Virginian Sadler speeds into Martinsville

Updated: April 18, 2004, 2:46 PM ET
By Jerry Bonkowski | Special to ESPN.com

Elliott Sadler
Sadler
The party started April 4 for Elliott Sadler when he won the Samsung/Radio Shack 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

It continued two days later when he got back home to the Sadler family homestead in Emporia, Va., where he celebrated with some 200 of his closest friends and family.

And now the driver of the No. 38 Ford hopes to extend the festive atmosphere with roughly 91,000 more partiers in the stands in Sunday's Advance Auto Parts 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

"We want to keep the party going," Sadler said.

And he has a good chance of doing just that this weekend.

Returning to Martinsville is like coming home for Sadler, who grew up 150 miles away in Emporia. Like fellow Virginia natives Ward and Jeff Burton, Sadler considers Martinsville Speedway his home racetrack.

And given that he's coming off his second career Nextel Cup victory, and is going back to the same type of short track where he earned his first career Cup win (at Bristol in 2001), Sadler is feeling confident.

"Fresh off a win, I will probably be like a horse coming out of the gates when I get behind the wheel for practice at Martinsville," Sadler said.

The key to racing at the close-in, half-mile bullring is the same thing Sadler exercised when he won at Bristol three years ago: patience. He knows this weekend's event will be a complete opposite of the type of race he ran at Texas, where he edged Kasey Kahne at the finish line by 0.28 seconds, the eighth closest Cup finish since electronic scoring was introduced in 1993.

Speed was the key at Texas, but patience will be the watchword at Martinsville. In fact, the track record for fastest race is only 82.223 mph, set in 1996 by Jeff Gordon -- who won both of last year's races there.

With that kind of slow-speed racing being the rule rather than the exception at Martinsville, not to mention the propensity for numerous crashes due to its tight layout, Sadler could potentially drive faster on some of the nearby interstates heading into and out of Martinsville on race day.

Fresh off a win, I will probably be like a horse coming out of the gates when I get behind the wheel for practice at Martinsville.
Elliott Sadler

"Even though he has been preaching patience all this time, my crew chief, Todd Parrott, told me that might not be a bad thing," Sadler said. "Martinsville is like a train wreck waiting to happen. It's too small, narrow and flat to fit 43 cars on it and the leaders sometimes start putting cars a lap down in less than 10 laps.

"It's easy to lose track of who is where. However, this year we plan on being out front like we were last year."

Sadler led five laps in last spring's race and ultimately finished fifth, marking his first top-five outing ever at Martinsville and his best finish in 10 career starts at the track.

It's quite apparent Sadler's confidence has jumped tenfold since his win at Texas, a marked contrast to his demeanor last year while struggling in his first season with Robert Yates Racing. He had the talent, the equipment and the personnel around him -- it was just a matter of putting it all together, which he finally did deep in the heart of Texas.

"I feel like a tremendous weight has been lifted off my shoulders now that we got that first win under our belts," he said. "You might see a whole new Elliott Sadler behind the wheel. This was exactly what we needed to build our confidence, build equity in this team and chase that championship. It's just cool."

To further enhance his driver's chances this weekend, crew chief Todd Parrott is pulling out the same chassis that Sadler used in his fifth-place effort at Martinsville last spring.

"The biggest thing we will work on this weekend is getting the car to turn in the center of the corner for Elliott," Parrott said. "Martinsville is hard on drivers, brakes and the car in general -- but I know Elliott can get the job done."

Like his driver, Parrott is also feeling a huge burden lifted off his shoulders, particularly since last year was such a struggle, including his leaving and then returning to the team.

"I'm still on cloud nine that we got that first win out of the way," Parrott said. "We aren't going to stop at that, I'm confident of it."

Jerry Bonkowski covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Motorsportwriter@MSN.com.

Jerry Bonkowski | email

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Award-winning sportswriting veteran Jerry Bonkowski returns to ESPN, having previously served as NASCAR columnist/writer for ESPN.com from 2001 to 2004. A lifelong Chicago native, Jerry spent 15 years with USA Today, where he covered all sports -- with heavy emphasis on Chicago-area teams -- and the past 4½ years as National NASCAR Columnist with Yahoo! Sports.

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