NASCAR Media Conference
January 14, 2009
HERB BRANHAM: We're joined now by NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Elliott Sadler. Elliott, thanks for joining us. It's been an interesting off-season for you and your team to say the least. Things appear to be shaking out. What's the overall outlook for you and everyone coming into Daytona this year?
ELLIOTT SADLER: Well, I think it's good. You know, I'm really -- I've been in the shop the last couple days and really like everybody's attitude right now. We feel like we've hit on some things this winter. We've been pretty successful in the Daytona 500 the last couple years, so I can't think of a better race to get our season started off with. All in all, I think every race team is ready to get going, ready to get started, ready -- let's get some time on the racetrack and get things moving.
You know, right now I'm just sitting here just kind of eager, chomping at the bit, ready to get buckled in the seat, put those seatbelts on, get the helmet on and let's get practicing and into Speed Weeks and let's get the season kicked off.
HERB BRANHAM: We're ready to go to media for questions for our next guest, Elliott Sadler.
Q. Elliott, talk about all of the stuff surrounding you and how you go into a season maybe with some feelings that there was talk that they might have replaced you or how realistic any of that was.
ELLIOTT SADLER: Yeah, that's a great question. I think we've all been a part of this business long enough to know that performance is the bottom line, and when you don't perform, you sit down in meetings and you try to hash through things, and some of the meetings are good and some of them are not. At the end of the day, everybody has to be held accountable for what you're trying to do on and off the racetrack.
You know, we went through some meetings and stuff this winter where the team was not happy with the 19's performance and how we run on the racetrack, and of course I wasn't, either, because at the end of the day you want to be in the Chase and you want to contend for wins.
You know, we had some meetings, and some of them were good, some of them were bad, but I don't think it's fair to sit here today and say that the team didn't want me. I think what they want is the best possible situation they feel they can succeed in as far as their sponsors are concerned, as far as the crew members and stuff like that are concerned. So to sit here and say that mentality is correct I think is inaccurate.
I think that we both want whatever is the best for the 19 team and our sponsors and also Elliott Sadler, and we've hashed through a lot of that. We think we've made some headway because of that. We really feel optimistic about a lot of the changes that we've made to the 19 team going into Daytona. We've made a lot of personnel changes, running different types of cars and stuff this year. We've got a new guy on the pit box. So really I'm optimistic going into Daytona, because one, it's a good race for me and always has been in the past, and I really think we can put our best foot forward at that track.
Actually going into this racing year I'm pretty optimistic on the progress we have made just in the last couple months, not only material and stuff-wise but also mentally between myself and the team.
Q. And so none of that will linger around as you head into the season and you won't have to forget anything?
ELLIOTT SADLER: I don't think it will. It shouldn't. We're professionals, and when we show up to play, we should be ready to play. When we're on the field, we should give it our all 100 percent, whether it's me and the race car or the guys doing the pit stops or the guys bolting the shocks on, whoever it may be and whatever it may be.
As far as the team is concerned and myself is concerned, it's in the past. You know, I've been to the shop the last two days. Not one conversation about what happened a week ago. All the conversations were how can we go to Daytona, be competitive; how can we go to California, the next race, and be competitive, and things like that. That is the mentality we have right now, Gillett and Evernham Motorsports; we feel like we're moving ahead. We, me especially, has to be a leader and a quarterback for my team, and my focus and all my energy right now is going to Daytona and being successful.
Q. You know, I think that there's probably a lot of -- I think we're all going to sort of focus on this, how you can possibly come back from sort of the situation that occurred. Can you sort of take us through that and how you found out that you were originally going to be released and then the decision-making process of possibly filing a lawsuit against Gillett Evernham?
ELLIOTT SADLER: Right. I can take you through some of the timeline. I don't remember specific dates, but we have competition meetings just like every other race team, and it got down to the end of the -- after the season was over with, and we wanted to try to make the 19 team better, and a lot of different ideas and situations and stuff came out in the open. We were at -- myself and the team were looking at a lot of different ways to be better, and sometimes our ideas were not on the same page, so there was a lot of debating and things like that going on. We came up with a whole list of things to change, and one of those was a driver change. That's something that came up.
