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Xfinity Series Spotlight: Elliott Sadler on his many career firsts and his favorite ‘Fat Cat’

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This weekend will mark the one-year anniversary of the race where Elliott Sadler‘s NASCAR career caught its second or maybe even its third wind, 21 years after it started.

On April 30, his 41st birthday, Sadler waited five minutes at the Talladega Superspeedway start-finish line to learn whether he or Brennan Poole had won the race. A wreck on the front stretch as the checkered flag waved resulted in a frozen field and confusion.

Elliott Sadler celebrates after his 2016 win at Talladega Superspeedway. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

“One-hundred percent the longest I’ve ever had to wait, and man, it felt a lot longer than it was,” Sadler told NBC Sports this week. “I’m telling you, it felt like a year.”

That metaphorical year was on top of the two real years that had passed since Sadler’s last Xfinity Series win.

Eventually, Sadler got the good news. His win sent him to the top of the points standings. Heading back to Talladega this weekend, the JR Motorsports driver has led the points standings for 23 of the 32 races since his win.

“Somebody showed me a stat two weeks ago that (60) percent of the races I have ran for JR Motorsports we have been leading the points,” Sadler said. “That’s a crazy stat.”

In eight full-time seasons, Sadler has been a points runner-up in the Xfinity points three times, including last season.

“I’m definitely looking for redemption this year,” Sadler said. “Believe me, I don’t need any extra incentive to want to win a championship.”

The following Q&A has been edited and condensed

NBC Sports: You celebrated your birthday on Sunday. What did you do to celebrate?

Sadler: Me and my wife and a bunch of friends went out to dinner that night and went to lunch with our kids during the day and cooked breakfast here at home. But just spent a lot of time around here at the house. We had the race Saturday at Richmond so we were home for the weekend. So it was nice to do some stuff with my friends.

NBC Sports: What’s the coolest birthday gift you’ve ever gotten?

Sadler: (Laughs) Man, I don’t know, I’ve had a lot of them in my lifetime. I would say the coolest birthday gift I’ve had was a car when I turned 16 years old. I’m not going to lie, in the state of Virginia when you turn 16 on your birthday, you get your driver’s license. My mom and dad, as long as I stayed on the honor roll, they bought me a car for my 16th birthday. I would say to this day that’s by far the coolest birthday gift I’ve ever gotten.

NBC Sports: That was going to be one of my other questions. What was your first car?

Sadler: It was a Mustang GT. I don’t know what the hell my parents were thinking, giving me something that fast. I won’t make that mistake with my kids. … It was a 1992 (model), black with gray stripes on it. It was beautiful with the new five-star wheels. That’s when they went from the honeycomb wheels to five-star. That thing would fly and it had a great radio system in it.

NBC Sports: You made your first Xfinity start at South Boston Speedway in 1995. What is your most vivid memory from that weekend?

Sadler: I have a couple different memories. It’s funny how your first weekend stands out. I can’t tell you what happened a year ago at a race. But your first race, I remember being fast in practice, then I qualified 15th, so I didn’t qualify good. I remember running third on the last lap, passing Elton Sawyer for second and we spun out. I spun completely out, did a 360 and finished (eighth). I finished (eighth) in my first race, but when I took the white flag I was passing a guy for second. That would have been neat if I had been able to pull that off in my first ever start and finish second. It was at my home track in front of my home town fans. Man, what a race, we had so much fun.

NBC Sports: Going forward a few years, your first Cup start is the 1998 Coca-Cola 600. What was that experience like for you?

Sadler: Well, I wanted to pick a really short race to start, you know. (laughs) … The biggest thing I remember about the Coca-Cola 600, I got very hungry during the race. I’m like, ‘this is a long race. I am hungry.’ The (Xfinity) races used to start at 12 o’clock every Saturday so I’d eat a little bit of breakfast, then I wouldn’t eat anymore until after the races were over with. Where the Coca-Cola 600, I got up and ate breakfast, and I was nervous and everything else and hanging out at the track and I didn’t eat anything. Halfway through the race I’m like, ‘man, I am starving.’ I remembered (thinking) ‘I’ve got to figure out how to do a better job of eating before these Cup races, they’re way longer.’

