Joliet: This Week in Ford Racing - Sadler, Wood, part I

This Week in Ford Racing July 9, 2002 NASCAR Winston Cup part 1 0f 2 Elliott Sadler, ...

This Week in Ford Racing
July 9, 2002

NASCAR Winston Cup
part 1 0f 2

Elliott Sadler, #21 Motorcraft Racing Ford Taurus, and Eddie Wood, co-owner of Wood Brothers Racing, were on the NASCAR Winston Cup teleconference on Tuesday. Here is a transcript of that teleconference.

ELLIOTT SADLER:

YOU FINISHED 15TH IN THE INAUGURAL RACE AT CHICAGOLAND SPEEDWAY. HOW DID YOU LIKE IT AT THAT RACE TRACK?

"That is a pretty cool race track. Last year, of course, it was very, very fast. It was the first race you had on it. A lot of guys were complaining a little bit about the one-groove race track, but I think now since it has sat up a winter and it probably got a little harsh on that asphalt and it probably took some grip away. I think you are going to see a lot better racing when we go back this time. I think you will see at least two grooves for Sunday's Tropicana 400."

YOU ARE 20TH IN POINTS HALFWAY THROUGH THE SEASON. I KNOW YOU PROBABLY EXPECTED TO BE A LITTLE HIGHER THAN THAT, BUT WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS AS YOU HEAD INTO THE SECOND HALF?

"We were kind of disappointed by where we are in the points, but we have come back from 25th just a couple weeks ago, so we are definitely making strides in the right direction. Talladega and Bristol just killed us. We had two top-five cars at those race tracks. Being taken out by the big wreck at Talladega and then being taken out a Bristol also cost us about 220 points from where we thought we should be. That should have put us somewhere in the top 15 in points and that's where we think we should be. That's where we want to get to. We think we can call it a pretty successful year if we can get back into the top 15 in points and try to get us a pole. We have really been working as hard as we can to try to get a pole this year. We've got really close, but just haven't been able to close out the deal and also get us another win."

WHAT JEFF GORDON HAS DONE OVER THE PAST SEVEN YEARS WITH FOUR CHAMPIONSHIPS AND 58 WINS - IS THAT AS IMPRESSIVE TO YOU GUYS ON THE INSIDE AS IT IS TO US ON THE OUTSIDE?

"Probably more impressive to us because we actually know how tough it is each and every week to be in that race car and how much the competition has really grown the last seven or eight years is really unbelievable. And he has been able to do this during all that competition change. The bar just keeps going up it seems like every single race. And for some reason that team and him as a driver, just keeps on not only jumping the bar but raising it up little by little. Now with the 48 car racing as good as it is, they look like a great two-car team out of that one shop. Now both of them are doing the same every week. The things that Jeff Gordon does on the race track is pretty amazing, but the type of person he is off the race track is even better. I don't think that he gets the recognition he deserves for what kind of person he is off the race track. He makes it good for us young guys coming in a little bit after him and we look up to him. And any time we have questions about anything involving NASCAR or Winston Cup racing he is always the first guy to answer it, so we all really look up to Jeff Gordon."

AFTER WE LEFT DAYTONA AND TALLADEGA THE FIRST TIME THIS YEAR, BLOCKING WAS A REALLY BIG ISSUE. AFTER GOING BACK TO DAYTONA, DID YOU THINK THE BLOCKING WAS AS BAD, AND HOW DO YOU FEEL NOW ABOUT THE RULES PACKAGE FOR THE RESTRICTOR PLATE RACES? ARE WE GETTING ANY CLOSER TO FINDING SOMETHING?

"The blocking issue, that's a tough issue. It's hard to really draw a line what's right and what's wrong, what's blocking and what's not. It's a lot of give and take going on. But when you get down to the end of the race everybody wants to run up front and you're so close. You can be running 25th, but you're only two seconds from fifth and everybody wants to finish in the top10. They want to finish in the top five. So you get to beating and banging a little bit and pushing around and the guy in front of you doesn't want to be caught out in the middle so he gets to blocking a little bit. It's hard to say that you cannot block. I am glad that NASCAR does use the out-of-bounds line at those tracks or we would have more wrecks that what we have right now. But as far as the blocking, that is such a fine line to say who's right and who's wrong. It's just our competitive nature to want to block and want to stay up front. And it's a lot easier looking at it, I watched all the racing shows yesterday on TV, and it's so much easier to look at it in slow motion and be an armchair quarterback and say, 'Well, he should have done this,' or 'This guy should have done that.' But when you have not even a half a second to make up your mind and decide to block or not to block, to pass or not to pass, it's just tough. We're all human and the adrenaline takes over sometimes. I think that is an issue that is just going to have to be left up to the drivers. It's like a gentlemen's agreement, kind of like racing back to the caution. As far as the rules package, I think that is the best we have to work with right now. I think no matter what we do on these speedways, we are going to be bunched up together so I'm not really sure what the answer is. Actually I'm glad I'm not in that position to try to have to come up with something. We've just got to take whatever the package gives us and race as hard as we can. You're not going to see any of us backing off because we are scared of that kind of wreck that might happen. We're all going to try to win the races at those race tracks so sometimes that happens."

