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With career shift to baseball, Elliott Sadler managing in more ways than one

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Elliott Sadler no longer has a fire suit hanging in his closet these days. Instead, it’s a baseball uniform. He’s also moved on from “Drivers, Start Your Engines” to “Play Ball.”

And with the coronavirus pandemic keeping he and his family in their Emporia, Virginia farmhouse, Sadler can’t help but keep hearing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in his mind.

After 23 years of racing in NASCAR, Sadler is on to the next chapter of his life, coaching baseball and softball.

Elliott Sadler at Texas Motor Speedway in November 2018. Photo by Josh Hedges/Getty Images.

“I love it, absolutely love it,” Sadler told NBC Sports. “I’m being able to give back and help some kids and show them some ins and outs and prepare them.

“And if they do a good job and make it to college or have a chance to go to college, then we feel like we’ve given them a platform, opened a door for them. Then that’s great, we’ve done what we’re supposed to do.”

Until the coronavirus hit, Sadler was managing or coaching seven different baseball teams, including a traveling squad that plays throughout Virginia, North and South Carolina and was scheduled to play this summer in Cooperstown, New York, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

“I’m probably busier now than I was when I was racing,” said Sadler, who in addition to the traveling team also coaches a high school junior varsity team, a recreation league team and four youth teams that are part of the TopHand Sports Academy in Emporia.

“I have a new life now with baseball and softball and the new organization I’m part of,” Sadler said of TopHand. “That’s an every day of the week job. We have 360 kids involved in our program and that’s what I put all my attention into now. I’m not worried about getting back in a race car.”

Being unable to hold batting practice or attend games, Sadler is still in close contact with his players – albeit not in-person.

“Yeah, it’s sad,” Sadler said. “We’d been working together since November non-stop to get ready for the season to start. And then the first week of the tournament gets cancelled because of the coronavirus, which it should.

“It’s just so hard to see them work so hard, get ready and then nothing. They don’t understand it as much as we do as grownups about what’s actually going on and what we have to do to keep each other safe. So I’m really heartbroken for them.”

But Sadler is still able to stay in touch with his players.

“I’m doing a lot of video conferences and lessons, then I’ll send it to (his players) so that when they’re at home, they can learn stuff and do things as well,” Sadler said. “We’re trying to stay as connected to them as we can but it’s tough.”

As much as Sadler loves his new calling, he’s also spending plenty of time these days working on his iRacing skills.

“It definitely gets your competitive juices flowing,” Sadler said. “I think anybody who’s a competitor, no matter what you do, you want to compete and do good and do the best you can.

“My son (Wyatt) and daughter (Austyn) both love it, as well. It’s been neat that we’re all kind of enjoying this experience together for the first time.”

But forget about Sadler – who retired after two starts last season in the Xfinity Series – potentially considering a comeback in real-life racing.

“Never, never, I did it for 23 years, that was long enough,” he said. “I had some great experiences and some tough ones as well, but I did plenty of time in that. I have no interest at all of getting back in a real car or truck or anything like that. This iRacing is fine for me.”

And there’s an extra benefit. With iRacing, Sadler doesn’t have to worry about the impacts as when he did in a car. “Now, if I hit something, I’m not going to be in too bad of shape. I can hit reset and start all over again,” he said with a laugh.

With this being Racing Week in America on NBCSN, Sadler reflected on two specific races that will be replayed: the 2001 July summer race at Daytona (8-10 p.m. ET today on NBCSN) and the 2004 Brickyard 400 (Midnight to 2 a.m. ET early Friday morning).

The 2001 July race at Daytona marked the first time Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the rest of the NASCAR community returned to the track after Dale Earnhardt Sr. perished. Dale Earnhardt Jr. would go on to win the race (followed by Dale Earnhardt Inc. teammate Michael Waltrip and Sadler in third).

Here’s how Sadler remembered that race:

“Dale Jr., a couple of his best friends, and myself and two of my best friends, rented a house in Daytona the week of that race. We hung out together for a week before that race. I think Junior wanted to go back there in his own terms and go on the track on his own terms.

“We hung out together, kind of eased ourselves back into the Daytona limelight, partied, took care of each other, had a lot of laughs and good times for the week before the race even started. They also had a big concert there and we got to hang out with Hootie and the Blowfish and Kenny Chesney.