As far as the legal part of it and stuff like that, I think there comes a time in everybody's life where you're seeking some kind of legal guidance, and I can sit here and tell you and be very honest with you, when it comes to contracts and the language and stuff that are on them, I'm not the smartest guy in the world, and when you're dealing with as many people as we're dealing with, it became bigger than Elliott Sadler. It was bigger than just Gillett Evernham Motorsports.
We have a lot of contracts in place between each other, with sponsors, with personal service contracts, with manufacturers. I mean, there's a lot of different things that come into play from the legal side of it that honestly I don't know a lot about.
You know, they did what -- my legal team did what they thought they had to do to protect me and to protect some of the sponsors and stuff that we have. But between me and the team, I never wanted the legal stuff to come between me and them. When I called people on the team and talked to them about what the car is doing, what springs are running, what shocks are doing, what can we do better for this sponsor, that sponsor, I didn't want that to come in between us, so I let them handle it the best way they could do, and I had to trust my advisors and my attorneys to be able to handle this stuff the way they would handle it.
But as far as me and the team, I think we had some debates and we had some disagreements, but I think at the end of the day, we have figured out how to work through this. We all have the same goal. We feel like we're pulling in the same direction. I've had some great meetings with Tom Reddin and Mark McArdle here and also Robbie Loomis, who's involved in our team the last couple weeks, to make sure we're putting our best foot forward and moving ahead from this.
Q. What was your gut reaction when you found out that you may not be back in the 19? And secondly, there were only a handful of drivers who actually won races last year. What's it going to take to resolve those issues that are going to be able to take you to the next level to become a series championship contender this season?
ELLIOTT SADLER: Well, I'll be honest with you. We all want to make it -- everybody wants to be in the Chase, but there's only room for 12 cars. Everybody wants to win races every week, and I think when you don't, there's definitely a feeling of disappointment, and you make changes. We're seeing this in every sport now; we're seeing NFL coaches change, and there's stuff in baseball right now, and you see it in race teams right now, too, people switching rides from this to this and changing manufacturers and changing crew chiefs, and everybody wants to be successful, and we're definitely a part of that.
When I first found out that it could be a possibility that I might not be in the 19 car, it was gut-wrenching to me because I have so many friends like family on the 19 car, and I know how hard we've worked and how much improvement we did make from 2007 to 2008 and how much improvement I think we can make again for the 2009 season.
I have a great relationship with Stanley and Best Buy and Coca-Cola and everybody that's a part of that race team. I think the world of Kasey Kahne, was looking forward to working with him again, and now Reed and A.J.
Honestly, I really get along well with Mark McArdle and Tom Reddin and George Gillett. He's a great man that has to make a lot of tough decisions a lot of times, so it was tough for me to get that first initial reaction. But I understand where it came from, I understood that at the end of the day me as a race car driver and us as Gillett Evernham Motorsports have to do a better job of being -- we have to be accountable for our product we put on the racetrack each and every Sunday.
At the end of the day, that's what the whole bottom line was. Do we feel like we have made improvements to that? Yes. Will we be able to -- it's still a month away until we have to get on the racetrack and be able to have the real telltale. It was definitely tough, but I think it's made me better. It's made me realize a lot of different things. I think it's made the race team better. I think it's made us a stronger family having this fight.
Now we feel like our backs are against the wall. We have a lot of motivation, we have a lot of things to prove, and that's why we're so eager to get this season started with.
Q. One other thing, too: The Petty Holdings merger, what impact did that have on the decision to get you back into the 19?
