Sadler Searching For Success

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Winning his first NASCAR Winston Cup Series race last season – at Bristol Motor Speedway – was indeed the most gratifying moment in Elliott Sadler’s racing career.

The only problem is, Sadler and his No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Motorcraft Taurus couldn’t follow up on the ecstasy of that glorious March day. In fact, the team couldn’t really get anywhere near it for the rest of the season.

The only other top-10 finish Sadler could muster was a third-place run in the Pepsi 400 at Daytona in July. He finished 11th in the Sharpie 500 at Bristol in August, but it was apparent that winning a race wasn’t enough of a spark to carry Sadler or the rest of the team during the second half of 2001.

Sadler wound up finishing a respectable 20th in the points standings, but he was ninth after the victory at Bristol and appeared to be on his way up the Winston Cup ladder.

“We’re hoping it’s going to get better this year,” said Sadler, who enters his fourth Winston Cup season. “We did get the win and all, but we didn’t really have any impressive runs other than that. We really struggled, especially during the second half of the season.

“Once they gave the kickouts to the other cars, they became a little bit better than we were and it just put us in a hole. We lost a lot of positions in the points the last half of the year and just really, really struggled.”

Sadler did put together a strong run at Daytona in July, but there was little he – or anyone else for that matter – could do to catch Dale Earnhardt Jr. that night. Earnhardt Jr. ran away with the checkered flag, followed by DEI teammate Michael Waltrip.

Perhaps the biggest problem the Motorcraft Ford team faced all season was its poor qualifying efforts. Only twice all season did Sadler start a race inside the Top 10, and those came back to back at Michigan and Bristol in August, when he started fourth in both of those events.

Sadler was forced to take a whopping 16 provisionals just to make races, and he started 40th or worse five times. Even in his victory at Bristol, he started from the 38th position.

“When you’re starting from the back like that all of the time, obviously you’re not going to have a lot of strong runs at a lot of the tracks,” Sadler said. “Most of the time, you’re always fighting to keep from going a lap down, and once you’ve done that, your chances of winning a race are all but gone.”

Sadler said he believes the new one-engine rule that NASCAR has implemented for this season – in which a team can use only one engine to qualify and race with – will benefit his Wood Brothers team tremendously. The team, which in essence is a sixth team under the Roush Racing banner, uses Roush engines.

The one-engine rule will not be in effect for the Daytona 500, considering all of the “extra” activities surrounding the event, such as the two Gatorade 125-mile qualifying races.

“The one-motor rule is gonna help us a lot,” Sadler said. “We really don’t have 100 percent qualifying motors because that’s not what Roush does. They really focus more on their race stuff and most of their motors last, so I think we were giving up a lot to these teams that put so much money and effort into their qualifying motors.

“That means a lot at a lot of big tracks, so the one-motor deal is really gonna help. We’ll probably be qualifying the same, but it’s gonna slow some of the other guys down some. You’ll see our qualifying average come up, and it needs to because you can’t qualify 35th or 40th each week and expect to miss all the wrecks and run up front.

“That’s not gonna happen in this day and time, so we definitely need to work on our qualifying. If we can do that, it won’t get us in a position where we might be a lap down early in the race and we can get some better finishes.”

That would suit Sadler’s crew chief, Pat Tryson, just fine. Tryson and Sadler now have one year together under their belt, and he hopes that will make a huge difference coming into 2002.

“There’s no question that’s the area where we’ve got to pick up the most on,” Tyson said of qualifying. “The new one-engine rule will help us, I believe, and hopefully we can get a starting spot up near the front in a lot more races this year. That would help our efforts tremendously and not put us in the hole right off the bat.”

Although he finished a mere 19th in the season-ending New Hampshire 300 last November, Sadler said he considers that event one of his best of the year, and he hopes to build on that momentum heading into 2002.

“We went up to New Hampshire last year with a different package than we’ve ever tried to run and were pretty impressive most of the day,” Sadler said. “For the first three-quarters of the race we ran in the Top 10, and that was probably the best race we ran all year other than Bristol or Daytona, so we’re pretty optimistic about that. We’re going to test a lot early, at tracks like Las Vegas, Texas and Bristol. We want to get this season off to a good start.”

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2002

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