“It was a special weekend. It was neat for us finishing third. We had a pretty decent car all night. That was back in the day when all the DEI cars were faster than everybody else on restrictor-plate races. What I remember most about that race was the last pit stop. We came out and Michael Waltrip was right behind me when we left pit road. The race was still under caution and I think we were running something like 14th or 15th.

“I decided to pull over and let him pass me under caution, which NASCAR won’t let you do that now but they weren’t paying attention back then (he laughed). I pulled over to let him pass me because I knew he was going to be so fast anyway, that way I could just follow him through the field to the front. Where if he was behind me, all I was thinking was he was going to leave me out to dry and everybody’s going to go with him. I let him by me and followed him up through the pack and all the way to finish third.

“I had no chance (of catching Junior) and I knew that. My car wouldn’t leave real fast but it would push pretty good. I knew if I could get behind Michael and follow him and make moves and stay close to him I’d be in pretty decent shape, and that’s the way it turned out.”

Elliott Sadler talks with NASCAR on NBC analyst, NASCAR Hall of Famer and former teammate Dale Jarrett  in 2018. Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images.

Then there was the 2004 Brickyard 400. Jeff Gordon won in overtime, followed by Yates Racing teammates Dale Jarrett and Sadler.

“I had a really good car the whole race,” said Sadler, who started and finished third. “Coming down towards the end of the race, I felt like I had a little bit faster car than my teammate, Dale (Jarrett), but I couldn’t figure out a real good way to get by him.

“He was so good and didn’t slip any. I felt like if I could get by him and I could get to Gordon and make something happen if I got to him as compared to trying to make something happen with my teammate.

“But to finish third to Jeff Gordon and my teammate was really neat at a place like Indy, but I really felt like I let one get away there.”

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Sunday Cup race at Las Vegas: Start time, TV channel

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The second round of the Cup playoffs begins with the Sunday Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The 1.5-mile track kicks off the Round of 12. Winning the race and stage points are a premium for playoff drivers before the races at Talladega and the Charlotte Roval.

Kevin Harvick, who won at Bristol, starts from the pole.

Here is all the info for the Sunday Cup race at Las Vegas:

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given by Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis at 7:07 p.m. The green flag waves at 7:17 p.m.

PRERACE: Cup garage opens at Noon. Drivers report to their cars at 6:50 p.m. The invocation will be given at 7 p.m. by Motor Racing Outreach Chaplain, Billy Mauldin. The national anthem will be performed by Sierra Black at 7:01 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 267 laps (400.5 miles) around the 1.5-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 80. Stage 2 ends on Lap 160

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will televise the race. Coverage begins at 6 p.m with NASCAR America, followed by Countdown to Green at 6:30 p.m. Race coverage begins at 7 p.m. Performance Racing Network’s radio coverage will begin at 6 p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the broadcast.

STREAMING: Watch the race on the NBC Sports App

FORECAST: The wunderground.com forecast calls for sunny skies with a high of 96 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST RACE: Kevin Harvick beat Kyle Busch to win at Bristol and claim his ninth win of the season.

LAST POINTS RACE AT LAS VEGAS: Joey Logano beat Matt DiBenedetto and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in February.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the lineup.

CATCH UP ON NBC SPORTS’ COVERAGE:

Kurt Busch seeks first Las Vegas win but without hometown fans

Michael Jordan excited for NASCAR future with Denny Hamlin

Carolina Blue: Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan bonded by NASCAR

Germain Racing sells charter, will exit sport at end of season

Charlotte Roval to host limited number of fans

Friday 5: Team’s departure adds to ‘extremely stressful’ time

NASCAR fines Hendrick Motorsports $100,000

NTSB releases final report on Dale Jr. plane crash

Bubba Wallace to receive Stan Musial award for extraordinary character

Long: 100 days left in 2020, what else can happen?

Kurt Busch seeks first Las Vegas win, but without hometown fans

Kurt Busch
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A win by Kurt Busch in tonight’s Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN) couldn’t come under more bittersweet circumstances for the Chip Ganassi Racing driver.