ELLIOTT SADLER: I hope it had a lot because I've been friends with "The King" a lot time. There's so many attributes and so many different words you can use to describe Richard Petty and what he means to the sport, so to have him a part of the Gillett family, a part of this race team, I think means a lot to not only every sponsor that we have. I think every crew member, every driver is excited to have Richard Petty and Dale Inman, I mean, he rose up in the sport, a part of my organization, and George worded it so well when asking the race fans to join behind us and the 43 car and Richard Petty and having him here, keeping his fans around, I think that's pretty neat the way he worded that. I think it's good for us.
I like having Robbie Loomis around. I think he's an Elliott Sadler fan. He has a lot of knowledge being a championship crew chief. I'm looking forward to working with him, as well.
Q. Looking forward now, how much of it is a breath of fresh air to have a new crew chief on the 19, someone you're familiar with and moving forward?
ELLIOTT SADLER: You know what, that is the best medicine, I think, is people understand looking forward that there's a reason why -- a very brilliant man told me one time there's a reason when you drive a car the front windshield is as big as it is and the rear view mirror is as small as it is. You've got to look forward and ahead to make things successful.
I really begged and pushed to have Kevin Buskirk on my team, a lot of different reasons why. I'll start with some of those. One, we've worked together in the past and have been successful with each other; two, he believes in me. He is an Elliott Sadler fan to the end, believes in me, believes in my ability; and three, he's such an easy-going guy. He and Kenny Francis already had a relationship together where they were friends and could work together.
So bringing him on board I think was just a smart decision, and I'll tell you, I feel like a new man since that happened. It's great to have somebody that you've already had success with working together a couple years ago and can bring him in. He has a lot of knowledge. He learned a lot of things from the companies he was working for in the past, and looking forward to -- he has a lot to prove, too. He's hungry just like I am, and his motto the last week has been "we want to go out and shock the world." We want to go out and make people pay attention to the 19 car, and he said he's going to work day and night to try to make that happen. It feels good for me to have somebody on the other end of the radio that has that type of attitude.
Q. With all the changes that have gone on, with Petty coming in and different things, you having a new crew chief and all that, how long does it take you guys to come into your stride? Is this something where you think that everybody is going to feel comfortable a quarter of the way into the season or do you think you can hit the ground running?
ELLIOTT SADLER: You know, the reason why I really wanted Kevin is the history we had together already. I feel like you were in the meetings with us. If we had a chance to go get another crew chief or another person that I had worked with before, of course there would be some type of learning curve that would take longer than what Kevin and mine is going to be. That's not going to be very first day of the practice, the first day of the season, but I think the learning curve is going to be a lot shorter.
History shows you have to be successful in the first seven or eight races to have a legitimate chance of making the Chase. We're going to have to learn on the fly the way the testing stuff is now. We're going to have to rely on our teammates a little bit to maybe get some help. But Kevin and I have worked together in the past for a couple years. I think our language -- and he's already said a lot of things. He's already finishing my sentences on a lot of things already. That was one reason why we brought Kevin in is how familiar me and him are with each other.
Q. Sorry to look in the rear window another time, but from what I understood, you found out about this from a sponsor. Did the team ever say, Elliott, you're not in the car?
ELLIOTT SADLER: No, they never said, hey, we're replacing you, we're moving on. It was always just, maybe this could be a possibility. You know what, I think at the end of the day, they were just looking to see what their options might be to make sure the 19 car is going to be competitive and going to run good. It was pretty much like we might do this, this might be an option, we're going to give you permission to go talk to other teams in case this is an option. So they were very up front about it to me. There was like no smoke and mirrors, anything like that, as far as that was concerned. A lot of stuff kind of got blown out of proportion. But as far as their communication with me about it was always up front.
It didn't mean I liked the opportunity of me maybe having to get out of the 19 car, but Tom was always very up front in the meetings we had in saying this could be a possibility, and if this is a possibility, we want to make sure you have a chance to go maybe talk to other owners in case something comes up. So they were very -- gave me a lot of information to work with. So on my behalf that was very fair.
Q. But you were ready to file a lawsuit to stay in the car. Was it the fact that you just realized that there was nothing better out there, that you needed to stay in this? What was the motivation there?
