Elliott Sadler, driver of the No. 38 M&M's Taurus, is coming off his best NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season after qualifying for the Chase for the Nextel Cup and finishing ninth in the standings. Sadler reflected on last year and what his...
Elliott Sadler, driver of the No. 38 M&M's Taurus, is coming off his best NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season after qualifying for the Chase for the Nextel Cup and finishing ninth in the standings. Sadler reflected on last year and what his expectations are for 2005 during a Q&A session at Daytona International Speedway.
ELLIOTT SADLER - No. 38 M&M's Taurus
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE CHANGES TO THE SPEEDWAY AND WITH SPEEDWEEKS 2005? "To start off, I really do like the changes. The new garages are great. I think they're very fan-friendly. I didn't get lost because I actually walked around it first and checked it all out. I actually got a map from NASCAR before I even attempted to try to get on the race track, so I didn't get lost like Jeremy and some of the other guys did, but at least I found my way through there. But I do like the garages. They're nice. I'm really proud of the work that NASCAR and everybody here at Daytona Speedway did to kind of fix it up for everybody, not only the fans but also the teams. We're here for a long time and it's great to have nice garages to work in, instead of the tight spots like we had here in the past. As far as Speedweeks, I can't wait. I wish it was tomorrow. I've kind of got cabin fever. I'm ready to get back in a race car. We had a great Speedweeks last year qualifying second, winning at Twin 125 last year and then finishing seventh for the 500. I can't think of a better way to kind of get your year started off on the right foot and we kind of carried that momentum for awhile. We brought the same car back here. We're testing it here today, the same car that we've had all that success with. We haven't even touched it, just kind of massaged on it a little bit, so, hopefully, we'll have some of the same results we had last year. So I'm really looking forward to getting the season started kind of where we left off at."
CAN YOU LOOK BACK AT THE POINTS SYSTEM AND HOW IT WORKED? "I can honestly say I was probably one of the few drivers that really liked it when it first came out. I was on the positive side of it the whole time because I really like it. I think it gives more sponsors, more drivers opportunity to be a part of the chase. I use this analogy because we pretty much get asked this question everywhere we went last year, if you're sitting at home watching a football game in the fourth quarter, had you rather been watching it if it's 41-0 or tied up 0-0 going into the final few minutes. I definitely think it kept fans more interested later on in the season and I think it made it more fair to the fans at Homestead, to the fans at Phoenix, Darlington - some of these places we went to at the end of the year when the points champion really hadn't been decided. We want to take care of the NASCAR fans in those areas just like we do everywhere else. We want them to feel like the chase or anything has not been decided before we get to that market, so I think it was a great idea. I think if you would have given NASCAR a blank sheet of paper and a pen they couldn't have wrote a better script than what happened last year. You didn't know who was in the top 10 until the final lap at Richmond and you didn't know who was gonna win the championship until the final lap at Homestead, so it definitely built up a lot of drama and we can only hope we can kind of keep it going in that direction."
WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO CUT YOUR HAIR? "I'll probably have it cut here before long. I'm just on strike right now. I don't feel like getting it cut. I'm too lazy. I actually tried to bleach it this winter and that didn't really work out too good, so I'm back to my normal hair color. I don't know, it's just something different. If you all know me and been around me long enough, I always try to be the different guy in the garage - not the one that's taking the same step as everybody else. Everybody else keeps little short, tidy little hair, so I decided to do something a little different. I don't know. I have a great sponsor and a great team owner. M&M's knows I'm a free-spirited kind of person and so does Mr. Yates, so they let me kind of go off on my own. As long as I don't do anything stupid, they kind of let me be my own person, so it's great working with companies like that."
CAN YOU REGAIN THE MOMENTUM YOU CARRIED INTO THE CHASE? "We ran great the first five races of the chase. The last five the driver and team, we made some bad decisions and did some things we shouldn't have done, but it was my first time in that position. I had the full-court press going the whole time and put myself in situations and raced against people that I know I shouldn't race with on the race track. I didn't do the things like I did to get myself in the chase and I learned a lot from that. I feel like this year the guys that made it into the chase have a little bit of an advantage over maybe some new ones that make it this year. We all made a big mistake - not only me but a lot of the drivers thought the hardest part was gonna be getting into the chase, but, man, were we ever wrong. It was a tough, tough deal. It's hard to be running fifth and sixth in a race and think that's a pretty good place to run and then look ahead of you and two or three of the guys you're racing in the championship are running ahead of you. That puts some pressure on yourself and your team and everybody to make the right decisions. We did get in some accidents there at the end of the year - maybe trying to do some things over our head that we were not accustomed to doing and I learned from that. Everybody is optimistic when you come to Daytona because everybody is tied up 0-0 and I've had that feeling in the past. Last year we had a great season. We had a strong team, but we knew our weaknesses. 'These were our weaknesses. These are the spots we need to improve.' And I think we've done that. I think we've filled in those areas and we're just gonna come to Daytona and try to do the same whole story line we did last year - run as many laps as we can - no DNFs during the regular season and go from there. That's our attitude and hopefully it'll work."
