Dropping the Hammer with Elliott Sadler

Over the years, Elliott Sadler has made his presence known as a perennial contender in NASCAR racing.  A 20-year veteran of the NASCAR Xfinity Series, the Emporia, VA native is off to a strong start in 2017.

A dominant run in the season opener at Daytona was derailed by a 24th place finish. However, Sadler parlayed consistent efforts at Atlanta, Las Vegas, and Phoenix to enjoy an early season points lead.

Furthermore, at age 41, Sadler has experienced a renaissance with his racing efforts.  As a result of joining JR Motorsports last year, the Dominion State racer has been rejuvenated, ready to win races.

Last season, Sadler enjoyed victories at Talladega, Darlington, and Kentucky en route to a runner-up points finish. He and his No. 1 team have picked up where they last left off as a perennial title contender.

Consequently, Sadler has learned from some of the best in NASCAR racing, including Dale Jarrett.  Notably, Jarrett and Sadler were teammates from 2003-’06 with Robert Yates Racing.

It seems like Sadler has aged like wine – better as time progressed.  In addition, he is a college basketball fanatic, closely following the playoff action this month.

Following last Saturday’s race at Phoenix, Sadler shared his thoughts on a plethora of topics.  From the new race and points format to his championship bid for 2017, this is a man on a mission.

Without further ado, let’s get to the track and start “Dropping the Hammer with Elliott Sadler” on The Podium Finish!

Rob Tiongson :  Coming off your best season yet in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, you and crew chief Kevin Meendering are off to a strong start with 2017.  What’s been some of the key factors that you’ve carried over from last season into the new year?

Elliott Sadler and his No. 1 team ran on rails in 2016.  (Photo Credit: Harold Hinson Photography/Andrew Coppley)

Elliott Sadler and his No. 1 team ran on rails in 2016. (Photo Credit: Harold Hinson Photography/Andrew Coppley)

Elliott Sadler :  Our momentum for sure.  Our OneMain Financial team had a lot (of momentum) throughout the 2016 season and especially heading into Homestead for the championship.  We had a great season with 29 top 10’s, which is a career-best for myself and also JR Motorsports.  We’ve already had three (top-10’s) this season and are going to continue to build on that.

RT :  Last year, you said that you found the fountain of youth following your fall race win at Kentucky Speedway.  Is it safe to say that you feel like your career was rejuvenated by making the move to JR Motorsports?

ES :  Dale (Earnhardt Jr.) and Kelley (Earnhardt Miller) gave me an incredible opportunity when they made me an offer to join their team.  It’s been a huge experience and another stepping stone in my career that I wasn’t sure if I would have.  To be able to join their team and have a season like I did last year, it’s been amazing.  I’m looking forward to seeing what the OneMain Financial team can do this season.

RT :  NASCAR implemented stages with the races along with a new points system.  Would you say that the new format has lived up to its expectations with adding more aggression on track and increased the important of pit strategies on race day?

ES :  Of course—It’s changed the way we look at a race now.  We put a lot of strategy leading into the end of each stage.  I think it’s been a great change for our sport.  Rewarding drivers who race hard all race long—every spot and every point counts.

It’s not just the 10, nine, eight and so on points that matter, but the bonus points that count for the playoffs after winning a stage.  In Daytona, we were able to win the first two stages, but then got caught up in a wreck late in the race.  It taught us a lesson—with the new format, you gotta go out there and get every point that you can get.

RT :  You kicked off the West Coast Swing with an eighth place finish at Las Vegas.  With the upcoming races at Phoenix, Fontana, and Texas, how confident do you feel about you and your No. 1 team scoring an important early season victory at these unique venues?

Elliott Sadler has reeled off three consecutive top-10 results, propelling him to the points lead. (Photo Credit: Harold Hinson Photography)

Elliott Sadler has reeled off three consecutive top-10 results, propelling him to the points lead. (Photo Credit: Harold Hinson Photography)

ES :  I’m very confident.  Phoenix is a unique racetrack and JR Motorsports had a great weekend there.  With (teammate) Justin Allgaier taking the win, it just pumps us all up at JRM. Kevin (Meendering, crew chief) is great at what he does and knows how to lead our team in the right direction.  A win on the west coast is a huge momentum builder for the rest of the season.

