Column By: REID SPENCER & HOLLY CAIN / NASCAR – HOMESTEAD, FL – There’s a lot Elliott Sadler will miss after he runs his final race as a full-time NASCAR driver on Saturday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Sadler will miss the competition and the friends he has made within the sport. But he’s also looking forward to a schedule that keeps him at home with his family. And he’ll get his share of competition, not behind the wheel of a stock car, but as a coach for his son Wyatt in youth baseball.
“When I left for Phoenix (last week), my daughter said, ‘This is the last time you’re leaving home, Dad,’” Sadler said on Friday at Homestead. “And I thought to myself, ‘This is the last time I’ve got to leave my kids to go do something that’s just for me, that’s not really for my family’—it’s not their dreams, it’s not something that they’re doing.
“Now when I leave the house, it’s with them or for them, something they’re involved in. I’ve been coaching going on 13 or 14 years now but have really gotten into it a lot the last couple of years. I thoroughly enjoy it, and that’s what’s going to keep me motivated and keep me going. I still have that competition side of it, and I’m looking forward to that.”
Though Sadler never won the NASCAR title, he has no misgivings about calling it a career after Saturday’s Ford EcoBoost 300 NASCAR Xfinity Series race (3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
“I wanted to win a Daytona 500, because it was so close,” Sadler said. “I wanted to win a championship, because it was so close so many times in the Xfinity Series… but to be one of only 18 drivers, I think, that has a pole and a win in all three series in the sport—I’m the only driver in NASCAR history that was a part of the Xfinity Playoffs and the Cup Playoffs.
“I won the very first-ever Playoff race in the Xfinity Series. You name a couple of those things, and, doggone it, that’s pretty good. Yes, I wish we had some other things we could have hung our hat on. We came up short, but we gave it everything we could…
“But I have no regrets. I have absolutely no regrets at all for the time I had and the experience I’ve had.”
TEAM OWNERS EXTOL NASCAR’S VIRTUES AS A STRONG MEDIUM FOR PARTNERS
For all the honest excitement surrounding this week’s NASCAR Ford Championship race weekend, the trophy-eligible Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series team owners contend there has been a healthy energy away from the track as well.
Team Penske Vice Chairman Walt Czarnecki, Furniture Row Racing President Joe Garone, Joe Gibbs Racing founder Joe Gibbs and Stewart-Haas Racing co-owner Tony Stewart met with reporters Friday morning in advance of Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 (at 3 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
The group of team leaders discussed topics on-track and beyond the garage, grateful their teams would be settling the title and even offering a few good-natured jabs among themselves.
When asked about the evolution of Stewart from championship driver to championship team owner, Gibbs joked, “Thanks for mentioning he (Stewart) dumped me.”
Asked about the economy of the sport, Czarnecki spoke up to talk about another event taking place Friday morning. Team Penske hosted about 100 sponsor representatives in Miami – an hour away from the speedway – and the sheer number of corporate partners generated a promising vibe for both the sport’s present and its future.
“It’s very interesting, because simultaneous with Ford Championship Weekend, we (Team Penske) are conducting our annual sponsor/partner summit at the Intercontinental Hotel,” Czarnecki said. “We have 100 people there, the largest group we’ve ever had, representing 40 organizations. Forty-five of those people are with us for the very first time, and in the last 18 months, we’ve added 15 more.
“So there’s an appetite out there as long as you’re delivering the value. As long as we can deliver the value as teams. … Now here we’re are in a situation where as an organization we have 40 different companies that work with us as sponsor partners, business partners, strategic partners on many different levels.
“I think it’s indicative of the strength of the sport, that there’s still an appetite to get involved.”
COLE CUSTER OPTIMISTIC ABOUT TITLE RUN—BUT CAUTIOUSLY SO
When he showed up for Championship 4 Media Day at The Edition in Miami Beach, Cole Custer didn’t exhibit the bluster or braggadocio of a driver who had blown away the competition in last year’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Custer didn’t qualify for the NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship 4 Round last season, but his performance at Homestead was head-and-shoulders above that of any of the title contenders. Custer led 182 of the 200 laps and finished 15.405 seconds ahead of runner-up Sam Hornish Jr.
But that was last year—and Custer knows it, as he ponders Saturday’s Ford EcoBoost 300 (3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
“I don’t know if you can really expect to do the same thing, because things change,” Custer said. “You know, little things that we have to kind of account for. And obviously Christopher (Bell) and Tyler (Reddick) got to go down there and test, so I bet they got faster.
“But I think you’ve just got to work off your notes from last year and do your homework, and I think there’s no reason why you can’t compete for a win.”
Another major difference. In his second year in the No. 00 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford, Custer is battling Bell, Reddick and Daniel Hemric for the Xfinity Series championship.
“It would mean a lot, especially just to our whole team, because as a new team last year, I think everybody had to work so hard to get to the point that we’re at now, so it would mean a lot to all of our people to get this championship and bring it home.”