One of the most interesting aspects to NASCAR racing that is unlike other professional sports is that there's more than one premier class. In fact, it consists of three major divisions, with one of those being the Nationwide Series, which can be perceived as breeding grounds for tomorrow's future in the Sprint Cup ranks to a level of racing where steady, solid stock car talents have the chance to showcase their abilities in quality rides that can contend for wins and championships. Additionally, it houses some of the fastest and sportiest cars in all of racing, with drivers fielding a Chevrolet Camaro, Ford Mustang, or a Toyota Camry.
Elliott Sadler, a former Sprint Cup star, is one of the established veterans of the NASCAR Nationwide Series who's excelled in his 17 years of competing in two of the most prestigious disciplines of stock cars. At age 38, the pride of Emporia, VA has grown up from a fresh faced, aggressive 20-year-old rising young gun to a very precise, confident, and solid racer who knows how to get the most out of his equipment as well as meshing well with his team. In his second season with the Joe Gibbs Racing program, the nine-time Nationwide race winner is looking to improve on his fourth place showing last year. Needless to say, this is one combination, led by crew chief Chris Gayle, that will be fun to watch all year long.
Sadler nearly captured the Nationwide championship in 2011 and '12, falling short in the last few races of those seasons to eventual champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Essentially experiencing a NASCAR renaissance in the sport's "number two series," he's shown that he has not lost his skills when he straps up in the driver's seat of his No. 11 OneMain Financial/Sport Clips Toyota Camry. In fact, he's tallied four wins, 38-top five finishes, and 71 top-10's in the past 104 races that he's competed in since his return to the Nationwide Series. To say the least, on race day, he's a definite contender for victories and being amongst the top finishers on a weekly basis.
Currently, Sadler sits fifth in points after five races in the 2014 season with two top-fives and three top-10's with Texas Motor Speedway awaiting the Nationwide Series next weekend for their annual Friday night race (Live on April 4th at 8:30 PM EST on ESPN2). As the spring stretch awaits the No. 11 team, I got the opportunity to interview Sadler, one of the top, leading contenders in NASCAR racing. From his thoughts to Cup drivers competing in Nationwide races to his favorite "go to" song on his iPod, we get to know all about the pride of the Dominion State who certainly still has a lot to show for after all these years. One thing that's not changed after all these years is his gratitude for those who've helped him out with his career, as he'll immediately attribute with the first question that I fielded.
In one of our most highly anticipated interviews here in our five-year run, we're proud to present our latest installment of one-on-ones here with one of the top NASCAR talents! Without further ado, in the words of NASCAR on FOX commentator Larry McReynolds, let's be sure to pull those belts one more time and get "In the Driver's Seat with Elliott Sadler, NASCAR Nationwide Series Racer," only on The Podium Finish!
Rob Tiongson : First of all Elliott, thank you for taking the time to let us interview you for the fans here on The Podium Finish. Talk a little about your past year as a member of Joe Gibbs Racing’s Nationwide Series effort – you were so close to winning races and the title in 2013 and right now off to a good start this season with two top-10 finishes. What are some of the things that you’ve enjoyed with being a part of JGR?
Elliott Sadler : From the minute I joined Joe Gibbs Racing, they made me feel like part of the family. Coach Gibbs and JD have been wonderful to work for and I've really enjoyed all of my teammates at JGR as well.
RT : Some would have perceived going from Sprint Cup to Nationwide as a sort of step down with NASCAR racing. However, the Nationwide Series is quite competitive and isn’t just a Saturday stroll at the track – how much has the competition changed compared to when you were racing with Diamond Ridge Racing in 1997 and ’98?
ES : The Nationwide Series has a lot of talent now and its always been that way. When I started back in 1995, I was racing with big name cup guys like Mark Martin and Jeff Burton. It was hard to win races then and it's hard to win races now. Kyle Busch runs a lot of races as does Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick, and some of the other full time Cup guys. That helps the series a lot. We need those guys out there to help us solidify sponsorship and to help us put on a great show for the fans. The competition is very tough in all of NASCAR's national touring divisions. There's no such thing as an easy win.
