Getty Images

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

Leave a comment

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

 and on Facebook

What drivers said after Coca-Cola 600

Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Kyle Busch – Winner: “It’s awesome. I mean I’ve dreamt of that – not only winning here and winning the Coke 600 as a kid and being in victory lane here for this race, but to just be a force that people got to be reckoned with, you know. I go across the country and race Super Late Models because I want to win at every single race track. I just want to show that there is no weakness. My guys have given me that chance here tonight and being able to get to victory lane with this M&M’s Toyota – it sure looks pretty in victory lane here tonight. I definitely want to give a shoutout to all of our men and women, all the service men and women across the world past and present, fallen and of today’s heroes – we had (SGT) Eric Toth with us here and his family riding along with us this weekend, so that was a pleasure. Got to meet up with them earlier and spend some time, so that was really cool.”

Martin Truex Jr. – Finished 2nd: “I mean we definitely gained some ground that last run, but I think (Busch) might have just been taking care of it. Just definitely just a battle-back night for us. The speeding penalty and then the pit road penalty right after that in just two stops. It really hurt us and it’s hard to pass – hard to come from behind with these cars right now with the flat splitters and everything they’ve done to them the past month and a half or so. It was good to be able to get back up to second. I thought we had the second-best car all night. I don’t think anybody had anything for that 18. He was stout. We gained a little on him that last run under green, but like I said, I think he was just taking care of it a little bit.”

Denny Hamlin – Finished 3rd: “We’re third or fourth best every week.  That’s frustrating.  But it could be 35 spots worse.  We’ve just got to ‑‑ we just need two or three tenths a lap.  It seems like that’s kind of what I’m off, and I just can’t get the speed out of the car.  I was just handling a certain way, and it’s just a razor’s edge for us.  We’re either really good or we’re average at best.”

Brad Keselowski – Finished 4th: “I thought the 78 (Truex) was really strong, him and the 18 (Busch) were probably pretty close. I don’t know, he had some kind of issues that kept holding him back, but they were just in another league. I ran as hard as I could tonight and the team did a great job the last few stops to put us in a position and that was just kind of what we had. We’ll go back to the drawing board and try to find some more speed. If we keep this execution that we had tonight, then we’ll get some wins, but we’ve got to have more speed.”

Jimmie Johnson – Finished 5th: “It feels good, but damn I want to win. I’m tired of running fifth, I’m tired of running whatever it is. We got off on some adjustments today and it was amazing how sensitive the car was with some minor adjustments the car just lost half a second. We had a hard time trying to grasp it and understand it and communicate about it. We put it back to the way it was and it took off and I drove right back up into the top three. Just a very small sweet spot with the car. Luckily, we finished in that sweet spot and got a good finish out of it, including a spin and we had a jack break on a stop. We had to overcome a lot tonight. Really proud of these guys. Wish that I could have got this special paint scheme into Victory Lane with the soldier we were carrying on the car today.”

Jamie McMurray – Finished 6th: “Yeah, I don’t know what was wrong with the tires we had two sets that they felt loose like it shook so bad that I pitted that one time under green and then we had a real short run and I had to pit again. I was just positive they were loose, but they said there was nothing wrong, but it was shaking so bad I mean I was scared so I went ahead and pitted. But, we had a really good car and we’ve come a long way, especially the Chevy’s from the beginning of the year 1.5-miles. I think in less than a month we will contend to win. That is a good feeling.”

Kyle Larson – Finished 7th: “I’m bummed I gave up some track position when I got into the wall, but I was glad to see our team stay with it and come back for a top-10 finish tonight. Our DC Solar Chevy was pretty good all night, but we had to adjust on it throughout the race to stay ahead of some vibrations in the rear of the car. We had a shake to start the race, and I think that’s what upset me when I got into the wall, but we were able to work around it. This hasn’t been a great race for me, so glad to see us come away with a good finish tonight.”