NBC Sports: I find it odd when I look at first Cup starts and it’s always like the Coke 600 or at Daytona or Talladega.

Sadler: Right, well there’s a reason for that. You got to look past that. Daytona and Talladega are really easy tracks for rookies to start at. Because it’s not really driving. It’s really if the car is fast at Daytona or Talladega, you’re going to make the race. It’s not really what you got to do. Charlotte, the reason people do it, teams don’t have to spend money on flying people somewhere, they don’t have to spend money on hotel rooms, cause you’re there at the race track and you’re there at Charlotte. So it’s a cheaper place to really start and kind of make a go at it, so that’s why I think you see those tracks stand out.

NBC Sports: You’ve won three Cup races, which one are you most proud of?

Sadler: I’m definitely most proud of Bristol (March 2001). Because that’s your first ever win and I won for the Wood Brothers at a place they had never won at before and it was close to home for them. So 100 percent that was the one I was most proud of, because it was the first one. It put you into a different group, man. It’s different when you win a Cup race compared to any other race. It put you into a whole new category and league. I was very proud to be able to make that happen.

NBC Sports: How did you celebrate that night?

Sadler: It’s not a long ride from Bristol, Tennessee, to Stewart, Virginia. Went back to Stewart that night and celebrated with everybody in the shop. Somebody had toilet papered Eddie and Len’s house there in Stewart and they had toilet papered the shop. It was like the whole town showed up for a Bar-B-Que that Sunday night. That was really neat for me to be a part of it at such a young age.

NBC Sports: What was the first NASCAR race you ever attended?

I think the very first one I’ve got pictures of and I can remember is the 1979 Daytona 500. We were there in the stands and our seats were off of Turn 4 and see back then, NASCAR when they threw the checkered flag they open the gates and let all the fans come in. We were walking around on the track and tacking pictures of the track and all of that stuff. That was a neat time.

NBC Sports: Do you remember the piece of merchandise that you saw your name or face on?

Sadler: Yes, when I drove Late Models in 1993 we went to the local, little photo shop here in town in Emporia and they made us a little post card and put my name and face on it. Man, it was something to be seen. It was neat to hand those out to people at the track and people could come get them, that was pretty cool to see.

Elliott Sadler celebrates atop “Fat Cat” at Darlington. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

NBC Sports: Have you ever named a race car?

Sadler: We name pretty much all of our race cars and I always have since I ran Late Models. … They’re all named for different reasons and a lot of them have back stories. So a name I tell you probably isn’t going to mean anything to you, but my favorite car that we have now at JR Motorsports that I run all the time now is called ‘Fat Cat.’ It has a long story about why it’s called ‘Fat Cat.’ … ‘Fat Cat’ is a friend of mine that’s pretty funny that helps us do some stuff with the race team. One of my engineers thought we should name one of the cars after him. So my engineer named the race car that and we kind of went with that and I won at Darlington for the first time out of the box last year, so that became one of my favorite cars.

NBC Sports: It’s been a few years since you were in a Cup race at Bristol. If you were to get the chance again, what would you choose for your intro song?

Sadler: (laughs) Oh man, that’s a really good question. I would have to say some big hair band music style. Like some Journey or Bon Jovi. Something in that limelight I think would be something I would choose. I like the rift of “Separate Ways” by Journey when it starts or “Jukebox Hero” by Foreigner that’s got a bad beat to it. That’s what I would go with. Something old school from when I was coming along in school. That’s what I think I would like to have.

NBC Sports: Final question. On a day where you don’t have to be at the race track or the shop and your family is off doing something else. You’re by yourself, you have no obligations. What does Elliott Sadler do with his day?

Sadler: We’re going to go play some golf. Going to play some golf this time of year. During the winter time, it’s easy, I hunt. I hunt every single day. During the summer time this time of year I’m going to try and find some buddies and let’s go play a round of 18 somewhere on a golf course.

Previous Xfinity Spotlights

Justin Allgaier

Darrell Wallace Jr.

Michael Annett

Ryan Reed

Brandon Jones

Daniel Hemric

William Byron

Spencer Gallagher

Cole Custer

Ross Chastain

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NASCAR on NBC podcast, Ep. 79: Jason Weigandt on Supercross, Monster and Jimmie Johnson

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Motocross journalist and broadcaster Jason Weigandt joined the NASCAR on NBC podcast to discuss the Supercross finale and the start of Outdoor season.

