Elliott Sadler - NASCAR teleconference, part 1

NASCAR Teleconference Transcript January 14, 2009 An interview with Elliott Sadler HERB BRANHAM: We're joined now by NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Elliott Sadler. Elliott, thanks for joining us. It's been an interesting off-season for...

NASCAR Teleconference Transcript
January 14, 2009

An interview with
Elliott Sadler

HERB BRANHAM: We're joined now by NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Elliott Sadler. Elliott, thanks for joining us. It's been an interesting off-season for you and your team to say the least. Things appear to be shaking out. What's the overall outlook for you and everyone coming into Daytona this year?

ELLIOTT SADLER: Well, I think it's good. You know, I'm really - I've been in the shop the last couple days and really like everybody's attitude right now. We feel like we've hit on some things this winter. We've been pretty successful in the Daytona 500 the last couple years, so I can't think of a better race to get our season started off with. All in all, I think every race team is ready to get going, ready to get started, ready - let's get some time on the racetrack and get things moving.

You know, right now I'm just sitting here just kind of eager, chomping at the bit, ready to get buckled in the seat, put those seatbelts on, get the helmet on and let's get practicing and into Speed Weeks and let's get the season kicked off.

HERB BRANHAM: We're ready to go to media for questions for our next guest, Elliott Sadler.

Q: Elliott, talk about all of the stuff surrounding you and how you go into a season maybe with some feelings that there was talk that they might have replaced you or how realistic any of that was.

ELLIOTT SADLER: Yeah, that's a great question. I think we've all been a part of this business long enough to know that performance is the bottom line, and when you don't perform, you sit down in meetings and you try to hash through things, and some of the meetings are good and some of them are not. At the end of the day, everybody has to be held accountable for what you're trying to do on and off the racetrack.

You know, we went through some meetings and stuff this winter where the team was not happy with the 19's performance and how we run on the racetrack, and of course I wasn't, either, because at the end of the day you want to be in the Chase and you want to contend for wins.

You know, we had some meetings, and some of them were good, some of them were bad, but I don't think it's fair to sit here today and say that the team didn't want me. I think what they want is the best possible situation they feel they can succeed in as far as their sponsors are concerned, as far as the crew members and stuff like that are concerned. So to sit here and say that mentality is correct I think is inaccurate.

I think that we both want whatever is the best for the 19 team and our sponsors and also Elliott Sadler, and we've hashed through a lot of that. We think we've made some headway because of that. We really feel optimistic about a lot of the changes that we've made to the 19 team going into Daytona. We've made a lot of personnel changes, running different types of cars and stuff this year. We've got a new guy on the pit box. So really I'm optimistic going into Daytona, because one, it's a good race for me and always has been in the past, and I really think we can put our best foot forward at that track.

Actually going into this racing year I'm pretty optimistic on the progress we have made just in the last couple months, not only material and stuff-wise but also mentally between myself and the team.

Q: And so none of that will linger around as you head into the season and you won't have to forget anything?

ELLIOTT SADLER: I don't think it will. It shouldn't. We're professionals, and when we show up to play, we should be ready to play. When we're on the field, we should give it our all 100 percent, whether it's me and the race car or the guys doing the pit stops or the guys bolting the shocks on, whoever it may be and whatever it may be.

As far as the team is concerned and myself is concerned, it's in the past. You know, I've been to the shop the last two days. Not one conversation about what happened a week ago. All the conversations were how can we go to Daytona, be competitive; how can we go to California, the next race, and be competitive, and things like that. That is the mentality we have right now, Gillett and Evernham Motorsports; we feel like we're moving ahead. We, me especially, has to be a leader and a quarterback for my team, and my focus and all my energy right now is going to Daytona and being successful.

Q: You know, I think that there's probably a lot of - I think we're all going to sort of focus on this, how you can possibly come back from sort of the situation that occurred. Can you sort of take us through that and how you found out that you were originally going to be released and then the decision-making process of possibly filing a lawsuit against Gillett Evernham?