Kurt Busch – Finished 8th: “We just didn’t do anything spectacular tonight. We had one really good restart, but we were positioned for restarting fourth. We struggled on pit stops the first half of the race, but the second half they cleaned them up and we kept up with the track as best we could. We just didn’t have any short-run speed that was stellar. We didn’t have any long-run speed that was stellar. We kind of just did everything as a top 10 team would do and I’m glad we put the Haas Automation Ford in eighth. We’ll have to keep fighting.”

Alex Bowman – Finished 9th: “Yeah, for sure, to qualify 27th and finish ninth it was definitely a good night. I feel like it was way more pit crew than anything. My pit crew they killed it on pit road all night. They did a great job and got us a couple of spots on that last green flag stop. Extremely proud of those guys. Greg (Ives, crew chief) made good calls from on top of the box and our car was much better than it had been all week. Happy for that. I really like this place, so hopefully when… well I guess we are coming back to the ROVAL, so it doesn’t really matter, but hopefully next year we run a little better here.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – Finished 10th: “I’m real happy. I think we were a little concerned, even though the package wasn’t the same as the All-Star Race, I feel like we made some gains for the 1.5-mile program this year. I felt like this is about where we were last year at this time, so for us to start the year off from where we did last year, I feel good that we’re headed in the right direction. It’s never as fast as you want. It was a tough battle for us out there. We were really good the first two stages and made an adjustment and was off for two runs – a full stage and had to fight back to get that track position. All in all, it was a good day to come back.”

Chase Elliott – Finished 11th: “Thought we were better than we have been lately, which is nice. I just hit the wall towards the end and it ended up costing us, I think, the finish we deserved.”

Clint Bowyer – Finished 12th: “It’s frustrating. You come here and it’s a long race, and what a weird race. It was like we had track position and cars were way back and laps down and then all the wrecks opened the door for them to get the laps back. Then we lost track position on tires there and kind of halfway got it back, but it was just a frustrating weekend altogether, really.”

Aric Almirola – Finished 13th: “We just missed it. The first half of the race was pretty good for us and then we missed an opportunity to pit there when we kind of stayed out on older tires and we were one of the last couple cars on old tires, and we went from running in the top five or six to finishing that third stage in 17th and then that’s kind of the end of the night. That last run went green, so I hate it. We had extra tires laying in the pits, but they didn’t do us any good.”

Daniel Suarez – Finished 15th: “It was a decent finish with our Interstate Batteries Camry. The guys did a good job working on the racecar, but the car didn’t have a lot of speed. We had a 14th- or 15th-place car at times. We had issues with a vibration and lost two laps, but we were able to overcome that, but it took us a long time because we didn’t have a lot of speed. We have to go back home, work hard and try to get better and see what happens at Pocono.”

Ty Dillon – Finished 21st: “I’ve been telling everyone all season that we’re constantly growing and improving as a race team, and we certainly showed everyone that this weekend. We had speed on Thursday and had our best qualifying effort of the year. We worked hard in practice on Saturday and felt really good about our chances in the race. There were definitely challenges throughout the night, but it was a good race for us in comparison to other mile and a half tracks we have run this year. I ran on the lead lap for most of the night, even battling back to get our lap back in Stage 3, and our GEICO Military Camaro ZL1 had a pretty good balance under the lights. There is obviously still more work to be done, but we’re going to keep digging and getting stronger every week.”

Ryan Blaney – Finished 36th: “We had a cylinder let go maybe around lap 150 and we were just trying to limp it home. When they go that early you don’t expect it to last all race, but it lasted a lot longer than I thought and then it finally let go into one there. That stinks. I thought we had a really good car. I would have liked to see how the race would have progressed for us, but we won’t see that anymore. Hopefully, we can go out and have a good run at Pocono and then at Michigan.

William Byron – Finished 39th: “We just were really loose and just trying to make the top work. I just got loose, the car came around and hit the wall and then we had a bunch of damage. It started rubbing on the tire and then it wasn’t rubbing on the tire, it was cleared, but it just felt like something broke going into (Turn) 3 and we just hit the wall again and then we had an electrical issue. Unfortunate, but we will go to Pocono and figure it out there.”

