This Week in Ford Racing 2004-05-04

This Week in Ford Racing May 4, 2004 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Elliott Sadler, driver of the No. 38 M&M's Taurus, heads into this Mother's Day off weekend sitting in 10th place in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series point standings. As this week's ...

This Week in Ford Racing
May 4, 2004

NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series

Elliott Sadler, driver of the No. 38 M&M's Taurus, heads into this Mother's Day off weekend sitting in 10th place in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series point standings. As this week's guest on the weekly national teleconference call, Sadler spoke about a variety of topics during a break in testing at Richmond International Raceway.

ELLIOTT SADLER - No. 38 M&M's Taurus

IT'S BEEN A GOOD START. IS THE STABILITY OF YOUR TEAM A MAIN REASON WHY? "It is. We brought a lot of experience back to our race team with Todd Parrott and also Eddie D'Hondt coming over. They've done a whale of a job getting me the best pit crew that we could possibly get to go over the wall. Todd has really surrounded himself with some great engineers and great people for this race team and we have a lot of security now. Nobody is going anywhere. Everybody is having a ball working with each other and we've got some confidence. Some little things have been hurting us here and there during the races, but we're gonna try to overcome them. We're one of only a few teams that has been in the top 10 the whole season and we want to try to keep it that way."

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR RACE FOR HOPE CHARITY EVENT? "The reason we do it is that the Autism Society of America is very close to our family now ever since my niece, Halie Dru, was diagnosed with autism a couple of years ago. That's one reason why we try to do the charitable things that we do. I think all the drivers do. There's always something special to their heart, so we're gonna try to give back to them and also the Victory Junction Gang Camp. Everybody knows what that is and what Kyle and Pattie Petty have done with that is absolutely unbelievable, so we're gonna give half of the donations to them. It's a pretty neat deal. It's taking place April 25 at Concord Mills Mall and the NASCAR Speedpark. We've got Outback Steakhouse coming with food, Coca-Cola is giving us drinks and we've got a lot of great drivers coming in. It's a chance for the fans to have three different options. One, get an autograph from your favorite driver. Two, to have dinner with your favorite driver - a good 30-40 minute sit-down dinner with your favorite driver, which I think is a pretty good deal. And, also, race against him on a go-kart, so there are a lot of different options that the fans can do and give. The drivers have been great to give their time up for that day to come and help us out, so it's gonna be a neat deal. I think the fan accessibility to the drivers is gonna be not like anything else we do."

DOES THIS TEAM GIVE YOU CONFIDENCE THAT YOU CAN DO WELL AT RICHMOND? "I think so. We've got a lot of confidence on this race team and we've pretty much had top-12 and top-13 cars every week. We've struggled a little bit here at Richmond in the past, so we decided to take a two-day test. We're here now. They've made a few changes to the track. They've got a new tire here, which, anytime there's change, that gives you some time to catch up if you've been struggling here in the past. We've built a brand-new race car just for Richmond for that point - to come here and try to put on a great show in front of my hometown family and friends. Right now, we're pretty happy with everything and we've got some great momentum, so we think we've got a good shot at it. We think we can come up here and be competitive and, if the ball bounces the right way, we should have just as good a chance as anybody else."

WHAT WOULD IT MEAN FOR YOU TO WIN AT RICHMOND? "Everybody has a special place that they want to win at. Actually, I'd probably rather win here than any other race that we race at, probably other than the Daytona 500, but this would be second on my list because it's so special. I remember coming and sitting in the stands at four, five, six, seven, eight years old - all the way up until I start racing. I was buying tickets just like everybody else here watching my favorite drivers go round and round - even when it was the half-mile race track. I even watched them tear down the walls when they made it a three-quarter mile, so there's a lot of history here for Elliott Sadler and my family. If I was able to win a race here it would be just greatly appreciated. It's so much fun and, hopefully, that day will one time come."

IS YOUR AUTISM EVENT DESIGNED TO NOT ONLY RAISE MONEY BUT EDUCATE? "It is. It's to bring awareness to people about this puzzling disease, which is growing in kids rapidly over the last 10 years. It's been amazing how much it has kind of spread throughout the population. It's a very frustrating disease. There's a lot of special schooling involved. I come from a very fortunate family that can afford to send Halie to some special schools, but there are families that are less fortunate than us that don't have that chance, so that's why we do what we do to give back to them. We want all the kids that we can to have the fair chance that they deserve at such a young age to try to get this diagnosed and figured out so they can have as close to a normal life as they can."

WAS AUTISM SOMETHING YOU DIDN'T KNOW ABOUT BEFORE? "When we found out she was diagnosed, we actually thought something else was wrong with her - like she might have been deaf or something like that because she wasn't responding to what we were trying to teach her. When we actually found out what she was diagnosed with, I had to look it up in the dictionary. I had no idea what it was. We had to start doing a lot of reading and figuring out what's right and what's wrong and what steps you have to take. We were absolutely blind and didn't know what to do, but we don't want other families to be caught off guard as much as we were, so that's why we try to do this."