ELLIOTT SADLER: I think the motivation to me was, this is a lot bigger than just me, and I think sometimes fans don't realize that what -- I have people I have to answer to, also, people that work with me, sponsors and stuff that I already have contracts in place with, and it was getting ready to get out of hand. Like I said before, I'm not the smartest guy when it comes to legal terms and papers and stuff like that. So I just wanted to make sure I protected myself, protect my sponsors, and I think it was a way of just making sure that we can take in every bit of information we can to make sure this works.
So it was a strategy they used. I had to trust them in what they were doing to do that. But it just got to where it was bigger than just me, and I'm glad we were able to reach a solution between myself and Gillett and also with Stanley and Coca-Cola and Best Buy because I want to represent these guys. I want to represent them the right way. I want to get this behind us and move on. That was my reasoning behind that.
Q. You seem to have really taken the high road on all this. Was that tough to do that?
ELLIOTT SADLER: You know, I think it was an eye-opener to me, as far as how fast things can happen in this sport, how you can't take anything for granted. I think, you know, there's a lot of different ways you can look at this, and you can be negative about it and you can be positive about it. I don't understand the reason of being negative about it.
You know, we've got our differences resolved for right now. We've got our team headed in the right direction. We feel like we've guy a handle on things in the direction we want to go. So I'm being positive about it. I'm in a race car and that's what I love to do, and I want to race hard.
I've seen the attitude at the shop the last couple days on how everybody has pulled together. I'm using this as a learning experience that me as a driver, I have to do a better job in the race car week in and week out and for the whole longevity of the season, so that's the way I'm looking at it. I'm not trying to nit-pick every little negative thing that could come out of this or try to get it out of it. I want to say, okay, this happened, it could have been a lot worse, it ended up -- everything ended up okay. What can we learn from it as a team? What can the team do better? What can Elliott Sadler do better? Let's move on. And I think our sponsors deserve that.
Q. Thanks, and good luck on the marriage.
ELLIOTT SADLER: Thanks. One thing I want to say to you, and a lot of the media people have called me the last couple weeks, and not that I did not want to talk to you guys or was trying to ignore you, but it just wasn't professional for me to come out and try to talk about stuff I really didn't know until it was all resolved and moving ahead, so I appreciate the media people -- you know who you are that called and offered support but also wanted stuff. I hope you guys understand the position we were all in. I was trying to protect myself, my sponsors and my team.
Q. I was wondering, as far as you're trying to improve performance, how much of it is getting the car to fit your style, and how much is it you possibly having to change your style to fit this new car?
ELLIOTT SADLER: You know, we met yesterday about four hours on that, me and my new crew chief Kevin. Last year we were trying to -- because Kasey had some really successful runs, and we all want to work together as close as we can. But mine and Kasey's style are just not the same. We just do not drive the car the exact same. We hold the steering wheel a little different. It would be like Tiger Woods playing golf with Phil Mickelson's golf clubs with the same shafts in them. You try to do the same thing, but it's just not tailored to what I was trying to do.
We had a meeting about that yesterday, about how much we can actually share information between teams but how much each driver needs his own little twist to make himself feel comfortable and more competitive in the car. That's one of them things.
We're going to go to Rockingham and test and work through some things. Kevin's background with me, he understands what I liked a couple years ago and feel I need to be competitive, so we're going to work down that road and start as far as just trying to tailor as much things as we can to me to be competitive. So that's the first step.
My goal when we go to California and Vegas the first time is have a car that's comfortable and a car we can adjust throughout a 400- or 500-mile race.
Q. It seems to be the perception that A.J. Allmendinger's style and Kasey's style are the same. Do you and Reed share any of the same styles, do you know?
ELLIOTT SADLER: Reed and I have not tested yesterday at the same place with the same car, so that's something we're going to have to learn together as we go, and hopefully we'll be able to do that at Rockingham next week and kind of answer those questions. I do know A.J.'s and Kasey's style are very close, probably more than what mine and Kasey's are. That's something we have to learn as a team.
