Sadler Holds The Cards

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JOLIET, Ill. - In years past, it was always a big-name driver who was in the middle of Silly Season. Once that driver settled on a ride, the smaller teams began filling their seats.

This season, the driver Silly Season is centered around has won all of one Winston Cup race. And while he’s fairly well-known in NASCAR, he isn’t exactly Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Jeff Gordon.

No, the guy holding the Silly Season cards is Elliott Sadler. He announced in May he was leaving Wood Brothers Racing at the end of the year, and his name has come up in association with countless rides.

The latest scuttlebutt has Sadler going to Robert Yates Racing, perhaps as the replacement for Ricky Rudd or perhaps as the driver for Yates’ new third team – which could be owned by Yates’ son, Doug.

While several drivers like Kevin Harvick and Ward Burton have said they’ll be back with their current teams, other drivers are waiting to see what Sadler does before they move. And that puts Sadler in an odd spot.

“That’s kind of weird, to be honest with you,” Sadler said. “The reason is that I’ve never been involved in any kind of Silly Season at all. And when I first went to Eddie Wood in California and asked for my release, the Silly Season took off the very next night it seemed like.”

First, rumors had Sadler replacing Michael Waltrip in the No. 15 Dale Earnhardt Inc. ride. Whether that was official or not isn’t likely, but it has ignited Waltrip. The veteran driver has moved up to 12th in the points standings, posting one victory and four top-10 finishes since the Sadler rumor surfaced.

Sadler seems a little embarrassed for helping light the rumor fire.

“I think then the hot team was DEI and the 15 and the whole nine yards,” Sadler said. “And I felt so sorry for them even getting in the middle of it. And I called (DEI vice president) Ty Norris, the head man over there, and apologized for getting his team involved, and we kind of laughed that that was just the way Silly Season was.

“And we kind of put him a tight spot with his teams and sponsors and for being in the middle of it. I just apologized to him and his teams for being involved. And he was such a gentleman, and up front and great about it, it was unbelievable. And I’ve told him a hundred times since, ‘Now I know why Dale and Teresa hired you to run that race team.’ He’s an unbelievable man.”

The DEI rumor wasn’t the only one to surface.

“It’s just weird to be involved in so many rumors,” Sadler said. “You wake up one morning, you’re doing one thing, and the next morning I heard I had an $11 million sponsorship going somewhere. I’ve forgot what that was. I think a wrestling deal or something. I think I read that somewhere. It’s just weird how things just keeps circling around and circling around until something happens.”

Eventually, Sadler’s dealings with Yates became the hot topic, and Sadler admitted he’s on the top of the list. Whether he’ll be in the No. 28 or another Yates car isn’t known – not even by Sadler.

“I’m still waiting,” Sadler said. “I think the media, you all have done a great job in kind of nailing down what is going on. I am waiting to kind of see, just like everybody else, what the announcement is going to be with the 28 car.

“I’ve kind of put a lot of eggs in that basket, and I’m willing to take that chance to wait to see what happens. I know it’s a big chance, but that’s something that I’m willing to do. Some of the other car owners that I’ve talked to understand that. So that’s the position that I’m in. Nothing has changed. … But as of today, I have not signed anything. Everybody’s saying Robert Yates Racing – I have not signed anything with them at all. So I’ll just wait and see what’s going to happen.”

But what about Doug Yates Racing? Instead of Robert Yates owning the third team, perhaps his son and chief engine builder, Doug, could own it. Doug Yates Racing recently filed papers to incorporate, so perhaps Sadler could end up there.

“I saw that rumor, too,” Sadler said. “It come up that he had looked for a license or something for some kind of business deal. I don’t know. We haven’t got that far yet. I’m just kind of waiting to see. I think everybody is kind of waiting to see what Ricky (Rudd) is gonna do and how his situation is gonna work out, and I think a lot of dominoes are going to fall from there for a lot of different teams – not just me and my situation, but a lot of people.”

The Wood Brothers are included, of course. They have to hire a replacement for Sadler for 2003, and Sadler hopes he can perform well enough the rest of this season to make the No. 21 attractive. Sadler might be a “lame-duck” driver, but he isn’t acting like one.

“It hasn’t affected the way we’ve run on the race track,” Sadler said. “I think that’s my big peace when I get to the race track and get strapped in that race car. When I asked for my release and this all started we were 25th in the points. And Eddie and I made a promise to each other that we would try to go out here and try to win as many races as we can and run as hard as we can because I’m on audition and the car’s on audition.

“They want to get a good driver in that car. We’ve climbed to 20th in the points and qualified so much better than we ever have that we feel like we’re doing a pretty good job.”

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