Elliott Sadler will have no hesitation marking an 'X' for which NASCAR championship he wishes to compete in this season.
After 12 years in Sprint Cup, the 35-year-old will commit himself to a full Nationwide season with Kevin Harvick Inc. The choice in some ways made for him. But he likes the end result. And ultimately, an odd fork in his career path and a reported new NASCAR rule could make him a serious contender for an elusive first championship.
After his tumultuous four-plus seasons at the various incarnations of Richard Petty Motorsports ended last season when the team's iconic figurehead acquired control from majority owner George Gillett Jr. and reduced its fleet from four to two drivers, Sadler hardly sees his next career move as a regression. More like refreshing. Before the 2009 season, Sadler had to threaten litigation to keep his job when Gillett Evernham Motorsports, a merged and morphed version of the Evernham Motorsports outfit he joined in 2006, planned to replace him with A.J. Allmendinger. The past two seasons continued rife with upheaval, he said, as the team struggled financially and teammate Kasey Kahne gained his release.
"You have no idea," Sadler said. "I can sit here for two hours and try to explain the differences. My wife and I have been through a lot in the last two and a half years and we pretty much have been standing at the edge of a cliff waiting for someone to come up behind us and push us off the edge of it. You live like that day in and day out and it's tough to race like that, it's tough to live like that. Just with this fresh start we have with Kevin and DeLana, it's all about racing, no games, no issues. It's about going fast and running good and taking care of your sponsors. It's just been a breath of fresh air."
In large part, he said, because his new team co-owners, Kevin and DeLana Harvick, are extremely active in daily racing operations.
"What I like about them is they're hands-on. Everything, big-time hands on," Sadler said. "It's not like they put their name on the building and then go do all these other things and let other people run it. They have good people in place to do different things for that race team, but they are 100 percent with that team every day."
Because they are willing to invest in winning, Sadler said.
"I was in the shop the other day and there was all these new cars, all this new equipment, new suspensions and all these new things, all this wind tunnel time they're doing and all this testing, and I was like, "Man, I haven't had a new car in so long." I haven't had new parts and pieces and suspension parts in so long, this is going to be cool. I can't wait to drive a car that has been to the wind tunnel and has been tested and been to the seven post and has all this data on it so when it gets to the race track it's pretty close. It's definitely a lot different than what I've been through the last couple years."
Much of his first full Nationwide season since 1998 will be different. A report first published by
Though Sprint Cup drivers such as Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards are to run full seasons and continue to be weekly contenders for victories, Sadler would seemingly be in a prime position to contest his first top-three NASCAR driver title and first owner crown for KHI. Sadler is also committed to at least 10 truck races for KHI after posting a win and four top-10s in eight starts last season. Though Harvick has no current plans, he said, to embark into Sprint Cup racing, Sadler acknowledges he may be well-positioned in his multiyear deal with the team.
"You never know. I'm not going to lie to you. We've talked about somehow in the future running a Cup race here, a Cup race there," Sadler said. "We're not going to do it just to do it. It's got to be funded correctly and we have the right equipment, otherwise we're not going to do it. [Harvick]'s risked too much and worked too hard to maintain a top-level, top-notch team, and if he ever goes Cup racing, I think whether its two races a year or 25 races a year, or a full season, he's going to do it the right way.
"I'm in that same boat. I don't want to run anymore for a team that doesn't have the backing and know-how and doesn't want to do it the right way. I've done that for 12 years and it's not like we're in a rush to get back and do that. We have a job in hand right now and the job is to go race and be competitive and run up front and get as many points as we can each week in the Nationwide series and see where it takes us."