Sadler Says Goodbye on His Terms

Ron Lemasters | 12/3/2018

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After 853 total national series starts over 23 years, Elliott Sadler closed the chapter on his full-time driving career last month at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

MOORESVILLE, N.C. (Dec. 3, 2018) – On July 29, 1995, Elliott Sadler finished eighth in a 300-lap NASCAR Xfinity Series race at South Boston (Va.) Speedway, driving a DeWalt Tools-sponsored Chevrolet owned by Bell Sadler.

On Nov. 17, 2018, 23 years later, Elliott Sadler finished 14th in the season-ending event at Homestead-Miami Speedway, driving a OneMain Financial-sponsored Chevrolet owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr., which closed the curtain on a long and illustrious career as a full-time NASCAR stock car driver.

That odyssey carries with it a ton of success, lots of memories, several historical firsts and...a few  unrealized accomplishments. The one thing that journey does not carry with it?

Regret.

“I have absolutely no regrets at all for the time I had and the experience I had,” Sadler said the day before that final start, the 395th in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and the 853rd of his career. “I have a few what-ifs...but I have no regrets. I’ve had a really good career, made some really good friends and that’s the part I’m going to cherish.”

As Sadler rides out of the spotlight and back into his beloved Virginia to be with wife Amanda, son Wyatt and daughter Austyn and the rest of his extended family, he can rest easy knowing the impact he had on the sport was considerable.

For JR Motorsports, the team with which he raced the past three seasons, that impact was gigantic.

Over 99 starts for JRM, Sadler earned three victories, 40 top-five and 78 top-10 finishes, made the Playoffs all three seasons and came a grand total of five points from a pair of NXS championships. In 2016, he was less than two laps from winning it all when a botched restart by another driver made him a sitting duck for Daniel Suarez, who went on to claim the crown. In 2017, a late-race scuffle with Ryan Preece came between the 43-year-old and the title he wanted above all else and allowed rookie teammate William Byron to claim the organization’s second title in four seasons.

As Sadler said, however, it is what it is.

“The last time I was sitting at this table (in Homestead) was probably the most pain I’ve ever been in as far as racing was concerned,” he said. “We had just had a chance to win a championship and got in a mess with another car and lost it within 10 laps and I had to sit in here and talk to you guys about it. That still hurts, still burns.”

The week before, a wild race at Phoenix left him on the outside looking in at the Championship 4, and that was a total bummer as well. Sadler was philosophical about it, knowing he was stepping away after the final race of the season.

“I think things happen for a reason,” he said. “I was very upset about not making it from Phoenix, not mad, but just upset that we weren’t going to be part of the Championship 4. I wanted to be part of the Championship 4, but if I was, I don’t know that I would have been able to enjoy it. There’s so much pressure around it. There was no pressure this weekend. It’s weird how things happen like that.”

The elusive championship never materialized. Sadler finished second in series points four times during his NXS career, in 2011, 2012, 2016 and 2017. That’s a bitter pill to swallow, and he acknowledged that fact.

“It’s going to be tough not being a NASCAR champion,” he said. “It’s always ‘what if’ in my mind...what if this had happened. I think as time goes, my goals will start becoming what my kids’ goals are.”

Sadler stepped away to spend more time being a dad and a husband, a son and a brother, and he did so at a time when it would be most beneficial for his growing young family. As such things go, that’s worth a lot.

“The biggest thing I am looking forward to...when we left for Phoenix, my daughter (Austyn) says, ‘this is the last time you’re leaving home, Dad. This is the last time I have to tell you goodbye for a couple of days for you to go race.’ All I can tell you was, that’s the last time I have to leave my kids to go do something that’s just for me, not really for my family.

“Now, when I leave the house, it’s with them or for them or something they’re involved in. I’ve been coaching 13 or 14 years now, but I’ve really gotten into it a lot these past couple of years and I thoroughly enjoy that. That’s going to keep me motivated and keep me going. I still have that competition side of it...and I’m going to enjoy that side of it. My dad coached, my brother is a heck of a basketball coach. It’s in our family, and that’s the next thing I’m looking forward to.”

Earnhardt Jr., fresh off his final season in 2017, had some advice for his long-time friend and rival.

“Dale Jr. put it the best way when we were talking about all this, when he retired,” Sadler said. “He told me that you’re not retiring from something, you’re retiring to something. I’m not really retiring from racing, I’m retiring to the next part of my life that involves a lot of my kids, a lot of coaching and a lot of other things that I want to do with my life.”

As for his time at JRM, Sadler was part of the greatest three-year period in the team’s history, with two championships and 18 race victories. It could have been three titles had 2016 worked out for him. Not winning a title hurt, but there are other things he can point to that more than make up.

“You always want more,” he said. “I wanted to win a Daytona 500 and I was so close. I wanted to win a championship because I was so close so many times in the Xfinity Series. (I am) one of only 18 drivers that have a pole and a win in all three series in the sport and the only driver in NASCAR history that was part of the Xfinity Chase and the Cup Chase. I won the very first Playoff race in the Xfinity Series...so when you name a couple of those things, doggone it, that’s pretty good.

“Yes, I wish I had a couple of other things I could hang my hat on, but we came up a little short. We gave it all we could.”

In that time with JRM, he also had a hand in helping the two most recent champions grow into their careers, teaming with Justin Allgaier to give veteran advice and confidence to both Byron and Reddick.

“JRM, and they have a really great track record of developing young drivers,” Sadler said. “Chase Elliott won a championship, William Byron won a championship... (and so did Reddick). I’d say JR Motorsports is doing something right with their young guys coming in. Justin and I did a great job with William and Tyler coming in, and Justin will do a great job with Noah (Gragson) coming in next year. He’s really good about sharing notes and understands the team concept.

“Noah is coming into a good situation where he’ll feel like he’s the No. 1 priority for that team and that organization, Chevrolet and everything that comes with it. He’ll be successful.”

The biggest thing that Sadler will leave JRM with is a deeper relationship with the Earnhardts, Kelley and Dale Jr.

“Dale and Kelley and I have a very special relationship,” he said. “We share a lot of text messages, especially the last few weeks, on what our friendship means to each other and what it’s meant for me to be able to drive for them the last couple of years.

“The lessons I learned and the friendships I’ve made are the biggest things for me.”

Sadler, one of the most popular drivers in a sport chock-full of them, will leave the team and the sport a better off than when he came into it, and making his family’s life bigger and better and more of a priority is a great reason to focus on that.

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XFINITY Series Schedule

XFINITY Series Standings

After Ford EcoBoost 300*

Homestead-Miami Speedway | 11/17/2018
RankDriverPointsBehind
1Tyler Reddick (P)40400
2Cole Custer (P)4035-5
3Daniel Hemric (P)4033-7
4Christopher Bell # (P)4026-14
5Elliott Sadler2255-1785
6Matt Tifft2254-1786
7Justin Allgaier2251-1789
14Michael Annett632-3408