Sadler has title in sights with just five races to go

2013 is up in air, but driver is in prime position to win 2012 Nationwide Series

Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012

Elliott Sadler doesn’t have a deal finalized yet for a ride next season.

He may have a likely destination, but he has put off – for the time being – filling in the details.

That’s OK with him because there is a more important matter at hand: There’s a championship to be won.

With just five races left in the 2012 Nationwide Series schedule, including Friday night’s Dollar General 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Sadler finds himself in perhaps the best position of his career to win his first NASCAR championship.

Sadler, who drives the No. 2 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing, leads the series standings holding a nine-point lead over Ricky Stenhouse Jr., last season’s champion. Sadler’s RCR teammate, Austin Dillon, is third – 25 points back.

“It seems all three of us have hit our stride here late in the season,” Sadler said. “Austin has been so competitive and so fast, more so in the last month-and-a-half. Ricky has a lot of seconds and a lot of wins lately.

“We’ve run good, too, we’ve just thrown away too many points. It seems like the lead right now is a hot potato – nobody wants to keep it.”

Even with the success he’s had so far this season, Sadler has had to overcome doubt whether that success would continue.

Early last month, RCR confirmed Sadler would not be returning to the organization in 2013. Sadler was not caught by surprise but naturally wondered about the effect on his team.

“When it became clear I was no longer going to remain at RCR after this season, I had a conversation with my crew chief, Luke Lambert. I asked him if this would affect our efforts moving forward,” Sadler said.

“Luke said to me, ‘Elliott, I’ve never won a championship. There are guys on this team who have never won a championship. We are going to do everything we can to make sure we all win the championship.’

“When Luke told me that, it made me feel good inside but it also told me these guys would put everything they got into it.”

Since debuting in NASCAR in 1995, Sadler has won 13 races across all three national series – Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Trucks. He’s been in title hunts before – he finished as runner-up in Nationwide last year and was ninth in the Chase for the Cup in 2004.

The 37-year-old native of Emporia, Va., is just one of 15 drivers to have won a race and a pole in each of NASCAR’s three national series.

For Sadler, winning the Nationwide title would mean much more than adding another trophy to a mantel in his home.

Sadler believes he has something to prove – to those he’s worked with in the past and to himself.

“The biggest reason I want to win this championship is I had a man look me in the eye a couple years ago and tell me that he didn’t think I had what was needed to make it in this business,” Sadler said.

That man was one of Sadler’s former team owners, George Gillett. In August 2007, Gillett bought a controlling interest in the Cup team, Evernham Motorsports, for which Sadler drove at the time.

“I feel like if I can win this championship. There are people that can see in the right situation, in the right environment and with a competitive race team, I can compete with anybody on a high level,” Sadler said.

There’s also a far more personal reason Sadler wants to win this title: He doesn’t believe his NASCAR career would be complete with one.

“I’ve been able to win championships in whatever series I raced in before I came to NASCAR, from when I was a little kid growing up,” Sadler said. “If for some reason things don’t go my way this year or in the future – I don’t expect this to be my last chance – I will feel I let myself down if I hang my helmet on a hook and I didn’t win a championship.

“Right now, my team and I have the perfect opportunity to make that happen.”