Should Busch claim the victory on the 1.5-mile track, he’d go from being the last driver on the playoff grid (3,001 points entering the race) to the first driver to advance to the Round of 8.

While it would be his first victory of the year, it would also be his first NASCAR win at his home track in 23 starts across the Cup and Xfinity Series.

More: Stage points critical at Vegas

“The Vegas track has definitely been one of the tough ones for me over the years with results and finishes not where I would have expected them to be,” Busch said this week. “And the teams that I’ve raced for just have never quite found that right magic set-up or combination. And then for me, it’s a track that I just have that trouble with.

“There are a few tracks like Indianapolis and Martinsville; those are a few places where I struggle. And so with Vegas, I always put that little extra hometown pressure on myself and I would love to win there.”

The 42-year-old Las Vegas-native rolls off ninth on the 1.5-mile track. It’s his fourth while driving for Ganassi.

In his 21 Cup starts in Las Vegas, Busch’s best result is third in 2005 when he competed for Roush Fenway Racing. He has just one other top five. That came in last year’s spring race when he drove a throwback paint scheme to his 1999 NASCAR Southwest Series championship.

That day he led 23 laps. It was only the seventh time he’d led laps there and just the third time he’d totaled more than six laps led.

In February, Busch finished 25th.

If Busch were to finally make it to Vegas’ Victory Lane, the celebration would be somewhat muted.

It was announced last weekend that fans would not be allowed to attend the races at Las Vegas due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I would love to win through the spirit of the camera and everything on NBC Sports; and I know the fans there, local, will be watching and cheering on the Busch brothers,” Busch said. “So, that’s where I would connect. And hopefully do it through the TV side of it. We’ll get fans back one day and we’ll come back and race.”

Busch enters the Round of 12 having earned just one top 10 in the first round, an eighth-place finish at Darlington. He finished 13th at Richmond and 15th at Bristol.

“What I like is we have had better lap times at all three races so far compared to maybe the five or six races leading into the playoffs,” Busch said. “We know that our cushion is gone. We ended Bristol with 33 points to the good. And now we start Vegas minus four (points behind Austin Dillon in the cutoff spot). So that’s just part of the system and now we have to be perfect. We have to get every point possible that we’re able to get on our own at Vegas, Talladega, and the Roval. And, that should help us advance.”

Carolina Blue: Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan bonded by NASCAR

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Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan were teammates from 1982-84 at the University of North Carolina and Eastern Conference rivals throughout the 1980s and ’90s in the NBA.

But their friendship was about more than just hoops. While growing up on opposite ends of the Tar Heel State, Daugherty and Jordan both developed a passion for following NASCAR.

Tobacco Road meant fast cars and hard-driving heroes for these two North Carolina natives.

LIFELONG FAN: Michael Jordan explains why he’s partnering with Denny Hamlin

In a NASCAR on NBC feature, Daugherty recalls how NASCAR impacted his life and Jordan’s and led both into team ownership. Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin announced they will form a team to field cars for Bubba Wallace next season.

Daughterty notes in the feature that Wallace “has led a dynamic transformation as NASCAR banned Confederate flags and recommitted to inclusion amidst times of great unrest. This is a huge moment for NASCAR, a cultural momentum shift. This is people of all colors coming together to create an all-American race team already with championship lineage.

“With proper funding, equipment and crewmembers, this will be the best chance ever for a Black driver to win – and while driving for a Black owner. An opportunity to shock the world like Muhammad Ali once did.”

Watch the feature above on Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan or by clicking this link.

Las Vegas Xfinity results, driver points

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Chase Briscoe‘s victory Saturday night at Las Vegas Motor Speedway sends him into the next round of the Xfinity playoffs.

Noah Gragson led a 2-3-4 finish for JR Motorsports. Gragson was second and followed by Daniel Hemric and Justin Allgaier. Ryan Sieg finished fifth.

Briscoe dominated the race, leading 164 of the 200 laps.

Click here for Xfinity race results

POINTS

Ross Chastain finished 16th, last among the playoff drivers, and fell out of a transfer spot to the second round. He’s two points behind Harrison Burton for the final transfer spot. Michael Annett is 10 points behind Burton. Riley Herbst is 14 points behind Burton. Brandon Brown is 20 points behind Burton.

Click here for driver points report