As we move forward with four teams, I think generally all the cars will be built alike, but each crew chief is going to have to put his own little bit on it to give the driver what he needs. That's all stuff we're learning.
Q. Have you talked to A.J. at all after all this stuff? You guys also had a little bit of history last year?
ELLIOTT SADLER: Yeah, I have not talked to A.J. I think the first time I talk to him will be at the test next week. I'm not really worried about that. I've talked to him in the past, and I don't think we have any differences personality-wise. I think we both just want to run good and we both want to be competitive.
I'm the senior member of the team; I have to be the leader of the team and initiate conversation and make sure we're all on the same page and stuff like that. I don't foresee any problems going on with A.J. and I. I like his style; he's very aggressive. He's a good guy to be around. We have had our differences, but you know what, I played on a lot of sports teams growing up, and I think any time you get competitive people fighting for the same real estate, you're going to have some type of differences of opinion.
But it takes real men to be able to learn those differences, use them in your favor and then move on ahead. We're all going to be teammates this year, and this sport is tough enough as it is. You've got to have people in your own shop pulling for you and working together, so I think that's the way it's going to be here in the future.
Q. Earlier you said that you were not really satisfied with your 2008 season, that you felt what happened in the off-season was providing motivation and that you felt like you had something to prove. What kind of results at the end of the 2009 season would you be satisfied with that you think would enable you to prove what you say you need to prove?
ELLIOTT SADLER: Well, I think, to me, and this might be far fetched for some and it might be right on time for some. You know, I've been a part of the Chase one year; the next year I barely missed it by like 12 points. That is my goal. I cannot look my guys in the face that work ten hours a day at the shop and tell them my goal is not to be in the Chase and be a part of the sport's elite group. I think we can do that, but a lot of things have to go our way and go right to make that happen. But that is our goal.
I think that's every team's goal at the beginning of the season. I think we can make it happen. I have that much confidence in Kevin who we brought in as a crew chief, and a lot of things are going to have to go right for us, but we can do it. We can be a part of that.
My teammate Kasey got so close last year, was in the Top 10 in the points the whole year, and just a little bit of bad luck here and there, and we did miss it as an organization. But that gives us a little bit of confidence, along with what I feel I have to prove. You know, I'm almost in Kyle Busch's shoes from last year going over to Gibbs where I feel like I've got a lot to prove and you want to make everybody understand how hard of a driver and the personality you have week in and week out, and I want to do that.
Maybe I've lost some of that confidence maybe from some of the media and stuff in the sport, but I want to gain that back. I want to be a top tier driver in this sport, and I've got to get my butt in gear and I've got to do good and race hard each and every lap and make that happen. This is the best motivation I've had in a long, long time to make sure when I start at Daytona to start off on the right foot and do the best job I can.
Q. Elliott, best wishes with the wedding this weekend.
ELLIOTT SADLER: I've had a pretty interesting week. Y'all haven't asked me the good question yet. The wedding is Saturday. If I have two minutes, I've got to tell you something. We're planning this honeymoon to go out of the United States, so I need a passport. Well, my passport was out of date, so I sent it in to get reinstated, but somehow my passport has been reported lost or stolen. So they've got a red flag up on security on my passport, so here I am three days before the wedding, we're supposed to leave Sunday and fly out of the country on our honeymoon, and I don't have a passport and don't know if I'm going to get one. So actually the questions you guys are giving me today are pretty easy to the questions I think my wife is going to ask me Sunday if I'm not allowed to go on the honeymoon.
Q. You're telling me you need a tip on a boat skipper to get you over there?
ELLIOTT SADLER: Yeah, I guess I'm a threat to national security is why my passport has been red-flagged, because it has been reported stolen or lost. If anybody knows anybody in D.C. that can get me a passport, if y'all don't mind calling me, maybe you can help me out a little bit.
Q. Seriously, good luck with that, golly.
ELLIOTT SADLER: Tell me about it.
