Elliott Sadler, driver of the No. 38 M&M's Taurus, was Ford's top qualifier 13 times and he started in the top 10 on 16 occasions in 2003. Sadler, who will start his first season with crew chief Todd Parrott, spoke about the upcoming year before...
Elliott Sadler, driver of the No. 38 M&M's Taurus, was Ford's top qualifier 13 times and he started in the top 10 on 16 occasions in 2003. Sadler, who will start his first season with crew chief Todd Parrott, spoke about the upcoming year before Thursday's final day of testing for next month's Daytona 500.
ELLIOTT SADLER - No. 38 M&M's Taurus
DJ WAS GOOD LAST WEEK, HOW HAS YOUR TEST GONE SO FAR?
"We're not extremely happy with the speeds we've been getting. DJ was very fast last week and we kind of expected to be in the same boat, but we're getting the cars driving very well. We always come in here and worry about speed and then when you get in the middle of a pack here at Speedweeks, you have problems with handling. That's something Todd really wanted to work on was getting the car driving good for me on any part of the race track, then we'll worry about speed when we come back. We know the engine guys are working hard and we'll be in good shape on their behalf. The fab guys still have a little more massaging to do, so as far as speedwise, we're not quite where we need to be. As far as handling, we feel like we're better than we've ever been. Maybe it's gonna be an even swap."
YOU WON THE POLE AT TALLADEGA, SO YOU AT LEAST KNOW YOUR BODIES ARE GOOD.
"Exactly. That's kind of the attitude we have. We got the pole in the last speedway race, so it's not like we're in left field anywhere. We qualified good down here last year for both races and Talladega, so our qualifying package is good. We know that when it comes time to qualify and Robert and Doug and everybody in the engine room tunes the motors up and the guys get all the stuff they can out of the body, that we're gonna be in good shape. That's not a big concern. If we get the car handling good and driving where it needs to be, that's what it's gonna take to win the Daytona 500 so that's kind of what we've been working on."
YOU QUALIFIED WELL LAST YEAR, BUT THAT DIDN'T TRANSFER TO RACE DAY. IS THERE ANYTHING YOU'VE BEEN ABLE TO IDENTIFY TO IMPROVE ON SUNDAYS?
"Qualifying is a package I think we've got together everywhere we go. Our race stuff is what we still need to work on and that's why the new bodies are gonna help us a lot. When we untapped these Fords last year, we lost a lot of front downforce and I think that made it hard on us at some of the tracks we run at. I think the new body is gonna help us a lot. I think the more Todd and I work together is gonna help us a lot. I think he's starting to realize what I need to have on Saturday afternoons to be good on Sunday and that's only gonna come with experience and communication. That's kind of what we're building off of and we really feel more prepared this year than we ever have been and I think it's gonna pay dividends for us."
DO YOU FEEL MORE COMFORTABLE AND CONFIDENT OUT HERE NOW?
"I think so. I feel more relaxed and better prepared this year than I've ever been and I think it's because I've lived with a couple different teams and gone through the highs and lows and understand how bad it'll mess you up if you let it. This winter was probably the best winter I've ever had as far as clearing my head and getting all my ducks in a row and coming back. We know we've got a job to do and I kind of know how to handle myself better and better and I think it's just experience that comes with you the more years you race in NASCAR. Personally, I feel like I'm ready to go physically and mentally. I'm ready for the long haul and looking forward to the long season and all those races in a row. I think I'm ready to tackle it, so, hopefully, it'll come my way."
YOU LIKE THE POINTS CHANGE?
"I like it. It's hard to draw a conclusion until we see it. NASCAR and NASCAR fans and drivers are always really scared of change because we've got it so good and we've got such a great sport, but most of the time when they make a change or decision a couple of years down the road it's usually benefiting the sport. So that's the way I'm looking at it. I'm looking at it from the optimistic side. I like it. It's gonna give more fans the opportunity to pull for their favorite driver for the championship later on in the season.
Maybe it's not just one or two guys running for the championship. Now we'll have more fans involved because there might be eight to 10 guys running for the championship. That's probably the best way to kind of look at it. That's the way I'm looking at it. It'll give more sponsors more opportunities to run for the championship and give the fans more of an opportunity."
HOW DO YOU SEE A REGULAR SEASON AND PLAYOFF SYSTEM PLAYING OUT FROM A DRIVER'S STANDPOINT?
"I think you can start the season off racing as hard as you can and try to get all the points and maybe take some chances for the first 10 races. If you think you're solidly within the points window their gonna use for the playoffs, you kind of do a Dean Smith and maybe go into a four corners by being conservative. You get five bonus points here and five bonus points there by leading a lap or two and try to do it that way for a stretch, particularly at tracks you might not think you'll be as good at. I think that's the mental attitude we're kind of taking and maybe a lot of teams are. It is kind of a break. If you feel like you're within the window that you need to be, you can relax a little bit and not worry about taking chances every single weekend - get as many points as you can and when it comes down to playoff time you go after it again."
WHAT DID YOU THINK ABOUT DURING THE OFF-SEASON?
"I think what a lot of people are forgetting about this race team is we were 10th in points when we kind of split our team up and that put a lot of pressure on Raymond Fox, a first-year crew chief with no car chief at all to help him. He was trying to do both positions and in NASCAR NEXTEL Cup racing, you can't fall behind and beat down people in this sport and expect to keep up with them every week. I think that kind of sent this team into a tailspin last year and it was something we never recovered from. We didn't know it was gonna happen like that, but when we look back on it that's what kind of got us going in that downward spiral that we couldn't recover from. But a lot of people forget where we were in points and how good we were running when that happened."
YOU HAD THE WORST LUCK LAST YEAR.
"Hopefully, I got a lot of the bad luck off of our shoulders last year, but that's part of racing. You've got to take the good with the bad. You try to look at it the best way you can. I know it's the beginning of the season and everybody has a lot of optimism right now, but we've got a lot of new faces in our race shop. They made a lot of good changes and the attitude and smiles on those guys faces in the shop is showing me we're gonna have a lot better season this year. There's a lot of hard work going on and I think it'll pay dividends for us."
WHO ARE THE FAVORITES TO WIN THE TITLE THIS YEAR?
"I would think Ryan Newman has definitely got to be one of the favorites -- to win as many races as his team did last year and he also had some bad luck too. If he hadn't had some blown motors and stuff that he had happen to him, he might have won it last year. I think him and Jimmie Johnson, those guys have been consistent every single year. I would say those two are probably the favorites in my mind that we're gonna have to beat week in and week out to try to win this NEXTEL Cup championship."