Sadler Up: Pride of Emporia Making Strong Run for Nationwide Title
A year ago, Elliott Sadler's name was thrown in the "silly season" hat, tossed around with an uncertain future in stock car racing.
Struggling in his Cup mount with Richard Petty Motorsports last season, the two-time series race winner had fans wondering if he could still compete for victories on a regular basis.
Fast forward to this year, where the 35-year-old Emporia, VA native is having the time of his life once again.
Instead of battling for survival every race day, Sadler finds himself competing for wins and more importantly, vying for a championship with a quality ride.
Sure, Sadler no longer makes his home in the Sprint Cup Series.
For some racers, going to the Nationwide Series may seem like a demotion. That is, unless you're Elliott Sadler, who finds himself racing with a top-flight Nationwide team like Kevin Harvick Incorporated.
It's not a totally new racing division for the personable racer, who made himself known as a winner in the series back in 1997-'98 while driving for Diamond Ridge Motorsport's No. 29/66 Philipps 66 Chevrolet.
Compiling five victories for car owner Gary Bechtel, Sadler soon found himself promoted to the Cup division, where he piloted rides from the Wood Brothers stable, as well as with Yates Racing and Evernham Motorsports before making his most recent premier series effort with RPM.
Make no mistake, the desire to run in Cup full-time is still there for Sadler. After all, it's a goal for most stock car racers of any age - to make it as a contender in the biggest series in the States.
However, he's gunning for a Nationwide Series title for KHI, who wouldn't mind adding that division's championship to their shop's trophy mantle in mid-November.
With six races completed thus far, Sadler and his No. 2 OneFinancial Services Chevrolet Impala team find themselves tied for fourth in the championship standings, just 30 markers from points leader Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.
To say the least, it wasn't a relatively smooth start for this pairing, with Sadler placing an auspicious 38th position at Daytona, he logged in consecutive 12th place efforts at Phoenix and Las Vegas before collecting a fourth at Bristol and a pair of fifths at Fontana and Texas.
While all the talk in the Nationwide Series may be around the influx of Cup racers making it into a "prize money practice session," the likes of Sadler have given fans and observes hope that a series regular will grab a checkered flag before this season's finished.
Friday night's O'Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas was another pure example of Sadler and his team inching closer to a win, battling hard to nab a solid top-five finish.
"We battled tonight," Sadler said following the race. "I'm very proud of my race team. We fell back at the very beginning to like 14th or 15th and we battled a loose race car. I did a bad job of getting the car ready for a night race."
Aggressive but smart, Sadler kept on "diggin'," biding his time throughout the race, even when his car was ill-handling in the early going.
Despite the race becoming a showdown between eventual event winner Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch, the white and blue No. 2 Impala was making headway with the leaders.
"So proud of Ernie (Cope, Sadler's crew chief)," said Sadler. "They kept in the game and didn't get frustrated.
"We kept working on it, making it better with every pit stop. We feel very privileged and feel like we got in a very good effort in tonight to get a top-five."
With Sadler's experience coupled with Cope's expertise over the past 22 years in the sport, it's only a matter of time before the OneFinancial Chevrolet ends up in Victory Lane.
A victory may have been out of the cards on Friday night, particularly with their sluggish start in the 300-miler.
Most teams would have a tough time of adjusting their bulky speed machines, opting for survival rather than the best finish possible.
Instead, this team pressed forward and ended up not only nabbing a top-five, but earning the distinction as the highest placing Nationwide Series regular in the 43-car field.
Talladega Superspeedway's 33 degrees of banking awaits the Nationwide teams next Saturday (Live, 3:00 PM ET on ESPN2HD) for the Aaron's 312, where just about anything can happen.
From the wild (one of the sport's all-time largest wrecks in the '02 race) to an exciting duel between teammates like in the '04 edition with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Martin Truex, Jr., the only certainty is that it'll be "white knuckle racing" at nearly 200 miles per hour.
When it comes to a list of contenders for the race, consider Elliott Sadler, who absolutely loves restrictor plate races.
A strong drafter, provided a car with a solid power plant and balanced Chevrolet Impala, look for the '99 Cup rookie runner-up to make his case for the winner's circle.
Just don't blink too slowly - or you'll miss the blindingly fast 43 car field raising hell and rubber.