It's been like rats scurrying off a sinking ship at Robert Yates Racing this year. In April, veteran driver Dale Jarrett announced that he would leave RYR at the end of the season for Michael Waltrip Incorporated Racing. This week, Elliott Sadler...
It's been like rats scurrying off a sinking ship at Robert Yates Racing this year. In April, veteran driver Dale Jarrett announced that he would leave RYR at the end of the season for Michael Waltrip Incorporated Racing. This week, Elliott Sadler asked for, and received, as release from his contract as driver of the No. 38 Ford Fusion.
"Before I get into why and where and all that good stuff, I do want to say that this past week has probably been the toughest week of my life as far as decisions being made." Sadler commented. "As far as going in and having a heart to heart talk with Robert this past week has been one of the hardest couple of hours I've ever spent in my life. It's been very tough this week to kind of get through all of this. I have decided to leave Robert Yates Racing, not from my relationship with Robert or Doug Yates. They're great, great people and I've definitely enjoyed driving for those guys, but pretty much just have come to differences of opinion on which way the sport is going. This is not the first meeting that we've had.
"We've had meetings all year long to try to meet in the middle and try to make some good decisions on what we think we need to do to make our race team better, but could never get going in that direction. I just have a difference of opinion on which way the sport is going than those guys did. I couldn't really make myself buy into the system in which way I think the company is going, so we just decided to split ways and do something different. That's kind of what has brought us here to today. I think Robert and I did sit down and decide that no matter what we do, no matter what goes on, we still have a lot of racing left to do this season. We still need to try to run very, very good to make the 38 car exciting for somebody to get in next year.
"We have a lot of great sponsors on board that we need to take care of this year and pretty much when we got out of the meeting we pretty much said to each other that we want to be able to look each other in the eye at Homestead after the checkered flag and be able to shake hands and say, 'We did everything we could together this year to have a successful season,' so that's pretty much where we're at today."
That leaves Robert and Doug Yates with the unenviable task of having to find two new drivers to fill both their Cup seats for 2007. Doug Yates, however, remains hopeful.
"I'm really encouraged about what the future holds," said Yates. "You don't want to go around lying to people. People in our organization need to know where we're going to be. We have a lot of responsibility as team owners because we provide for a lot of families and they provide for us.
"When you can look them in the eye and say, 'Good things are happening,' and really believe that, then that's a great feeling. It's hard to walk around and hide what you really feel."
Yates does, however, want to concentrate on hiring drivers that are going to be willing to grow with the company and stick out any rough patches in performance. The last two seasons have not been good ones for Sadler or Jarrett and rather than shouldering any part of the blame, it seemed to fall squarely on something the Yates organization was not doing to help performance.
"Elliott saw the way things were shaping up within our organization and he decided that he felt he had a better opportunity somewhere else," Yates commented. "There are some big shoes to fill right now within our organization. We need a leader and need somebody who can carry the team back to where it needs to be and he felt like he had a better deal somewhere else. But with that said, we want to make sure that we realize we've had four really good years together.
"We've won races and sat on poles throughout the time we've been together and we've made the chase. I think that we need to make sure that we both appreciate what we've done together. I think we've helped Elliott's career. Was it a stepping stone to get somewhere else? Maybe, but I think Robert Yates Racing has some good things in store in the future and we've just got to go out and prove that."
Sadler's move four years ago certainly was a pinnacle in his career. After leaving Woods Brothers Racing (where he garnered only one win) for Yates, Sadler earned two career wins and a chance to compete in the Chase for the Nextel Cup in 2004. Sadler and the No. 38 Ford team, however, never could quite maximize on their momentum. Last year was miserable not only the 38 but the 88 as well, despite two new crew chiefs; this year was shaping up to be more of the same.
Neither car is in contention for the Chase this year. Sadler has just one top five and Jarrett, none. While Jarrett will take UPS with him to MWI, M&M's will remain at RYR; Sadler is the top contender for the No. 19 Evernham Dodge, although Sadler reminded that nothing has been inked just yet.
"Right now it's a great time to be a driver because we're pretty much in high demand right now," said Sadler. "There are a lot more seats open than there are drivers available I think, and that's what caught me off guard this week with some of the phone calls I got. You don't realize who is looking for drivers and who is not. There are a lot more people stirring the pot underneath than you really think, so it's great to be a driver like this. I'm not in any hurry to try to make a decision. I have no timelines that I need to have something done by this date or this date.
"I pretty much want to sit down with each person that I'm really interested in and each team and decide, 'Is this good? Is it bad? What do you guys have to offer? What do you think we need to do? What will make us successful or not?' A lot of it will depend on teammates and stuff also as far as getting along and things like that, so right now is a great time to be a driver. I think it is. It's a pretty exciting year."
RYR development driver has the next two Cup races to prove himself worthy of inheriting the No. 88 seat, Yates has some serious interviewing to do to find a driver that has the patience to help Yates regain their stature as a championship race team.
As personnel continue to file though the Yates shop exit door, hopefully they can find a group of people willing to grab onto the life preserver and help rebuild a once platinum organization.