Kevin Harvick – Finished 40th: “We stood in the garage and looked at it and I can’t tell if we ran something over. There’s enough things that could have happened right there, but I’m just really proud of everybody on our Mobil 1/Busch Ford. The car was really, really fast. We came all the way through the pack and made it up into the top three there and sometimes those things happen. I can’t complain about anything that’s happened this year. We have to take the good with the bad. The guys did a great job in basically guessing at where the car needed to be today with all the penalties, no practice and starting in the back. To come out and have the fastest car again was quite an honor to drive and they’re doing a great job. It was just bad luck.”

Martin Truex Jr. charges to second place in Coke 600 despite pit issues

Getty Images
Leave a comment

CONCORD, N.C. — The only reason Martin Truex Jr. didn’t get a shot at celebrating his second Coca-Cola 600 win was because the guy who finished in front of him – Kyle Busch – was “flawless.”

That’s how Truex’s crew chief, Cole Pearn, described Busch’s night.

Truex’s 600 miles were anything but.

The No. 78 Toyota finished second in Sunday night’s race despite qualifying 15th and suffering consecutive pit road penalties, for speeding on Lap 203 and an uncontrolled tire on Lap 227.

The speeding penalty came after Truex entered and exited the pits in second.

Then there was the pit guns.

Pearn told NBC Sports the team went through three pit guns during the 400-lap race. One mishap resulted in the second penalty.

“The gun screwed up on the right rear and the front (tire) changer left and left the tire sitting there, cause usually the rear carrier comes to get it,” Pearn said. “But we went through three guns tonight … The whole reason we got the uncontrolled tire was cause the gun screwed up.”

Truex said the pit gun problem was “one of those freak things” where it reversed on the changer as he was hitting the fifth lug nut and he had to manually switch it back.

The No. 78 also had one unsecured lug nut following the race.

Even with the issues, Truex said it was a “solid day overall” for his team, which earned its third consecutive top five.

As for the speeding penalty?

“I can’t wait to see the time,” Truex said. “It couldn’t have been much. But I just hit some of those bumps a little bit wrong and got going a little too fast and tapped the brake just a split second too late. I typically don’t get a lot of speeding penalties, so Cole won’t ride my butt too hard this week about it.”

Truex said his team “cleaned it up well” after that.

The final restart came with 93 laps to go and Truex restarting eighth. With 55 to go he was in second, but lost multiple spots during green flag stops.

But he was back in second with 34 to go.

That’s when Pearn and his team started “praying” for a restart.

“I thought we were really equal to them the last few runs of the race,” Pearn said. “It was just a matter of track position and chasing from behind.”

Two years after Truex led 392 laps to capture his Coke 600 win, Busch led 377 while sweeping all four stages.

It was also the first time Truex hadn’t led a lap in the race since 2014.

“At the end of the day, we ran second,” Truex said. “He kicked everybody’s tail. That’s just the way it goes.”

Points after Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway

Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Kyle Busch padded his NASCAR Cup points lead by winning all three stages of the Coca-Cola 600 and the race.

Busch added eight playoff points to his total as a result of this performance and now has 25 playoff points to Kevin Harvick‘s 24.

Joey Logano is second in the standings – 67 points behind Busch.

The battle for the final transfer position into the playoffs got even tighter as Chase Elliott and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. have 296 points apiece. Elliott finished 11th in the Coke 600; Stenhouse finished 10th.

Click here for the full points report.

Results, stats for Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway

Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Kyle Busch dominated the Coca-Cola 600 and became the first driver in NASCAR history to win on every track where he has competed.

Busch won all three stages and paced the field for 377 of the 400 laps.

Martin Truex, Jr. finished second and was able to close the distance slightly during the final stage as Busch seemingly managed the gap between the two.

Denny Hamlin finished third to score his third consecutive top five at this track and his 14th top 10 in the last 16 Charlotte races.

Brad Keselowski and Jimmie Johnson rounded out the top five.

This was the second top five earned by Johnson this season.

Click here for full results.