Q. How do you respond to anyone that would say that Dodge has fallen behind in Cup racing, and are you optimistic about how competitive the Charger is going to be in '09, and what are you seeing that makes you feel that's the case?
ELLIOTT SADLER: Well, I'll tell you what, statistics don't lie no matter what you're talking about or who you're talking about. Not having a Dodge in the Chase I think means that, yeah, we have fallen behind a little bit. Does that mean it's the manufacture's fault? No, it's not. It means us as Dodge teams have to do a better job, whether it's working together more or figuring out more information to run faster. Not having a Dodge in the Chase last year I think was tough for the manufacturer to swallow and tough for the teams to swallow.
When you have that many other manufacturers that are involved in the Chase, you know, it makes you hungry to want to try to be a part of it next year. Yeah, there are some things we've got to do better as teams, but we can't just sit here and say, oh, yeah, it's the manufacturer. There's no way we can sit here and say that. We have to be accountable for the information they're giving us, putting it on the racetrack and hopefully be good enough to make the Chase. We were behind last year. Definitely, we didn't make the Chase. So we were definitely behind the last year. We just means we've got to work harder this year and hopefully be okay.
Q. With the team's acclimating to the new car over the last two years, it's almost like trying to hit a moving target because just as soon as they get used to it and make the necessary improvements to be competitive, then somebody discovers something and all those parameters go out the door. So given Kevin's chassis expertise, how much that doing to help you in getting that feel that you need, because it seems like maybe 10 percent of the drivers have found the feel that they need in this car and the rest are still searching?
ELLIOTT SADLER: You're exactly right. Each driver has probably had to change his driving style, or what he likes or dislikes about this new car. It's a lot different animal. You have to accept the fact that it is a different animal, and you've got to figure out what works for you. And definitely certain drivers have hit it, some have not, and some are kind of in the middle. One big reason why to hire Kevin is, one, he already knew what I liked to feel in the race car to be competitive; but two, he tested over 40 times last year at different tracks with the COT car so he's tested a lot of different things and learned a lot of different information.
We were sitting in a meeting this morning with a couple of crew chiefs and engineers figuring a couple directions that we need to go down for the first couple races. It seems like what we had at Homestead is already out of date for when we get to California. What we have in California for the first race will be out of date by the time we get to Charlotte here in May.
It's tough, and it puts a bind on the teams, especially with the testing policy that we have now, to play catch-up, but you just hope that you work hard and you try to cross all the t's that you can and dot all the i's, and hopefully you'll find something. We're going to try some different things the first couple races and hopefully something sticks and we'll move on from there.
Q. I understand Gillett is supposed to go to the proving ground. Obviously a lot bigger plans this weekend. Are you going to have a chance to test before you go to Daytona just to give Kevin a feel where you are with the car?
ELLIOTT SADLER: Yeah, the best news my wife heard the whole this week was, "Baby, we're coming home early from the honeymoon because I'm going to test Rockingham." So we are; we're going to Rockingham next Wednesday. Every Gillett driver, crew chief, engineer, Robby Loomis, every moving major part. Kevin and I talked about it today, to try to go back to Rockingham again two more times before we even get to Daytona, just to make sure our communication is right, just to make sure we're on the same page.
Yesterday we sat in a meeting for four hours together and I had to relive pretty much every race weekend last year, and we picked the races we thought we were competitive at, and we picked the races that we thought, man, we need to be better at. We tried to find a common denominator with both. It was a hard meeting, it was a tough meeting, but we think we got a lot of stuff out in the open so when we go to Rockingham the next two weeks we'll know what to work on to make Elliott Sadler a faster, more competitive race car driver week in and week out.
HERB BRANHAM: Thank you, and Elliott Sadler, appreciate you taking the time out, and obviously a lot going on, so thanks for fitting us into your schedule. Best of luck at Daytona.
ELLIOTT SADLER: All right, guys. I really appreciate that a lot. Thank you.
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