Every driver wants to win a championship, but for Elliott Sadler, racing for the NASCAR Xfinity Series title this weekend, it’s a burning need.
“Worse than anything, I want to hand my trophy to my parents,” Sadler said. “You don’t realize until you get older how much your parents sacrificed when you were a kid to make sure you had good equipment.
“Whether it was in go karts or late models or maybe [they] invested money in your career when you first started – Xfinity or Busch racing back then. My mom and dad have been supportive of me and they’re huge fans of the sport.”
Elliott and older brother Hermie, who has also spent time competing in each of NASCAR’s three national divisions, hail from a successful car dealership family. Cars are a fixture in the Sadler lineage as dad Herman and uncle Bud Elliott spent time racing on Virginia short tracks.
Herman and Bell Sadler, a breast cancer survivor, are well-known in the NASCAR garage. Both have been by their children’s sides to experience the highs and lows of big-time stock car racing.
Elliott officially clinched a spot in the Championship 4 last Saturday afternoon at Phoenix Raceway but it seemed just a formality for the driver of the No. 1 JR Motorsports Chevrolet. Although without a victory this season, Sadler has arguably been the series’ best driver. His efforts were rewarded with the Regular Season champion’s crown.
However, Sadler goes to Homestead seeking redemption. Last year, he was the strongest driver throughout most of the season but lost the title while competing in the season finale without his crew chief, who had been suspended because two lug nuts had not been secured on the car the week before.
It will be fascinating to see how it plays out this time around. But here’s where the need comes in.
For much of Sadler’s career he has been the lovable loser. During his tenure in the Cup Series, Sadler drove for famous teams like Wood Brothers Racing and Robert Yates Racing. There were also the straining times with organizations like Gillett Evernham Motorsports and Richard Petty.
In 438 career starts at the Cup level, Sadler has won just three races, the last coming at Fontana in 2004 (pictured above). In the process, though, he developed a reputation as a clean racer and happy-go-lucky guy.
When Sadler returned to the Xfinity Series full-time in 2011 driving for Kevin Harvick, he credited Harvick with saving his career. Suddenly, Sadler was an undeniable contender and vaulted to the top of the series.
In that first season, Sadler won four races and finished second in the championship. A year later, he was second again. From 2011 until currently, Sadler has won eight races while finishing no worse than sixth in the championship hunt.
Now 42 years old, Sadler is as competitive as ever and as much a force to be reckoned with as the younger stars. However, fairly or not, drivers are judged by the championships on their resume.
With over 20 years in NASCAR and no title to his name, Sadler understands the simple question posed to him: Do you need to win the championship?
“That is a very good question on the word need. … I think a little part of me would always be empty if I have to walk away from the sport without a championship,” Sadler said. “Yes, I think I would like to have that to fulfill my dreams and my wishes of the hard work I put into this sport.
“So yes, you can pretty much say I need to win a championship before I retire to feel like I’ve accomplished everything I wanted to accomplish as a person, as a dad and as a racecar driver.”
The Ford EcoBoost 300 will be Sadler’s 820th NASCAR national series start.