This is it for Elliott Sadler, seriously.
Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) will be the last time he competes in NASCAR and auto racing in general.
“One hundred percent sure this is the last time I’ll ever put a helmet on,” Sadler told NBC Sports. “It definitely has a different feel to it than what we had at Homestead.”
Last year, Sadler ended his full-time racing career at Homestead-Miami Speedway with a 14th-place finish.
However, the 17-time NASCAR winner knew a potential opportunity awaited for him to climb behind the wheel again on a limited basis with sponsor Nutrien Ag Solutions.
“But this weekend I know this is the last time,” Sadler said.
His racing career will end with his second start in Kaulig Racing’s No. 10 Chevrolet following a start at Richmond Raceway in April (finished 12th). It will mark his 855th NASCAR start across all three national series.
“That’s a lot isn’t it?” Sadler says after a hearty laugh. “That’s too many. Look, I’m very fortunate. That’s a mind-boggling stat. 855 starts from a little, small-town boy in Emporia, Virginia. That’s a lot of time to strap on a helmet to go racing.”
Sadler, 44, will get to honor his Virginia roots in a way he’d hoped to in the Miami race 10 months ago.
His car will be made to look like the yellow and black No. 16 late model stock car he raced in the mid-90s before he made the jump to the NASCAR stage.
Sadler said Kaulig Racing “caught me off guard” when they surprised him with the scheme Monday.
“I begged my sponsors last year at Homestead to let me run that paint scheme. But it wasn’t meant to be. For (sponsor Nutrien Ag Solutions) to give up a paint scheme to let me do it means a lot,” Sadler says. “(It’s) a paint scheme that is very near and dear to my family. All of my dad’s gas stations and transport trucks and everything are painted the exact same way. So it’s a color that means a lot to us. For (team president) Chris (Rice) and (team owner) Matt (Kaulig) and those guys, everybody at Nutrien Ag Solutions to let us go out with that color. That’s pretty special.”
Adding to the nostalgia is who will be calling the shots for Sadler atop his pit box – Chris Rice.
Rice will return to a role he’s familiar with. He served as Sadler’s crew chief during Sadler’s late model days. Their relationship started in 1992 when Rice began working with Sadler’s brother, Hermie.
“Chris and I kind of pretty much started living together in 1994,” Sadler said. “Then in 1995, we got our breakout season, setting all kinds of records in the late model stock-car world in Southern Virginia. We got a special relationship. I think we helped each other a lot in getting our careers to where they are today. I think we have a lot to be thankful for and it’s pretty cool for it to come full circle to where we first started.”
Together, Sadler and Rice earned the South Boston Speedway track championship in 1995.
Rice was the one who revealed the scheme to Sadler.
Together, Sadler hopes they give the scheme a better send-off than it got the last time he drove it on a late model in 1996 at Martinsville Speedway.
“I think we were in a bad wreck in Martinsville,” Sadler said. “We blew a right-front tire.”
As for the race itself on Saturday, Sadler isn’t going to layover for the young guns who have been competing all season.
“I’m not going out there to play tiddlywinks,” said Sadler. “It’s still racing and I still have a very competitive nature and I want to go compete.”
When it’s all over, win or lose, Sadler will retreat to his retired life. No more sponsor plugs for this former driver.
“I don’t think that’s true,” said Sadler. “I’ve moved on to my next life, which involves a lot of sponsor plugs and corporate sponsor stuff.”
His new retired life includes leading a traveling baseball and softball organization.
“It’s still a lot to do,” said Sadler. “Maybe the last time having to do (a sponsor plug) with a racing uniform on.”