WHERE DID YOU IMPROVE? "I think the biggest improvements we had was race day pit decisions and pit strategy and things like that. Eddie D'Hondt has gone out and hired some guys to help us with that. We've got a lot of different faces on the pit box this year to help Todd. Todd and I are in so much communication all the time about what the car is doing and how to fix it that maybe pit strategy has slipped by here and there, but Eddie has gone and hired some guys to help us with that. We've also beefed up our pit crew even more. It's hard to say that as good as our pit crew was last year, but we've got some awesome tire changers and tire carriers again on the M&M's car and I can't wait to get started. We really think we've beefed up that area and the communication between Todd and I is just getting better and better, so we should be fine."
IS THERE MORE PRESSURE TO MAKE THE CHASE THIS YEAR? "I think there's a lot of pressure on our race team to show that we can duplicate what we did last year. We kind of came out of nowhere and we were very consistent all year and stayed in the top 10 all year long. We know our team can do that, we just have to put ourselves in position to do that. We want to prove, not only to ourselves, but everybody in the sport that we can back up what we did last year, win some more races this year and stay in the top 10. So, yes, there is some pressure on us to do that. I'm feeling that sitting here with you today, knowing that we have to get off to a great start at Daytona and get the ball rolling again. Teams that I think are gonna be very, very strong, I think the 9 car with Kasey is gonna be good. I really think Jamie McMurray and (Donnie) Wingo are gonna be good as good as he ran at the end of the season. I think my teammate, the changes I've seen to their cars and the progress they've made this winter is also gonna be there. I'd say those three teams off the top of my head are gonna be good. I swear, I think the 15 team with Michael Waltrip and Tony Eury, Jr. is gonna be good, too. So those are a couple teams right there that I think are gonna be strong knocking on your door. Of course none of us, we knew how much fun we had last year being a part of the top 10 and how much exposure we got for ourselves and our sponsors. Everybody is gonna be loaded for bear also that was in the top 10."
WHAT ABOUT YOUR TIME OFF? "I feel like this is the shortest off season we've ever had. It just seemed like yesterday we were in Homestead crowing a champion or just in New York and here we are back in Daytona. My vacation time is just time back at home in Emporia, Virginia. I love spending time with my mom and dad, my brother and sister, my nieces. I have four nieces and love them more than anything in the world, so I spend a lot of time at home. I don't take any trips anywhere. I don't fly anywhere. My vacation is sleeping in my own bed, getting up at my own time, and spending time with guys that I went to high school and stuff with, so that was my vacation."
WHAT ARE YOUR IMPRESSIONS ON TESTING? "I'm really happy with our progress so far. The cars are driving good, which is very important here for Speedweeks. If your car handles good, you're gonna be able to keep the gas down the whole time. I think the races are gonna be a lot tighter this year with the rule changes. I really can't give you a great assessment yet until we get out there and watch some drafting practice. I'm not gonna do any drafting practice. Todd won't let me, so I'm gonna watch some other guys. But what I can gather from the changes made is that it should just put us more on top of each other a little bit, which will make it more two and three-wide racing, which will be tough. If you do win the Daytona 500 this year, you will have well deserved it. But as far as our progress with our cars, I'm very happy because they drive so good. They really put a lot of extra effort into making sure that was possible for this year."
