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Elliott Sadler’s Nationwide Story Makes Future Moves Interesting

October 13th, 2013 at 11:14 PM
By Clayton Caldwell

It's been a rather unimpressive year for Elliott Sadler at Joe Gibbs Racing in the NASCAR Nationwide Series in 2013. Sadler had been one of the favorites to compete for the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship coming into the 2013 season after moving over from Richard Childress Racing following the 2012 season. Sadler's story is an interesting one because he was a guy who had some success in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series earlier in his career before his career faded and he was left at a cross roads in his career. 

Sadler has three career Sprint Cup Series wins, two of which came at the now defunct Robert Yates Racing team during the 2004 season. He finished ninth in the point standings in that season and made the inaugural "Chase". Sadler would never see victory lane again in the series and would join Evernham Motorsports in 2006. From that point forward Sadler's career took a nose dive. He ran the next four seasons at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series level and never finished higher than 24th in the standings. 

Whether it was the instability of his race team or NASCAR's new car or just pure performance Sadler was left at a crossroads in his career after finishing 27th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings in the 2010 season. Sadler was 35-years-old which is considered the dead middle of a career in NASCAR and he was at the end of a contract and his team, Richard Petty Motorsports did not want him back after the season.

There were opportunities for Sadler to take a sub-par ride in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series but Sadler elected to make an interesting move and go back to the NASCAR Nationwide Series driving for good friend Kevin Harvick. 

Sadler had a big time sponsor from Citi which turned into One Main Financial and he would run fulltime for Kevin Harvick Inc in the 2011 season. Sadler was looking at a two year contract and with good enough performance he could eventually show that he can still race in NASCAR and be considered for competitive Sprint Cup Series rides in the future. At least that was the plan. 

In that 2011 season Sadler finished runner-up in the points standings but did not record a victory. After the 2011 season Sadler was considered for Michael Waltrip's opening at the #55 Toyota before it was shot down by his new Nationwide Series team owner Richard Childress. That ride was then given to Brian Vickers.

Kevin Harvick had sold his team to Richard Childress and Richard Childress Racing would field Sadler's #2 Chevrolet for the 2012 season. That move paid off. Sadler won four races that year and was beating Cup drivers in Cup equipment on a weekly basis. Things were looking up for Elliott Sadler and there were thoughts of him making a comeback in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series were still a slight reality even after not taking the opportunity at MWR. Richard Childress seemed happy as did Elliott Sadler.

When it was announced that Sadler would move to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2013 it was kind of a surprise. Sadler had been such a force in the Nationwide Series for Childress that it made you wonder why Sadler would leave after all the success he ended up having in 2012. He would have been the favorite to win the championship in 2013 had he stayed at RCR for the season. Instead he moved on.

Sadler moved to Joe Gibbs Racing and took his sponsor with him. All signs pointed towards a nice year for Sadler and several more Nationwide Series victories on the resume.  Instead it's been just the opposite for the Virginia native. He has yet to win a race and appears far from doing so. Whether it's the communication between the team and Sadler, something is missing for Sadler at Joe Gibbs Racing and there appears to be no end in site.

The scary part for Sadler is that he has almost become forgotten in the Nationwide Series as far as some fans are concerned. A few Sprint Cup Series rides opened up this season and Sadler's name wasn't mentioned in any of them. Some say his age played a role in it while others look at Brian Vickers and say he just needs an another chance to showcase his skills at the Sprint Cup Series level. 

However when you're trying to sell yourself as a Sprint Cup Series driver in Sprint Cup Series equipment you have to do better than what Sadler has done this season. It's put him in an interesting dilemma because he could have taken an uncompetitive Sprint Cup Series ride after the 2010 season and now it appears that Sadler is stuck in the Nationwide Series without a raft to the Sprint Cup Series. 

A similar opportunity came up with driver David Ragan after the 2011 season. Ragan had run five seasons at Roush-Fenway Racing and had limited success. Ragan wanted to keep his NASCAR career alive at the age of 26 and he could have taken a good Nationwide ride or he could have gone to a sub-par Sprint Cup Series team. Ragan elected to go the with the Sprint Cup Series team and he and the team really struggled in the 2012 season. This year however, Ragan won the Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway in April. His win put his organization Front Row Motorsports on the map and has helped make that team become relevant. 

Ragan's win has bought him some security at Front Row Motorsports. He could stay with the organization for as long as he wants and that is always a nice thing to have. Sadler, on the other hand, appears to be at the mercy of Joe Gibbs Racing. There was rumors this weekend that JD Gibbs, president of Joe Gibbs Racing, was asked a question about Sadler's future with the team and he ignored the question. That's not good news for Sadler. 

In the future it will be interesting to see what drivers in a similar situation will do. Go with the premier Nationwide Series ride or go with the sub-par Cup Series team. Whatever the move will be you can bet that Elliott Sadler and David Ragan's situations will be looked at and you can't help but wonder if Elliott Sadler wishes he was in David Ragan's shoes right now. 

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Tags: david ragan, Elliott Sadler, Joe Gibbs Racing, Motorsports, NASCAR, NASCAR Nationwide Series, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

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