Sadler still seeking breakout season at NASCAR's highest level
Elliott Sadler is his own greatest critic. But the Gillett Evernham Motorsports driver has stopped beating up on himself, even after back-to-back mediocre seasons, writes Mark Ashenfelter.
Updated: January 29, 2008, 1:53 PM ETBy Mark Ashenfelter | ESPN.com
CONCORD, N.C. -- Elliott Sadler's career hardly has been a wash. With three wins at NASCAR's highest level and a berth in the inaugural Chase field in 2004, Sadler has made a mark.It's far from indelible, however, and the 32-year-old from Emporia, Va., is well aware of that fact. Lucky for Sadler, there still is plenty of time to change that, even if the past three years have left the impression he already has peaked.
After winning twice and finishing ninth in points in '04, Sadler slipped to 13th a year later. In 2006, Sadler saw things weren't going to turn around at Robert Yates Racing and moved to Evernham Motorsports, where he and Kasey Kahne became teammates.Sadler's career was supposed to take off a second time in 2007, but while what is now known as Gillett Evernham Motorsports struggled, Sadler posted just two top-10 finishes and wound up 25th in points. Kahne's year wasn't all that special, either, but after six wins in '06, there's no argument he can't become a superstar.The jury is still out on Sadler, but answers should be forthcoming soon."I don't want to say it's a key stretch as much as those are his years," said Ray Evernham, now the team's minority owner. "I think it's time for him to come into his own. He knows that he's got the ability; we want to put him in the race cars [capable of winning]. These are the years that he should perform and make his mark."I firmly believe that he's got the talent to win races and make the Chase. We want to put him in that position. It's his time. He's got to be a big part of that, too. It's his time. It's time for him. We'll give him everything we can, and if he gives everything he can, I think he can surprise a lot of people."For a driver who has struggled with handling his own expectations in the past, Evernham's words could be more pressure than Sadler needs as he tries to get his career back on track. Sadler's harshest critic has long greeted him in the mirror each morning, and that has been a drawback at times.Now, though, Sadler says he has matured and realizes there is only so much he can do. He still is hard on himself but not to the point where it impedes future progress. If he hadn't changed, last year might have been a breaking point. Despite Kahne's success in '06, the team didn't adjust to changes to its Dodge Chargers, and trying to get a handle on what was then known as the Car of Tomorrow was problematic at best."I've matured a lot. If that had happened to me in my first couple of years of racing, I'd have probably just went crazy," Sadler said. "But I understood where we were fighting, I understood my role in the team, the things I needed to try to do to make our teams better not only for last year but the years coming up, especially this year."We feel like we learned a lot from last year. We feel like we've made our teams better in the areas we struggled at, and I've had a great offseason at home. I feel like I've recharged my batteries and taken 2007 and thrown it as far away from me as I can. 2008 is a new animal, it's a new breed, and we have to be focused on that."
AP Photo/Terry RennaElliott Sadler said a fast start to the season will be important for he and his team.
I firmly believe that he's got the talent to win races and make the Chase. We want to put him in that position. It's his time.
-- Ray Evernham
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