ELLIOTT SADLER: Right. I can take you through some of the timeline. I don't remember specific dates, but we have competition meetings just like every other race team, and it got down to the end of the - after the season was over with, and we wanted to try to make the 19 team better, and a lot of different ideas and situations and stuff came out in the open. We were at - myself and the team were looking at a lot of different ways to be better, and sometimes our ideas were not on the same page, so there was a lot of debating and things like that going on. We came up with a whole list of things to change, and one of those was a driver change. That's something that came up.

As far as the legal part of it and stuff like that, I think there comes a time in everybody's life where you're seeking some kind of legal guidance, and I can sit here and tell you and be very honest with you, when it comes to contracts and the language and stuff that are on them, I'm not the smartest guy in the world, and when you're dealing with as many people as we're dealing with, it became bigger than Elliott Sadler. It was bigger than just Gillett Evernham Motorsports.

We have a lot of contracts in place between each other, with sponsors, with personal service contracts, with manufacturers. I mean, there's a lot of different things that come into play from the legal side of it that honestly I don't know a lot about.

You know, they did what - my legal team did what they thought they had to do to protect me and to protect some of the sponsors and stuff that we have. But between me and the team, I never wanted the legal stuff to come between me and them. When I called people on the team and talked to them about what the car is doing, what springs are running, what shocks are doing, what can we do better for this sponsor, that sponsor, I didn't want that to come in between us, so I let them handle it the best way they could do, and I had to trust my advisors and my attorneys to be able to handle this stuff the way they would handle it.

But as far as me and the team, I think we had some debates and we had some disagreements, but I think at the end of the day, we have figured out how to work through this. We all have the same goal. We feel like we're pulling in the same direction. I've had some great meetings with Tom Reddin and Mark McArdle here and also Robbie Loomis, who's involved in our team the last couple weeks, to make sure we're putting our best foot forward and moving ahead from this.

Q: What was your gut reaction when you found out that you may not be back in the 19? And secondly, there were only a handful of drivers who actually won races last year. What's it going to take to resolve those issues that are going to be able to take you to the next level to become a series championship contender this season?

ELLIOTT SADLER: Well, I'll be honest with you. We all want to make it - everybody wants to be in the Chase, but there's only room for 12 cars. Everybody wants to win races every week, and I think when you don't, there's definitely a feeling of disappointment, and you make changes. We're seeing this in every sport now; we're seeing NFL coaches change, and there's stuff in baseball right now, and you see it in race teams right now, too, people switching rides from this to this and changing manufacturers and changing crew chiefs, and everybody wants to be successful, and we're definitely a part of that.

When I first found out that it could be a possibility that I might not be in the 19 car, it was gut-wrenching to me because I have so many friends like family on the 19 car, and I know how hard we've worked and how much improvement we did make from 2007 to 2008 and how much improvement I think we can make again for the 2009 season.

I have a great relationship with Stanley and Best Buy and Coca-Cola and everybody that's a part of that race team. I think the world of Kasey Kahne, was looking forward to working with him again, and now Reed and A.J.

Honestly, I really get along well with Mark McArdle and Tom Reddin and George Gillett. He's a great man that has to make a lot of tough decisions a lot of times, so it was tough for me to get that first initial reaction. But I understand where it came from, I understood that at the end of the day me as a race car driver and us as Gillett Evernham Motorsports have to do a better job of being - we have to be accountable for our product we put on the racetrack each and every Sunday.

At the end of the day, that's what the whole bottom line was. Do we feel like we have made improvements to that? Yes. Will we be able to - it's still a month away until we have to get on the racetrack and be able to have the real telltale. It was definitely tough, but I think it's made me better. It's made me realize a lot of different things. I think it's made the race team better. I think it's made us a stronger family having this fight.

Now we feel like our backs are against the wall. We have a lot of motivation, we have a lot of things to prove, and that's why we're so eager to get this season started with.

Q: One other thing, too: The Petty Holdings merger, what impact did that have on the decision to get you back into the 19?