WHY NOT DRAFT? "Like Todd said, I already know how to draft. I've done it here a few times and we don't think we can learn enough in a four or five-car pack because when you come back you're gonna race in a 25 or 30-car pack, so we're just not gonna draft any. We decided not to. We think our engine department has enough experience here at Daytona to know what cowls and stuff we need to run, and I just don't want to take a chance. I've got two really good race cars and I'd rather just save some of my drafting when we come back and it's a little warmer or more cars in a pack. Usually here testing you're only gonna get four or five cars in a pack and I can't tell what I need to learn to help Todd and the guys out, so we decided we're not gonna do it. We're gonna just keep on working on little things, massage on our cars as much as we can and when we come back we'll do as much drafting as we can." WOULD YOU BE SURPRISED IF YOU DIDN'T MAKE THE TOP 10? "I tell you, I know we were the surprise team last year, but I really think it wasn't like we came out of nowhere with three races to go. We stayed in the top 10 the whole year long. We won some races and I think we did a lot of great things. I'm sitting here today banking that we're gonna be in the top 10 and it's because of feasible things that we've seen - things that I know my team has improved at from last year and things that I think we did great last year or we just feel like we're getting that much better with. I'm not just grabbing in the dark saying this is the reason why we're gonna be in it or not be in it. I've really seen some great changes over there in some areas that we needed them at. We're even going all out, I'm running between 16-20 Busch races this year at tracks to make sure the driver is on his game, too. With the qualifying and impounding the cars and things like that, this is all different to Cup guys. We've done everything we can do to make sure we cross all the T's and dot all the I's to make sure we have a great chance every Sunday to run up front and try to get a victory."
WHAT MAKES DAYTONA UNIQUE? "I just think the heritage. I mean, this is where the France family is from and this is where it all started. This is our Super Bowl. You work two months it seems like - really it's year-round now - but really the last two months the guys are really getting their cars together for two weeks of testing for two laps of qualifying. It just shows you how much work goes into it. I think every team knows how important it is to get started on the right foot, but every sponsor that's involved in this sport always comes into Daytona. Everybody is always watching on TV and have high hopes. Everybody is 0-0, so everybody is so optimistic. It's just a great, great place. I think the fans have been cooped up all winter long - not watching racing.
"We haven't been at the race track, so everybody is so excited to get back to the sport and get back to doing what we love to do. I think the fans love being there with us. There's just so much energy built around this race. Like I said, this is our Super Bowl. You can make or break your career by winning the Daytona 500. It will definitely make a decent career a great career. We all know that as drivers and teams and owners and sponsors, so a lot of emphasis is put on this race."
DID WINNING 2 RACES AND MAKING THE CHASE GIVE YOU THE CONFIDENCE THAT YOU CAN MAKE IT IN THIS SPORT? "Yeah, I think so. I tell you, when I first came to Robert Yates Racing, we got started on such a great foot. I think I was 10th in the points when we separated some things with the teams and just fell in a hole. You get to wondering and looking if you're ever gonna do the right thing or make the right decisions or be in the right place at the right time. Then when Robert brought Todd back and put us together and then the season we had last year, yeah, it gives me a lot of confidence that, 'Hey, put in the right situation and with the right race team, I think I can do the job that I need to do to be a race car driver for a long time.' What I learned last year going into the top 10 last year, yes, I wanted to win the championship, but there were so many things inside of my head wondering if I'll be able to do the right things inside the car because I'd never been in that position before. Well now since I've been a part of the chase, I think this year I feel more confident as a driver and will be better prepared for what to expect if we're able to get in that position again. But, yeah, I definitely sleep a lot easier at night because I know I've got a great bunch of guys around me and I know we can win together. They expect it from me. They know I can win and I know I can win with them. It's just a different feeling to look at each other like that every morning when you get to the race track. It's a good feeling."
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE YATES TEAMS WORKING TOGETHER? "I think as the year went on the 88 and the 38 were definitely getting closer and closer together. Right now we have four cars over there that are running pretty much about the same speed and they're all built just alike. When we first started last year, the 88 was going in one direction with chassis and things like that and we were going in a different direction. But after some of the success we had and sharing some of the testing results - getting in each other's cars and stuff - we got our cars more close alike. At the end of the season our cars were pretty much alike everywhere we went and we thought we both ran pretty good, especially during the three-quarter part of the season. So our cars now, like our California car and our Vegas car, you can't tell them apart. We think the more we have our stuff alike, the better we'll be able to help each other. I definitely think it's gonna help us working together and help our results on Sunday."
WHAT'S THE MOST UNUSUAL WAY YOU'VE SEEN DUCT TAPE USED ON A RACE CAR? "As far as racing, I don't know. Duct tape is used in so many different ways - from taping your straps onto your helmet to keeping a fender on at 200 miles an hour. We were laughing the other day about how in the world we made it through life without duct tape, especially guys that drive race cars. I've seen it used for just about anything in the world, but I can't think of one good thing right off the bat as far as a race car is concerned. It's pretty neat the things you can use it for, but I don't like seeing it a lot on the race car because it means you've had a bad day."