RT : You’ve had some great moments in your career, such as your first Cup win at Bristol back in 2001, the thrilling victories at Texas and Fontana in ’04, as well as the two runner-up championship season efforts in 2011 and ’12 in the Nationwide ranks. Which one would you say stands out to you the most thus far?
ES : My first Sprint Cup win at Bristol is my favorite. The Wood Brothers had never won there. We started 38th that day and to get the win and see their smiling faces in Victory Lane was the best feeling I've ever had after a win. I've enjoyed every win on my resume but that one will always be the one that I feel is the most special.
RT : I recall when you entered NASCAR racing in the mid-1990’s when your brother Hermie was making a name for himself in the No. 1 Dewalt Chevy ride. How important was it for you to have a mentor like him and do you still look for advice with him today when it comes to certain tracks on the circuit?
ES : I was very fortunate to have Hermie as an older brother. He would move up into the next phase of his racing career and I would jump into whatever he had been racing. I wouldn't be who I am had it not been for my Dad. He sacrificed a lot for Hermie and I to race. My Dad loves racing. I grew up in a racing family. My uncles and cousins all raced. Hermie and I still talk almost everyday. He's been great to me on and off the track over the years.
RT : Let’s talk a little about the Hermie and Elliott Sadler Foundation, which is dedicated to raising awareness about autism and promoting research for a cure for this condition. What are some of the ways on the track that you spread word about this wonderful cause and how can our fans assist with this great charity?
ES : The foundation hits really close to home because my niece, Halie, is autistic. In the past, we’ve auctioned off a variety of items to help raise money for the charity. We’re not just trying to raise money for the Hermie and Elliott Sadler Charitable Foundation, but we’re looking to educate people and raise more awareness about autism.
RT : There’s been quite a lot of talk in the past several years that there’s too many Sprint Cup drivers competing in the Nationwide ranks. While it’s nothing new, do you feel that it’s sometimes excessive when they’re racing with the regulars like yourself or is it something that you embrace as a competitor?
ES : No. People who make that claim don't understand our business model or the economics of our sport. We need big names in our series to help gain sponsorship. Sponsorship is what makes our business and sport thrive. Guys who can attract sponsorship are the guys who are going to race. And when I came in, I wanted to race against Dale Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip. The guys coming in now like Kyle Larson are learning a ton racing against us veterans. It's going to make them better racecar drivers down the road.
RT : Let’s do a little Free Association here for a moment, Elliott. Tell me the first thing that comes to your mind with the following words:
ES : INTENSE.
RT : Fear.
ES : Flying.
RT : Winning.
ES : At that moment, it's the best feeling in the world.
RT : Favorite go to song on your iPod.
ES : "Wanted" by Bon Jovi.
RT : One place that you wished had a NASCAR track and race.
ES : San Diego, CA.
RT : What I’d like to cross off my personal and racing bucket list is…
ES : Personally, it is being the world's best dad. Professionally, it is a NASCAR championship.
RT : For some of our readers who may be pursuing their dreams in racing, be it as a driver, a crew chief, or even those of us in the media or marketing industry, what advice would you give to those who are aspiring to be a part of the NASCAR world?
ES : Hard work and commitment yields results. Guys like Jerry Rice, Ricky Carmichael, and Jimmie Johnson changed their respective sports because they work so hard on their minds and bodies all the time. I work harder as a result of guys like that. Be willing to out work everyone around you and you'll always be successful.
Author's Notes and Acknowledgements : I would like to thank Elliott Sadler and the kind folks at OneMain Financial Racing for making this interview possible along with the awesome pictures in this article! Also, I'd like to dedicate this piece to the Petty family with the passing of Lynda Owens Petty, who was a loving wife to Richard and a wonderful mom to four children, including NASCAR racer Kyle Petty.
Lastly, for those who would like to learn more about Elliott and Hermie Sadler's charity, please visit http://www.sadlerfoundation.org/ right now! To interact with Elliott, "Like" his Facebook fan page, "Follow" him on Twitter, and please check out his official website. Again, thank you Elliott, OneMain, and Joe Gibbs Racing!