ELLIOTT SADLER: I hope it had a lot because I've been friends with "The King" a lot time. There's so many attributes and so many different words you can use to describe Richard Petty and what he means to the sport, so to have him a part of the Gillett family, a part of this race team, I think means a lot to not only every sponsor that we have. I think every crew member, every driver is excited to have Richard Petty and Dale Inman, I mean, he rose up in the sport, a part of my organization, and George worded it so well when asking the race fans to join behind us and the 43 car and Richard Petty and having him here, keeping his fans around, I think that's pretty neat the way he worded that. I think it's good for us.

I like having Robbie Loomis around. I think he's an Elliott Sadler fan. He has a lot of knowledge being a championship crew chief. I'm looking forward to working with him, as well.

Q: Looking forward now, how much of it is a breath of fresh air to have a new crew chief on the 19, someone you're familiar with and moving forward?

ELLIOTT SADLER: You know what, that is the best medicine, I think, is people understand looking forward that there's a reason why - a very brilliant man told me one time there's a reason when you drive a car the front windshield is as big as it is and the rear view mirror is as small as it is. You've got to look forward and ahead to make things successful.

I really begged and pushed to have Kevin Buskirk on my team, a lot of different reasons why. I'll start with some of those. One, we've worked together in the past and have been successful with each other; two, he believes in me. He is an Elliott Sadler fan to the end, believes in me, believes in my ability; and three, he's such an easy-going guy. He and Kenny Francis already had a relationship together where they were friends and could work together.

So bringing him on board I think was just a smart decision, and I'll tell you, I feel like a new man since that happened. It's great to have somebody that you've already had success with working together a couple years ago and can bring him in. He has a lot of knowledge. He learned a lot of things from the companies he was working for in the past, and looking forward to - he has a lot to prove, too. He's hungry just like I am, and his motto the last week has been "we want to go out and shock the world." We want to go out and make people pay attention to the 19 car, and he said he's going to work day and night to try to make that happen. It feels good for me to have somebody on the other end of the radio that has that type of attitude.

Q: With all the changes that have gone on, with Petty coming in and different things, you having a new crew chief and all that, how long does it take you guys to come into your stride? Is this something where you think that everybody is going to feel comfortable a quarter of the way into the season or do you think you can hit the ground running?

ELLIOTT SADLER: You know, the reason why I really wanted Kevin is the history we had together already. I feel like you were in the meetings with us. If we had a chance to go get another crew chief or another person that I had worked with before, of course there would be some type of learning curve that would take longer than what Kevin and mine is going to be. That's not going to be very first day of the practice, the first day of the season, but I think the learning curve is going to be a lot shorter.

History shows you have to be successful in the first seven or eight races to have a legitimate chance of making the Chase. We're going to have to learn on the fly the way the testing stuff is now. We're going to have to rely on our teammates a little bit to maybe get some help. But Kevin and I have worked together in the past for a couple years. I think our language - and he's already said a lot of things. He's already finishing my sentences on a lot of things already. That was one reason why we brought Kevin in is how familiar me and him are with each other.

Q: Sorry to look in the rear window another time, but from what I understood, you found out about this from a sponsor. Did the team ever say, Elliott, you're not in the car?

ELLIOTT SADLER: No, they never said, hey, we're replacing you, we're moving on. It was always just, maybe this could be a possibility. You know what, I think at the end of the day, they were just looking to see what their options might be to make sure the 19 car is going to be competitive and going to run good. It was pretty much like we might do this, this might be an option, we're going to give you permission to go talk to other teams in case this is an option. So they were very up front about it to me. There was like no smoke and mirrors, anything like that, as far as that was concerned. A lot of stuff kind of got blown out of proportion. But as far as their communication with me about it was always up front.

It didn't mean I liked the opportunity of me maybe having to get out of the 19 car, but Tom was always very up front in the meetings we had in saying this could be a possibility, and if this is a possibility, we want to make sure you have a chance to go maybe talk to other owners in case something comes up. So they were very - gave me a lot of information to work with. So on my behalf that was very fair.

Continued in part 2

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Richard Petty , Elliott Sadler , Robbie Loomis