Weigandt, the editor of Racer X online magazine, also discussed how Monster Energy’s new title sponsorship of NASCAR has been perceived in Supercross, which the company has backed since 2008, and why he believes Jimmie Johnson isn’t NASCAR’s most popular driver despite his success.

Weigandt is the play-by-play announcer for the 2017 motocross season, which will be shown on NBCSN as well as on the NBC Sports Gold package (which will offer all motos, qualifiers and practices for the 12-round season as well as on-demand access to the past two seasons).

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the AudioBoom embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts by clicking here. The free subscription will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone.

It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify and a host of other smartphone apps.

 

NASCAR America: 50 States in 50 Shows: North Dakota

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Today’s edition of “50 States in 50 Shows” profiles Nodak Speedway in Minot, North Dakota.

The 3/8-mile dirt track is located 110 miles north of Bismarck and is located on the grounds of the North Dakota State Fair.

Watch the video for the full look Nodak Speedway.

 

NASCAR America: Austin Dillon: Feels good to beat Jimmie Johnson in ‘chess match’

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Following the first win of his NASCAR Cup Series career, Austin Dillon said he was proud of his team for coming out on top in a “chess match” against Jimmie Johnson.

“We’re chasing down what I consider ‘The GOAT’ (Greatest of All Time),” Dillon told NBC Sports’ Dave Burns. “Jimmie’s tied with the best of the best. To beat him in a little chess match there at the end, it feels real good. At a track I’ve seen him win multiple races sitting in the stands.”

Dillon was able to make his last tank of gas stretch 70 laps, two more than Johnson, on his way to winning the Coca-Cola 600.

The win comes at a track Dillon has competed on since the early days of his career.

“I grew up racing in the 1/5-mile here, Bandeleros and Legends cars, to get my first win here, there’s nothing better,” Dillon said.

Watch the video for the full interview and to hear Richard Childress’ thoughts on the win.

Something finally goes right for Erik Jones in first Coca-Cola 600

Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Image
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CONCORD, N.C. — For the first time since March, fortune finally bounced in Erik Jones‘ favor.

That was after a piece of debris bounced through his grille.

On Lap 20 of the Coca-Cola 600, debris from a wreck between Chase Elliott and Brad Keselowski littered the frontstretch of Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Jones, running in the top 10, managed to avoid the wreck itself. But the rookie couldn’t avoid whatever caused a football-sized hole in the nose of his No. 77 Toyota.

“You start the day off like that and you’re like, ‘Man, it’s not going to be easy,'” said Jones, who finished a career best seventh. “That kind of hurt us all day, I think. Not a ton. Obviously we had still had a fast car, but it was definitely slowing us down some.”

Competing in the longest race of his career to date, the episode looked like the latest in a series of misfortunes that have plagued the driver, who turns 21 on Tuesday.

Jones entered the race with two DNFs in the last three points races and three DNFs if you counted the previous weekend’s All-Star Race.

Before the All-Star Race, Jones caused three cautions at Kansas Speedway for spins before finishing 22nd. He wrecked out at Talladega in a big crash and the week before that was eliminated at Richmond when the race was five laps old.

Entering the longest race of the year, Jones had just one top-10 finish, eighth at Phoenix.

Following the accident Sunday, Jones restarted 27th. The rest of the night was “smooth” on the way to his best finish in 15 Cup starts.

“I think we had a top-five car,” Jones said. “Kind of missed on a couple of adjustments at the end, got behind on the racecar a little bit. Just kind of fell back at the end.”

By the halfway point at Lap 200 and after a 1 hour and 39 minute rain delay, he was in eighth. During the 400-lap race, his average running spot was 11.8.

“We didn’t have any troubles in the pits,” Jones said. “We didn’t have any troubles on the track (after the Lap 20 accident), we had a pretty good car all night. So it was just nice to have a solid night. I feel like we’re plenty capable of running in the top 10 every week, we just got to keep having days and night like this.”

Jones is now 18th in the points standings and 10 points ahead of fellow rookie Daniel Suarez.

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