SO THERE IS HOPE? "Yes, there is hope."

DO YOU WATCH POINTS CLOSER NOW WITH 16 RACES LEFT BEFORE THE CHASE? "I've been watching the points really, really close every week. I actually study them Monday and Tuesday to know who I'm racing the next weekend and who we should be trying to beat on pit strategy and things like that. The guys have given me great race cars, it's just that the last three weeks we've had some terrible rotten luck. We had some brake fans break at Martinsville that overheated and knocked us out of the top 10. We overheated at Talladega and we had a fuel line pick-up problem at California and California should have been a top-five finish easily, so we've given up some points here and there on just some stuff not going our way and stuff we need to try to buckle down with. Our cars have been fast, now we've just got to figure out how to stop letting the little things bite us and try to make it to the end of the races as smooth as we can."

HOW CHALLENGING IS IT TO NOT LOSE THOSE POINTS? "It's tough. That's what I like about this new point system. There's a sense of urgency every single week. We're one of only a few teams that have been in the top 10 the whole time, so we want to keep that. We want to do whatever we've got to do to try to make sure we can stay in that top 10 the whole time. We've lasted 10 races and we've got some great tracks coming up for us, so there's a sense of urgency going on right now. We're just over 200 points out from Dale, Jr. We need to try to finish in front of him as many times as we can to close that gap up. We know if we can do that, we'll be within that 400-point window or in the top 10, so that's kind of the attitude we're having right now."

CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE TIRE AND REPAVING JOB AT RICHMOND? "We'll first start with the track. It's very smooth. They did a great job. There's not one bump in the whole race track. There's no sealer on it. I think it's the same type of asphalt that they used at Homestead, so they're not having any problems with the heat or anything like that. I have to commend Richmond on a great track. It's very, very fast. We're running a lot faster now than what we ran here in the past, so they had to bring the Bristol tire, which is pretty slick the first five or six laps, but after that there's not much fall off in it. We have 70 or 80 laps on our tires right now and we're running as fast as we can run. That means track position is gonna be huge. That's gonna be the word of the weekend that you're gonna hear from everybody when talking about the difference between winning this race and running 20th - it's gonna be good pit stops and two-tire stops and things like that."

SO QUALIFYING WILL BE HUGE, TOO? "That's exactly right because everybody knows when we go to a track for the first time after it's been repaved and it's new that one-groove racing is probably gonna be more apparent here this time than what we've seen in the past because there is so much grip on the bottom. Qualifying is gonna be big. I think once the Busch cars run on the track Friday night and maybe slicken it up a little bit, we might see a groove-and-a-half or hopefully two grooves by Saturday night."

HOW DETRIMENTAL IS IT WHEN YOU'RE IN THE RUMOR MILL BECAUSE YOU'VE BEEN IN THAT BEFORE? "It's big. Communication is a great part of our sport and also confidence and momentum and things like that. To have Robert and Doug and these guys behind me 100 percent saying, 'Hey, we're not going anywhere. We're gonna work on this deal and make it work.' To Todd Parrott, whose record speaks for itself. We've learned a lot about each other last year and throughout this winter. He's a very demanding crew chief, but I wouldn't give up my experience with him last year for the world. It's really made me a better race-car driver this year and I know he's not going anywhere. He's been there, done that. He's won races. He's won a championship and I think he's trying to keep my team in that kind of form."

WHY HAVE YOU STRUGGLED AT RICHMOND? "I don't know. If I knew, I'd fix it (laughing). I don't know. Maybe I just haven't had the feel that I need to be a successful race-car driver here at Richmond. I've never been able to qualify that great or finish that great, so now I've just got to work on my feel and that's why we're here for two days. We qualified so bad here last year both races and took provisionals, so we had to come here and really learn and get on top of this race track and get me acclimated to it. I was the same way about Martinsville. I went to Martinsville this year and qualified ninth and finished 12th, so it can happen. I think you've just got to get me in something that I like. Todd knows the feel I'm looking for and that's kind of the direction we're working in and, hopefully, it'll pay off for us in Richmond."

