The 2012 season has been one of a career resurgence and turn around for a specific driver. This driver ended an extremely long NASCAR winless streak this season. This driver has been extremely consistent all season long. This driver is also atop the points standings for the first time in years.
And no, I’m not talking about NASCAR’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., although he has done all of those things in the Sprint Cup Series too this year.
I’m talking about NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Elliott Sadler.
Sadler has taken the 2012 Nationwide season by force, scoring four wins to this point, something he hasn’t done in the Nationwide Series since 1998. He is also atop the points standings, where he briefly sat in the 2011 Nationwide season, but failed to stay there come season’s end.
He’s looking to do things much differently this time around, proving that he is worthy to be a NASCAR champion, even if it is at a lower series from where Sadler wants and used to be.
Sadler used to be familiar face in NASCAR’s top tier, the Sprint Cup Series and did enjoy some success there. After winning five Nationwide races between 1997 and 1998, Sadler moved up into the Sprint Cup Series to drive for the legendary Wood Brothers in their #21 car. In his first two seasons with the team, Sadler scored a couple top-10 finishes and was runner-up to now three-time champion Tony Stewart for Rookie of the Year in 1999. He captured his first Sprint Cup win in 2001 for the Wood Brothers at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Once Sadler left the Wood Brothers to drive the #38 M&M’s car for Robert Yates Racing in 2003, that’s when Sadler’s Sprint Cup career really started to take off. He began winning pole positions left and right and scored two wins in 2004 at Texas Motor Speedway and Auto Club Speedway. This was enough to qualify Sadler for the inaugural NASCAR Chase for the Championship where he finished a career best 9th in points.
However, from that point on, Sadler began to slide into a miserable groove racing wise and found himself switching to the Gillet Evernham Motorsports in 2008. Sadler was unable to find success with the team, even after they merged with NASCAR legend Richard Petty’s team. Due to a lack of sponsorship and performance, Sadler found himself without a Sprint Cup ride for the 2011 season.
Sadler kept an open mind towards the situation though, and instead of trying to race for newly formed Sprint Cup teams who would only race part-time, he took a bit of a demotion down to the second tier Nationwide Series. The Nationwide Series of course is still a great racing division and Sadler was able to sign with Kevin Harvick Inc. to drive the #2 OneMain Financial car.
Harvick, a Sprint Cup Series driver, had proven that his cars were capable of winning races, so Sadler, looking to become competitive once again snatched up the opportunity. Sadler was unable to deliver a win in his first season with KHI, but did finish second overall in points in 2011. Still, this was of no consolation to Sadler who seemed to come into the 2012 season with a determination that he’d never shown in NASCAR before.
After KHI merged into Richard Childress Racing for the 2012 season, Sadler wasted no time making sure he would get his racing career back on the map. He won the second race of the year at Phoenix International Raceway and won again two weeks later at Bristol Motor Speedway. After trading the points lead with last season’s champion, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (who is on his way up to Sprint Cup in 2013), Sadler took command of the points lead by winning his third race of the year at Chicagoland Motor Speedway, heading into the inaugural Nationwide race at the historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Sadler looked to be in prime position to win his fourth race of the year at Indy, taking the lead from Brad Keselowski with ten laps to go on a restart. However, NASCAR deemed Sadler’s restart to be illegal, as he crossed the start/finish line ahead of Keselowski, who was the race leader. NASCAR penalized Sadler, who had to come down pit road to serve a penalty, causing him to finish 15th and losing a great deal of his points lead. A defiant Sadler screamed over his radio, “NASCAR is just trying to take this championship from me!” and was completely distraught after winning the race.
By the next weekend, Sadler came into the Iowa Speedway with one of the biggest grudges any driver could have ever had against NASCAR. He made it a point that race to make sure no one, not even NASCAR, could take the win away from him. He won the pole and dominated to score his fourth win of the season. As Sadler approached victory lane, he screamed over his radio and said, “They’re not taking this championship from me!”
Now in position to win his first ever championship in NASCAR, Sadler is appearing to be turning his career around in one of the most determined ways possible. Sadler has stated over his Twitter account that he feels “reborn” this season and is proving himself to be one heck of a race, one who won’t take crap from anyone to win a championship, not even from NASCAR.
He’s even put himself in the discussion to earn a Sprint Cup ride again, possibly with Penske Racing who released A.J. Allmendinger this week or even perhaps with the team he drives for now, Richard Childress Racing, depending on sponsorship.
So as the Nationwide season progresses, look for Elliott Sadler to be more dominant than ever en route to a championship. I’d be shocked if he let this opportunity get away from him.
*All stats acquired from NASCAR.com
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