just like you all did, and watching the good show he put on for everybody. Even being on the same stage with the Wood Brothers, to drive the same No. 21 he did, that's a great honor for me. That's kind of hard to put in words. I've been a race fan for so long it's pretty special."
Sadler knows that he didn't exactly live up to the standards of the Pearson days -- or even the Kyle Petty or Morgan Shepherd days -- in 1999, his rookie season in NASCAR Winston Cup Series racing. But by his own expectations, as well as by any fair standard for a rookie driver, he had a pretty decent year.
He finished 24th in points, with just one top-10 showing. However, he strung together quite a streak of respectable finishes in the second half of the season, placing 22nd or better in 16 of the final 20 races. At one point he had six top-20s in seven starts.
Not gaudy numbers, for sure. But for a 24-year-old in NASCAR's top division, just finishing every week is an accomplishment.
"If you measure with the last five or six Winston Cup rookies of the year," Sadler said, "we'd have been right in the middle of them. So I don't feel bad or ashamed at all of this Citgo team or myself. We did what a normal rookie team should do. We started off kind of bad but improved and got better as the year went on. And we really think a lot of the success and the progress we made is definitely gonna pay off for us this year."
He hopes so. Because although Sadler loves being part of the Woods' historic team, and treasures the times he can shoot the bull with Glen and Leonard Wood and Pearson, he acknowledges that there's a certain amount of pressure that comes with piloting the 21 car.
And that pressure is sure to be magnified and multiplied in this, the team's 50th year, when every retrospective mentions Pearson's win over Richard Petty at Daytona in 1976, or Dan Gurney's four wins in four starts with the team, or Dale Jarrett's first career win. The Wood Brothers have 96 wins as NASCAR Winston Cup Series team owners, but none since 1993 and certainly none with Sadler as their driver.
"That's the only pressure I feel this year is to represent the Wood Brothers on their 50th anniversary," Sadler said. "So we've got to do a good job for them. We can't slip up and not do a good job for these guys. To be able to represent them is also an honor, so with that comes pressure, but none those guys put on me. They're ready to go and so am I and we're just looking forward to big things.
"We want to get back to the Wood Brothers winning every week, and having people really remember how they used to race. I think that's why you hear David Pearson's name so much."