HAS IT BEEN GOOD TO STOP THIS RACING BACK TO THE CAUTION IN LIGHT OF WHAT HAS HAPPENED THE LAST FEW WEEKS? "I do like the not racing back to the caution. I don't like the lucky dog pass at all. I think NASCAR is about competition. We should make people earn everything they get. I do think we need to come up with something at the end of the race to not count caution laps or something at the end. We need to do something to try to end these things under green as best we can. I don't know what the solution is to that. This stopping when the caution comes out is not really working too good. You've got some guys that are not gonna slow down and some guys that are and it's hard for NASCAR to try to put these guys back in the right spots. We're running so close and on top of each other at a lot of these race tracks and it's hard to know where we're supposed to be at, so I wish they'd figure out a way to where we can end it under green and that would take away a lot of the questioning at the end of the race under caution of who was where and who finished where and stuff like that. It would be a lot simpler on their part and our part also."

HAS THE DEVELOPMENTAL SYSTEM FOR THIS SPORT NOW COMING FROM OFF-ROAD AND USAC - PLACES LIKE THAT - AND NOT SO MUCH THE LOCAL SHORT-TRACK RACER? "I think it's still about being in the right place at the right time. I don't care who you are or how good you are. There are millions of race-car drivers across the United States that can drive a race car and I just think it's just about being in the right place at the right time and making the connections. I think since Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart have come on board, and now Kasey Kahne with this open-wheel experience and USAC stuff, that maybe now that's where everybody is looking. It's kind of who's hot and what have you done for me lately in this sport no matter what you're doing. Since those guys have come into the sport and have been successful and run up front every week, I think now that's kind of the hot crop to be in. If you're a USAC guy right now and have a lot of speed and win a lot of races, I saw where Hendrick had made a deal to hire some young guns at that deal again and maybe that's just the one to be in now. Maybe a couple of years from now they might go back to something else, you just don't ever know. But I think it's still about being in the right place at the right time or having the connections - like if you raced with Tony in open-wheel and maybe you have a connection through him. But I still believe in the right place at the right now. Right now USAC and open-wheel is getting all the coverage and all the looks from owners because of the guys who have come in here and been so successful having that as their background."

DOES THAT MAKE IT HARDER FOR THE SHORT-TRACK GUY? "Yeah, because there are a couple of young guys I've seen in Virginia and North Carolina that I think would make great Busch and Truck drivers right now and gain some experience to one day make it, but, right now, this USAC and open-wheel stuff is hot and that's where the owners are looking at right now to kind of better their teams. It is tough for Late Model guys growing up in my part of the country because I know they can drive a race car, but they just have to have the door opened for them to try to make it."

HAS THE TIRE CHANGED YOUR CHASSIS SETUP? "I think anytime you have change, no matter what it's in - right now in racing with the tire compound and the new aerodynamics - anytime you have change it lets the teams that were further behind catch up and maybe the teams that were further ahead of everybody maybe let their guard down a little bit. I think it's good for the sport. We've had to take everything we thought we knew about these race tracks last year and burn 'em and throw 'em away. The new tire calls for new situations and new things. We're running springs in the back of these cars right now that we never dreamed we would run and it's had a lot to do with the aero package and these tires. We're still learning every day. We're running stuff here at Richmond that we never dreamed we'd be running here two years ago. It's just amazing what this tire and this aerodynamic package has brought us."

IS THERE ANYTHING SPECIFIC YOUR TEAM HAS DONE SINCE LAST YEAR AS FAR AS RESOURCES? "I think Ford Motor Company came out with a better nose and tail for us this year. It's kind of got us hooked up and going in the right direction. Of course, the alliance with Doug Yates and Jack Roush has done a great job with the engines. I've just got a great crew chief now. Todd Parrott has such experience and me as a driver, it's great to hear that experience on the other end of the radio and to give me more confidence in what I'm doing during the race. It's kind of working out that way. Mike Ford has come on board as Dale Jarrett's crew chief. He's brought a lot of information to us and a lot of great ideas and there are a lot of little things that have helped. It's not like there's one great big thing that's the difference. I think we've just worked on our race team in a lot of little bitty areas that's made us a better race team than what we had last year."

DO YOU SEE IMPROVEMENT WITH DALE AS WELL? "Yeah, I think his luck this year has been absolutely horrible. Anything possible that could happen bad to Dale Jarrett has happened this year. He should have had a chance to win the Rockingham race and blew a motor. He was running great at Darlington - fifth or sixth - and blew a tire. He was running eighth or ninth at Bristol and blew a tire. So he's had some tough, rotten luck, but I think as far as the way his car is running it's better and he's still near that top 10 where he can make a charge at it at any time. I would love to see both of us in the top 10 at the end of the 26 races. That's gonna be tough, we know that, it's gonna be a struggle. The guys are working hard in the shop to try to make that happen and we'll just have to wait and see."

