It seems like Elliott Sadler was last in a Sprint Cup Series car about a generation ago. Well, he was, in the fifth generation stock car in the 2012 Daytona 500. He will be making his first start in 2013 and first in the new generation six car Sunday in the STP 400 from the Kansas Speedway.
“It’s definitely a great opportunity and I think that’s the biggest thing that I know as a person is the opportunity is given to me to be able to race here in Kansas and also here in a couple weeks at Talladega. I can’t thank Coach (Joe) Gibbs (team owner) and J.D. (Gibbs, team president) and everybody at JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) for giving me this chance to get back in Cup race and also for ALERT Energy Gum to come on board to really put this all together to make this possible. It’s neat, it’s fun — I feel like a kid in a candy store all over again. Almost like the first day of high school. It’s been a great feeling this week getting ready and getting prepared to come here to Kansas this weekend,” Sadler told reporters Friday at the track.
It’s been a tumultuous couple of years for Sadler, who dropped from a full-time Sprint Cup Series ride after 12 years to a Nationwide Series ride. It wasn’t all that bad, winning four times and finishing second in points both years. But his time at Richard Childress Racing was overshadowed by their young gun brothers Austin and Ty Dillon. For 2013 he made the move, still in the Nationwide Series, to Joe Gibbs Racing with an eye on the title.
When teammate Denny Hamlin went down with an injury, one of the replacements mentioned was Sadler. He was passed over and some thought it was an indication of his future with JGR. No so fast, Sadler warns as this weekend could open the door for a brighter future with the team.
“It means a lot and it means a lot to me personally I think more than anything. I want people to really understand that it means a lot to me personally for these guys — this takes a lot of effort to do what they call a ‘one-off’ team. You have to bring extra guys in, you have to build extra cars, you have to do extra research, TRD (Toyota Racing Development) has to build extra engines. There’s a lot that goes into running a couple races here, so it’s a big commitment from J.D. (Gibbs, team president) and his guys. It means a lot to me personally for them to give me this opportunity where they can evaluate me in their equipment and we’ll just take it from there. Like I said before, I understand the opportunity that’s being placed in front of me and we want to make the most of it, take advantage of it and see where this road leads us,” Sadler said.
“As far as expectations, we are coming to throw caution to the wind and hopefully can use some pit strategy and take some chances and maybe do some things that some other teams can’t do. Let’s try to lead some laps and win the race. We’re not coming here and say if we finish 20th or 25th or whatever, I don’t know, I’m just making up a number and be happy. If I was a rookie and had never raced before then I would say, ‘Yeah, that’s a realistic goal that I would be happy with.’ But me, being in this series and have won in this series and have sat on poles in this series, we’re coming here to Kansas we’re going to do the best we can. If we have a chance to take some chances and get ourselves a really good finish and finish up front then we’re going to do that. The next two races are Talladega where anything goes and I have a pretty good track record there too with leading laps and running up front. We really feel like honestly that we can come here and be very, very competitive for these three races,” Sadler continued.
It will be a great gauge for the Joe Gibbs Racing program and whether they can support a fourth team with either Sadler or Nationwide Series teammate Brian Vickers behind the wheel. Sadler will look to steal a race later today when the STP 400 gets underway at 1 PM EST on FOX.