Finally Joy In Sadlerville
March 18, 2002 | 12:00 A.M. EST
Sunday, a month later, Sadler was smiling again. This time, it was more relief than pure joy. The month in between the Daytona 500 and his second-place finish in the Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 was anything but a good time.
“Everybody keeps talking about our momentum from Daytona, but we lost it when we went to Rockingham and struggled there and at Vegas – tracks that I really like,” Sadler said.
The second-place at Daytona was followed by a 31st at Rockingham. Yuck. Then came a 28th at Las Vegas. Double yuck. Atlanta was a bit better. Nineteenth.
Daytona seemed like a year ago.
Then came Darlington. The first time Sadler went around the 1.366-mile oval, it was in passenger car with Dale Jarrett. Sadler was suitably impressed, even intimidated. But he’s come to like it, and he came to Darlington this weekend with some confidence.
“This is one of my better tracks, and we know that,” Sadler said. “We knew coming into this race track, Bristol and Texas that we need to make up some ground at these three tracks because these are my three strongest tracks that I race at.”
So the Wood Brothers decided to bring their best car to Darlington. The car they originally wanted to bring here was taken off the truck, replaced by another car.
“We actually had a car loaded up on the trailer to bring it here Thursday, and my car owner, Eddie Wood, decided to back it off and bring this car,” Sadler said. “This is definitely my favorite car and it always has been, so instead of saving it for Texas we decided to bring it here.”
Why the late decision?
“The boss man said so,” Sadler said. “We had just struggled at Atlanta and Vegas more than we would have liked, and we were just looking at ourselves going. We’re tired of trying to save cars and pick tracks for the cars,’ so we just decided to bring our favorite car.”
Despite some steering problems early Friday, Sadler qualified sixth, nearly matching the best starting spot of his career, fourth. But that’s only part of the battle, of course.
Since the chassis was bound for Texas in three weeks, Sadler was told in no uncertain terms not to wreck it. That’s a tough chore, for the walls at Darlington are like magnets for racecars.
But Sadler survived, avoiding the pitfalls that befell leaders Steve Park, Ricky Craven, Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon. He was no match for Sterling Marlin, but Sadler was best of the rest.
“This was a great weekend,” Sadler said. “We needed this as a team. So, to come to a place that we did not really expect to run this well at is great momentum for our whole team. This is pretty cool for all of us.”
The weekend may have been the best from start-to-finish Sadler has ever experienced in Winston Cup. Yes, he won last year at Bristol, but had to use a provisional to even make the race. Yes, he finished second at Daytona, but he needed a provisional there, too.
At Darlington, Sadler qualified well, ran well and finished well.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve qualified in the single digits,” Sadler said. “This was a great weekend. There was a lot of hard work that went into this weekend as far as the guys working late Thursday night to get this car ready, and then the problems we had Friday morning. But it all just seemed to play out.”
Now, Sadler is hoping to keep the momentum going. Again.
“Man, it feels like I’ve got a ton of momentum going into Bristol because we feel like we can really win that race,” Sadler said. “We won it in the spring, and we were running third in the fall and got in a wreck. We’ve got a really good piece for that racetrack, so to finish second here, we have some unexpected momentum going to that race track next week. We’re gonna try to use it, and we’re looking forward to it.
“That’s my favorite race track on the planet. I think it’s heaven on earth, so to come off second place and go there next week, I’m pretty pumped up about it.”
But Sadler also knows that momentum lasts only until the next race.