DO YOU SEE THE FORDS AS BEING BETTER CARS THIS YEAR? "I think aero-wise we're closer to where we need to be. I think once we get our new engines and our new heads, we'll be caught up in the game on that part also. I think Dodge and Chevrolet have us beat pretty bad right now, but once we get our new heads that our guys are working on, we should be in good shape with them. I do think the aero package is better. Matt Kenseth and Kurt Busch have been successful and they've really got their stuff balanced and figured out, but the bodies have definitely helped my race team a bunch and got us where we need to be to be in the top 10, so we've got to just keep focused on that. I think we're where we need to be on the bodies, but the new engine will definitely get us closer to where the Chevys and the Dodges are right now."

ANY IDEA WHEN THE NEW HEAD WILL BE IN USE? "I don't know. I've done a few tests with them. We're just working on the longevity of them and making sure they last before we pop them in one of the guy's motors. Points are so hard to come by and now with this new 26-race deal, we can't afford to give up any races with motor problems, so the guys are working hard in the shop developing it. They want the final thing to be good and they want it to be able to last the whole 500 or 600 miles or whatever it is that we run for a whole weekend. We'll just have to wait and see what happens. I'm not real sure. We haven't gotten a final date on 'em yet."

DID YOU TEST IT ON TRACK? "Yeah, I've tested one at Kentucky - just running some laps to give the guys some data and to check all the pistons and the valves and everything on it. I ran like 600 miles on one just to see what it looked like inside and whether it lost horsepower or did this or did that. We were just testing it a little bit and get some time on it, so we'll kind of know what to expect when we bring it on the race track."

COULD YOU FEEL A LITTLE MORE KICK? "It was definitely a little better and it runs in the range of rpm that we're getting beat by right now, so that's good for our whole race team."

DO YOU SEE ANY CHANGES COMING THIS YEAR? "I don't know if we'll see any changes. I know I've heard of the spoilers maybe getting cut off or not getting cut off. I've heard all kinds of stuff, but I don't think they're gonna do that because it would be hard to change it right in the middle of the points race like that. It wouldn't be fair for the people that have already tested and stuff like that with the spoiler we've got now. I think everybody likes the changes. I don't think anybody has really had any problems with the tires. Goodyear has done a remarkable job as always and I just don't think cutting the spoiler off and stuff like that is the answer. I think if NASCAR wants to see more side-by-side racing like they did 10 years ago, slow the cars down 20 miles an hour and I think you'll see a lot more side-by-side racing than kind of what you see now. But as far as the rules changes they've got this year, I think everything has been good."

IS KENTUCKY A TRACK YOU WOULD LIKE TO SEE GET A CUP RACE? "It's a great place for us to go test. It's a great race track. It's very smooth and they've done a lot of great work on that race track in the last year or so to make it where we can race a lot better. We learn a lot of stuff when we go to Kentucky. Yeah, I think it would be great for a NASCAR Nextel Cup race, but they have so many people waiting in line and there are places now that are fighting for their lives to try to keep dates that it's just a tough business decision to make. I'm glad I don't have to make that decision. I guess we'll have to let NASCAR and the fans and the sponsors and all kind of decide if that's a good market and if that would be a good place to go race at. But from a race driver's standpoint, Kentucky is a great place to race at."

DOES HUNTING FILL YOUR TIME BETWEEN RACING OR DOES RACING FILL YOUR TIME BETWEEN HUNTING? "I race during the summer so I can hunt during the winter, how about that?"

WHAT IMPACT HAS YOUR MOM HAD ON YOUR LIFE? "My mom and dad both have been so great to me growing up. If it was not for them two, I wouldn't be here talking to you guys today. I don't know what I would be doing, but for them to be able to spend the money on me growing - sending me wherever I needed to go to learn how to drive and race go-karts and stuff, and being lenient with me in school - they've been great influences and just great up-bringing. Never any trouble playing all the sports I needed to play and running me down the road to practices here and there and everywhere. She's done a great job and sacrificed a lot of her time so Hermie and I could race and be at the places we needed to be. She's done a good job and been supportive of us the whole time. Even being seven years old and racing a go-kart 90 miles an hour, she was very supportive. That's a lot to ask of your mom when you have a seven-year-old kid out there doing that, but they've been great. She was used to that with her uncle's racing and it's something I'll never be able to re-pay her back for the things they've done for me."

CAN YOU GIVE US MORE INFORMATION ON YOUR RACE FOR HOPE? "It's May 25 in Charlotte. You can call NASCAR Speedparks dot com or call their hotline and get all the tickets you want. Some of the guys are sold out in different areas, but not all of the tickets are sold. There's gonna be a great silent auction there. We've got a lot of great stuff from hockey teams and basketball teams and a lot of stuff away from racing, too, that I think is gonna be neat and people are gonna find pretty cool. It's just gonna be a neat deal. I can't think my fellow drivers enough and the media has been so great on promoting it. I thank you all so much and I'm just looking forward to having it. I think we'll have a lot of fun with the fans."

-ford-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Kurt Busch , Kasey Kahne , Jack Roush , Elliott Sadler