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NASCAR Nextel Cup Series: Gatorade Duel 1

Stock Car Racing Topics:  Gatorade Duel

NASCAR Nextel Cup Series: Gatorade Duel 1

Elliott Sadler
February 16, 2006


THE MODERATOR: Joining us now is the winner of this first duel today. Congratulations to Elliott Sadler, driver of the No. 38 M&M Ford. Elliott, talk about your victory.
ELLIOTT SADLER: Man, it's a great victory. Sit here before you guys, I remember coming in here, interviewing, sitting in this same chair when we came in here and tested, told everybody about the different atmosphere in our race shop, the different attitude. To be able to come back here and qualify fourth, then win the first race is a great feeling.
We got a lot of enthusiasm with our team right now. We got a great leader who's got everybody fired up. To come down here and to win Ford Fusions' first race in NASCAR, that's something that will be in the record book a long time. Pretty neat to be able to come in here and do that.
Q. Last year, D.J. sat on the pole, once the flag fell he went to the back. What is the biggest difference we're looking at between the Taurus and Fusion?
ELLIOTT SADLER: I just think we as a team came in here this time for winter testing, and Tommy is like, "I don't care how fast we run, I don't care if we set a record or not, we're going to get this thing where you're comfortable, where you can drive it. Even if we look like we're struggling on the sheets, if I'm happy as a driver, he's happy with all the things he sees, with temperature, buildups, things like, that then we're going to be happy as a team.
We came in here for three days and worked only handling, worked on not wearing the tires out, worked on getting the balance we needed to have. The Fusion has helped us with that. I just think the way Tommy looks at a race car, the way he looks at a race, is different than anything I've ever been used to. We got it driving good. That's all we worried about yesterday, not whether it would draft good, push good. If I could get through the corners wide open, I got a great chance of running up front. I just think when we got out front today because of the pit stop, I didn't have to lift, the car kept tight, kept enough momentum to stay in front of them.
I think a lot of it has to do with the new Fusion nose, it's got a little bit more grip to it than what the Taurus had. A lot of it has to do with the new outlook we have as a race team, too.
Q. Take us through that fiasco at the end with the piece of debris on the track. How did you handle that?
ELLIOTT SADLER: Well, my spotter just told me it was debris everywhere. It was metal, rubber chunks everywhere. I just took my time and went through that slow and tried to pick my spot. Then I looked up, everybody was wrecking. I'm not really sure what they were doing as far as trying to catch the pace car, what have you.
Me personally as a driver, I didn't want to punch a hole. I got a flat during the Bud Shootout, I got a flat in Busch practice. I didn't want any more flat tires this week. I took my time to go through, just make sure I didn't see the metal and things like that. I'm not really sure what happened behind us.
Q. Can you talk about the drivers' meeting, your reaction to the no zone rule, how it worked.
ELLIOTT SADLER: To the drivers' meeting, I'm sure everybody knows, they set down new guidelines for bump-drafting, aggressive driving, stuff like that. At the start of the race, we were running third, fourth and fifth. I noticed a lot of guys were not slamming into each other, as far as me being hit from behind, the way, Clint was pushing Dale, I was pushing Jeff. Everybody was just nudging a little bit until we got to those no zones, nobody wanted to take a chance.
In the position I was running, second or third or leading most of the day, I didn't see a lot of it. I look at a film of it tonight, I'm going to watch the second race now as a fan and as a student to see are the guys bump-drafting, what is NASCAR letting them get away with, what are they not letting them get away with, what's going on, so Sunday I'll know where to draw the line at.
I didn't have to do much of that today. I did learn a lot today about my race car, about the 20 car, what he's so good at. We still got a little bit of work to do before Sunday's race. But as a driver and as the rules, I'm going to go back and watch this and see kind of what NASCAR let go and what they didn't let go.
Q. What is different about this Fusion nose that makes you be able to turn the car better?
ELLIOTT SADLER: I just think they did a better job with it, with the lines, the headlights, stuff like that. I just think it's made it more sporty, made it where it's got a little more downforce than what we've had.
Ford did a tremendous job of putting this car in the wind tunnel, taking it through its paces before they gave it to the team so when they gave it to us at Robert Yates Racing, we didn't have to do anything else to it, pretty much taking care of itself. It makes it better for me to drive as a driver. We finished first and second today. That's a great start for the Ford Fusion. I think it's going to be good on regular tracks, too. It's not a night and day difference, but it's just a little bit.
In NASCAR racing, the competition is so close, if you can get your car a little bit better, that's the difference in winning a race and running 20th.
Q. How safe or secure do you feel when you're out front? How much concern is there about guys ganging up behind you?
ELLIOTT SADLER: Well, I was really concerned when the 48 was behind the 2 because Jimmie has always got good pushing going on. Their cars suck up really well. When he got to pushing the 2, I was really, really concerned, when those guys get lined up like that.
The 20 car was very fast coming up through the beginning of the race. There's certain cars that you know no matter who they get behind, they're going to get a really good push. Seemed like all the pushes today were coming between the tri oval and turn one. I was trying to gear my car up and get as much momentum as I could between those two spaces so they couldn't get so much of a run on us. It seemed to pay off.