ARE YOU COMFORTABLE ON A RESTRICTOR PLATE TRACK OR ARE YOU STILL A LITTLE FRIGHTENED?

"I think everybody has a side to them that you feel a little bit better when you walk out that gate after that race at Daytona, Talladega, after everybody's okay, because the big one can happen. When I saw replays of how hard Joe Nemechek hit, it's pretty cool that he's okay. I'm sorry that Johnny Benson broke some more ribs. It seems like he's just having a roller-coaster deal here with that. I'm not going to tell you that we don't feel better when we walk out of that garage Sunday night or Saturday night or whenever the races are at those places knowing everybody's okay because just a lot more stuff can happen because we are so bunched up on top of each other. But that's just what that animal gives us, so we just have to take it and kind of go with it."

I SEE YOU ARE GOING TO BE BACK AT THE PHILLIES THE END OF THIS MONTH. YOU HAD A GOOD EXPERIENCE THE LAST TIME YOU WERE THERE - YOU TOOK BATTING PRACTICE AND STUFF?

"Yeah, I was able to take batting practice with the team and go in the locker room and meet a lot of the players. And that was pretty cool. I've always been a big Jose Mesa fan and got to meet him there last year, and I get to throw out the first pitch. I think Cale Yarborough is going to be there also, so looking forward to going back to Philadelphia for the Phillies' deal. They treated me like a king there last year. So that's why we're going to do it again. They were really great to us."

GIVE US YOUR REACTION TO THE FANS THROWING STUFF ON THE TRACK. DO YOU THINK PERHAPS THEY ARE NOT LONG-TIME NASCAR FANS AND DON'T UNDERSTAND WHAT THE SITUATION WAS.

"I think NASCAR made the right call. I'm 100 percent sure. There just was not enough time to try to finish that thing under green. We're not even up to full speed in one lap and enough cars had got tore up and I think that was a smart, smart move on their part. Not that we were going to lose anything. We were running 12th and moving up so a restart might have helped us, but that was definitely the smart thing to do. And the fans maybe just didn't understand it because the Busch race was red-flagged the night before and maybe they thought that the Cup race should, too. But to throw stuff on the track, you know NASCAR fans are so into this sport 100 percent and so into their favorite driver. They're going to show their emotions just like us drivers are going to show our emotions. I don't fault them one bit for that. I understand that they wanted to end it under green and they aren't really sure on the rules of when the red flag and when not. I just feel sorry for some of the body guys back in the race shops that have got to fix their race cars before they got to Talladega. A lot of car owners are going to spend a lot of money fixing those cars back up. But you know if race fans are not that enthusiastic about racing, racing probably wouldn't be where it is today. So, not that I agree with them throwing stuff on the track, but I'm glad to see fans really get into the sport instead of going, okay, well maybe the next time they'll red flag it, so that's kind of the way I'm looking at it."

COULD YOU GIVE AN UPDATE ON YOUR SITUATION FOR NEXT YEAR, AND WHAT IS YOUR TAKE ON TODAY'S DRIVER MOVEMENT?

"With the drivers moving around, I think it's just that sponsors put so much money now into the sport they want their team and their product to be up front in victory lane all the time. And it's also the competitive nature of the drivers that we want to win also. It's a tough sport because there's only one winner every Sunday and 42 losers. And it makes our sport that much tougher to win in. And for our nature we want to win every week or as much as we can. We try to get ourselves in a position or situation we think we can win in every week. And I think that's why you see so many drivers and crew chiefs switching around. Everybody wants to win. There's just not room for it, but everybody wants to. And it used to be that they'd give you time if you came in as a rookie, a couple of years to develop and stuff like that. But with all these rookies coming in now and winning races and running up front, there's just no time for error. You've really gotta get in and dig and do a good job or you're kind of overlooked so I think that's why you see so much of that changing.

"As far as my update, I'm still waiting. I think the media, you all have done a great job in kind of nailing down what is going on. I am waiting to kind of see, just like everybody else, what the announcement is going to be with the 28 car. I've kind of put a lot of eggs in that basket and I'm willing to take that chance to wait to see what happens. I know it's a big chance, but that's something that I'm willing to do. Some of the other car owners that I've talked to understand that. So that's the position that I'm in. Nothing has changed. I see a lot of stuff floating through Jayski and newspapers here and there and radio stuff, but that's where I stand. I'm just kind of waiting to see what happens just like everybody else is. But as of today, I have not signed anything, everybody's saying Robert Yates Racing, I have not signed anything with them at all. So I'll just wait and see what's going to happen."

WHAT ABOUT WITH DOUG YATES RACING?

"I saw that rumor, too. I saw that I think when I was in Daytona. It come up that he had looked for a license or something for some kind of business deal. I don't know. We haven't got that far yet. I'm just kind of waiting to see. I think everybody is kind of waiting to see what Ricky's gonna do and how his situation is gonna work out and I think a lot of dominoes are going to fall from there for a lot of different teams, not just me and my situation, but a lot of people. So I think everybody is just waiting to see what happens with him first."