RT :  While on the topic of tracks on the West Coast, what’s your thoughts on Las Vegas having two tripleheader weekends for 2018?  Is this a step in the right direction for the growth of our sport?

ES :  I think it’s great—Las Vegas is a fun place to race and fun place to visit.  I hate to see another track lose a race and all those fans up there, but I think two races in (Las) Vegas will be good for our sport.  It’s a great mile and a half that makes for some great racing.  The race two weekends ago shows that.

RT :  With new teammates William Byron and Michael Annett on board with you and Justin Allgaier, how has the collaboration process been across the board in terms of exchanging information as the leading veteran of the team?

ES :  It’s been great.  We have a great group of guys this season driving for JR Motorsports.  We’ve all been able to lean on one another and share information to better our teams.  Not only are William (Byron, teammate) and Michael (Annett, teammate) learning from Justin (Allgaier, teammate) and I, but they have already taught us a thing or two too.  I’ve really taken to William to help him learn and grow—he’s got great potential and a long career ahead of him.

RT :  Tempers flared last Sunday at Las Vegas with Kyle Busch confronting Joey Logano on pit road.  Is there a fine line of driver etiquette in terms of trying to resolve a conflict correctly and what could both drivers have done differently to de-escalate the situation?

Elliott Sadler battles Kyle Busch last fall at Kansas Speedway. (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson/The Racing Experts)

Elliott Sadler battles Kyle Busch last fall at Kansas Speedway. (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson/The Racing Experts)

ES :  I think every situation is unique.  We all pour our heart and souls into this sport for 40 weeks a year.  Emotions can get the best of us but at the end of the day this sport was built on rivalries.  We need guys to race each other hard and if a feud results from that then so be it.

RT :  If you had the power to assemble your own NASCAR dream team consisting of drivers from the past and present, which driver would you hire as your teammate, select to race with you during before you retire, and still want on your team even if they’re pesky on the track?

ES :  If I could pick somebody as my teammate, it’s actually a person that’s already been my teammate in my career, and that’s Dale Jarrett.  I learned so much from him as a person and as a man.  Not only what you do on the racetrack, but how you act off the racetrack.  Probably the most fun times in my life and my career.  So if I could have that one teammate to be with me throughout my career on my dream team, it would be Dale Jarrett.

RT :  It’s no secret that you are a huge college basketball fan.  With the annual March Madness tournament underway, do you keep a close eye on the scores with your fellow peers at the track?

ES :  I love basketball and March Madness, 100 percent.  I fill out quite a few brackets every year with friends, teammates, and also fans.  This year, I have a bracket in the Whiskey River challenge and am looking forward to see I how rank against JR Nation.  This year, I have UNC, Duke, Kansas, and Arizona in my final four, with UNC over Arizona for the NCAA championship.

RT :  You’ve just about tasted the NASCAR Xfinity Series championship over the years.  Would winning a title define your career as a driver and does that add more urgency or excitement for you when you’re battling on the track each weekend?

Sadler has his eyes on the prize this year. (Photo Credit: Harold Hinson Photography/Andrew Coppley)

Sadler has his eyes on the prize this year. (Photo Credit: Harold Hinson Photography/Andrew Coppley)

ES :  No, I don’t think winning a championship defines a driver’s career. It’s definitely a huge accomplishment, but there are many legendary drivers that I’ve looked to over the years—whether they had a championship or not.

Obviously, every driver wants to win a NASCAR championship and because of that, yeah, there are more battles on the track.  That’s what makes this new format good for our sport.  Every driver will be competing for every point they can, making more battles throughout the race and in each stage.

Author’s Notes :  Special thanks to Elliott Sadler and the JR Motorsports team with this feature on TPF! Photographs accompanying this feature are courtesy of Harold Hinson Photography and Jeremy Thompson of The Racing Experts, whereas noted.

Rob Tiongson

Rob Tiongson is a 30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field and hockey. A Boston native turned Austinite, racing was the first sport that caught his eyes.

From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by him or by one of his talented columnists who have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. He enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat.

Tiongson, a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, pursues his Master of Arts in Digital Communications at St. Bonaventure University. Indeed, while Tiongson is proud to be from Massachusetts, he's just as happy to be a Texan.

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