Tommy kept feeding it to me every two laps, stay on the bottom. I blocked as much as I could, but took away the bottom as much as I could, make the guys pass us on the outside. It seemed to work out pretty good for us.
Q. Not to be a buzz kill or anything, but you were sitting in that seat a year ago today, you were obviously optimistic about how things were going to go last year. I know you've been through a lot. It's a long off-season. With what happened last year, will that remind you, like you said, you got work left to do before you race Sunday and on down the road?
ELLIOTT SADLER: Yeah, I mean, we definitely got some work left to do. We had a great test at Vegas. We know we got a little left to do at California to be strong. We know the same cars are going to be strong that were strong last year. They beat us on the mile and a half's, things like that. From a mental standpoint, from not a nut-and-bolts thing with the race car, but from a mental standpoint, I think this team is more focused and more ready to go week-to-week racing.
I think we just got a new attitude. We feel like we're all going into war together. I feel like I'm the quarterback of this race team. It's time for me to act like it. It's not time for me to just sit back and let everything else happen. It's time for me to step in and make sure I'm ready to go. When I'm ready to go, those guys can follow me to the racetrack each and every week ready to fight a war, ready to do whatever we got to do.
From an attitude standpoint, I think we're light-years ahead with from where we've ever been, me as a driver, us as a team. Nut and bolt-wise, race car-wise, we still got work to do . We know that. We understand that. I think as far as a nucleus as a race team, we're better prepared this year than we've been in a long time. I didn't really know Tommy was that organized and that much of a motivator and things like that until he came on board. He's just got everybody rallied around him and just ready to go to war each and every week. That's why I think we're going to be okay this year - not from a nuts and bolt side, but from a mental side.
Q. Driving appeared to be much more conservative today than it was in the shootout. How much of that was guys trying to protect their 500 cars and how much of it was guys concerned about NASCAR?
ELLIOTT SADLER: I think a lot of that, 80% of it is protecting your 500 car. I think it doesn't really matter where you start at, other than pit selection. You got a good top run going here, you don't want to feel like you guys have got to start all over with a new 500 car with only maybe a day and a half of practice left, when you've got three days of winter testing, wind tunnel time on your primary car.
I was going to stay up front, stay in the top two or three as best as I could, be as aggressive as I could. If I'd have got shuffled back, I was going to be, okay, I'm going to ride right here, save my stuff for Sunday. I think a lot of that is just because you got a great 500 car and a lot of these guys feel that. They just kind of want to save it for Sunday when you race for the points.
Q. With 20 laps to go in the 500, do you think the no bump caution policy is going to hold up as well as it did today?
ELLIOTT SADLER: I don't know. We'll see. Ask Mike Helton that. You know, as that being a rule, I don't want to be in their shoes. That is a very tough call sitting way above the racetrack, and we're in the cars running 190. That's going to be a ball-strike call like an umpire. Kind of tough. We kind of put ourselves in this position with all the teams being so close, drivers getting smarter, every time we come back to restrictor plate racing, how to side draft, how to bump-draft, things like that. I think it was getting out of hand.
Until we can do something to the cars, implement something on the cars with the bumpers or something to weaken the noses up a little bit, this is what we have to live with through Daytona.
I think it's up to the drivers. We don't know where the line is until somebody crosses it. That's why I'm going to go back and watch both races to see if somebody does bump-draft too hard, where they did it, what it looked like, NASCAR made the call, then I know what I need to do to get to that point. Until somebody gets called in for a pass-through penalty or what have you, nobody really knows where the line is. I'm sure we're going to push the line and push the envelope a lot come Sunday.
Q. Did Mike have a point earlier today when he thought some of the younger drivers had pretty much abused the bump-drafting thing, that they weren't really doing it properly? Do you feel that was kind of a case today that you guys showed some of these younger drivers how it can be done?
ELLIOTT SADLER: I think so. I honestly can sit here and say that some of the young guys that come in just saw it on TV last year or two years ago, thought it looked cool, so they just slammed you wherever they wanted to. It makes it tough, makes it hard on us, makes it hard on them. You want to give them extra room anyway. You're giving them extra room, they are taking it, they might not know they're doing anything wrong with it anyway.
But I think Mike hit it right on the head, that you don't see the veterans that have won a bunch of these races and stuff slamming you that much. Three-time Daytona winner Dale Jarrett and Jeff Gordon don't come in and just slam you in the middle of a corner, taking a chance on taking their car out and yours. I think the big difference is the veterans that have won this race so many times and the guys that haven't. Mike was just making it all out to the guys, We've seen, y'all are bumping pretty crazy, we're watching you. Maybe it will calm us all down a little bit for Sunday. We'll see.
THE MODERATOR: Congratulations, Elliott. Thank you. Good luck on Sunday.

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