HOW SURPRISED ARE YOU THAT IT SEEMS LIKE THE ENTIRE SILLY SEASON REVOLVES AROUND WHAT YOU ARE GOING TO DO?

"That's kind of weird, to be honest with you. The reason is that I've never been involved in any kind of silly season at all. And when I first went to Eddie Wood in California and asked for my release, the silly season took off the very next night it seemed like, with me going to, I think then the hot team was DEI and the 15 and the whole nine yards. And I felt so sorry for them even getting in the middle of it. And I called Ty Norris, the head man over there and apologized for getting his team involved and we kind of laughed that was just the way silly season was. And we kind of put him a tight spot with his teams and sponsors and for being in the middle of it. I just apologized to him and his teams for being involved. And he was such a gentleman, and up front and great about it, it was unbelievable. And I've told him a hundred times since, 'Now I know why Dale and Teresa hired you to run that race team.' He's an unbelievable man. It's just weird to be involved in so many rumors. You wake up one morning, you're doing one thing, and the next morning I heard I had an 11-million-dollar sponsorship going somewhere. I've forgot what that was. I think a wrestling deal or something. I think I read that somewhere. It's just weird how things just keeps circling around and circling around until something happens. But it hasn't affected the way we've run on the race track. I think that's my big peace when I get to the race track and get strapped in that race car. When I asked for my release and this all started we were 25th in the points. And Eddie and I made a promise to each other that we would try to go out here and try to win as many races as we can and run as hard as we can because I'm on audition and the car's on audition. They want to get a good driver in that car. We've climbed to 20th in the points and qualified so much better than we ever have that we feel like we're doing a pretty good job I think."

DID YOU TALK TO THE TEAM AFTER YOU TALKED TO EDDIE AND LAY OUT WHAT YOU WANTED TO DO?

"I think Eddie had a bunch of talks with the team. I think that they really recognized my focus when I gave up my half of the winnings for the year and said, 'Look, I don't care about the winnings. You all put this back in the car and you all take this money because you might need it to get a good big time driver in here. I just want to race. I want to win races. I want to get poles. I want to run up front.' And when I showed up every week there was no letting off and no lollygagging around. We were working hard. And I think actually Pat and I have worked closer together here lately than we ever have. It's weird how sometimes a change or shake-up gets a team with some momentum behind them, but for some reason that has worked. Pat and I are really hitting on all eight cylinders right now, the way we're qualifying and the way we're running has been unbelievable compared to how we usually run. So we are definitely going in the right direction. Like when we ran at Daytona this past week, I told him, 'You need to start with this set up next year for the 500. This is going to be a close, close setup.' We're all still trying to help each other as much as we can."

SHOULD ALL OF A SUDDEN YOU START WINNING POLES, SHOULD ALL OF A SUDDEN YOU START WINNING RACES, WOULD YOU RECONSIDER YOUR DECISION?

"I think that would be up to Eddie. I think it is kind of hard probably to undo what you've done, and I know they are well on their way to finding them a good driver that's going to go in their race car. And I've been trying to help with that. They've asked my opinion sometimes on who I think should go in that car and I want them to have a good driver in that car. They are a great bunch of guys, a great bunch of guys on that race team. But in the last four years we just did not run the way I know they want to run, the way I want to run, the way Motorcraft wants to run, so a change had to be made. They have changed a lot of things on that program except me and the motor program that they got. And I've known that was not going to happen. They have been with them a long time and Roush treats them great, unbelievable. They can't ask to be treated any better by any other engine program so I felt I was not doing my job as a race-car driver. And if I do go out there and win races, I might say maybe I am doing my job now, but I still think it would be kind of hard to undo what has already been done."

ONE OF MY BUDDIES WHO WATCHED HIS FIRST NASCAR RACE ON SATURDAY WAS KIND OF AMAZED AS HOW THE GUYS WHO HAD JUST BEEN IN A WRECK AT 180 MPH COULD GET OUT OF THE CARS AND REMEMBER TO THANK ALL THEIR SPONSORS. IS THAT A UNIQUE SKILL THAT NASCAR DRIVERS HAVE?

"I don't know if it's much of a skill, but we know what makes this sport happen. Number one, it's the fans that show up every weekend in the pouring-down rain or the 120-degree weather, and sponsors. We might look like we know what we're doing on the TV or radio after, but we're probably hurting or sore, but we know to get our sponsor mentions in there because they pay a lot of money for that to happen. And we want to represent them in the best way that we can. It is not something that they're telling us to do, like, 'Hey, if you wreck the first thing you better say is thank Motorcraft and the U.S. Air Force, you better say that first.' But we just know we're kind of bred into that. Most of us are part of some sort of racing family or have been racing a long time. We understand the importance of sponsors. We understand that without sponsors our team owners would not have the money that they need to give us a car that we think we can win with every week, so I think that it's just bred into us. I don't think we're noticing that we're doing it. I think it's just bred into us."

-ford-

Sadler, Wood part II

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Joe Nemechek , Johnny Benson , Robert Yates , Elliott Sadler , Cale Yarborough
Teams Wood Brothers Racing , Yates Racing