Elliott Sadler: Charged for Las Vegas
To say Elliott Sadler is no stranger to racing at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway is an understatement. He drove in the track’s inaugural NASCAR Nationwide Series event in 1997 and he’s competed at the 1.5-mile oval in either the NASCAR Sprint Cup or Nationwide Series every season since.
In total, Sadler boasts 19 career starts at Las Vegas – 12 in the Sprint Cup Series and seven in Nationwide. It’s a career statistic that spans nearly two decades.
After 17 years, Sadler still gets a kick out of racing in the Entertainment Capital of the World.
That kick gets a jolt for this weekend’s Boyd Gaming 300 Nationwide Series race in which Sadler will pilot the No. 11 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR).
Youthful enthusiasm and passion for the sport make it easy to forget that Sadler long ago made the transition from up-and-comer to NASCAR veteran. He’s raced, won and competed for championships in both of NASCAR’s top touring series. His career Nationwide Series record includes nine wins, 56 top-fives, 108 top-10s and 15 pole awards. And since returning to the series as a full-time competitor in 2011, the JGR driver has posted finishes of second, second and fourth in the season-long Nationwide Series championship races, respectively.
While the 2014 Nationwide Series season is a mere two races old, Sadler and his No. 11 JGR team have come out of the gate strong – scoring a fifth-place finish in the season-opening race at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway and a sixth-place finish last week at Phoenix International Raceway. It’s a start that places him third in the championship point standings, six points out of first, entering Saturday’s Boyd Gaming 300.
In seven career Nationwide Series starts at Las Vegas, Sadler has scored two top-five finishes, three top-10s and one pole in March 2012. His average starting position is 8.3 and his average finish is 12.1. Aside from a 30th-place finish in his first-ever start at Las Vegas – the result of a late-race accident – Sadler has finished no worse than 14th.
Complementing Sadler’s traditional statistics at Las Vegas is his success in several of NASCAR’s loop data categories. He leads all drivers in average running position at 6.8 and is first among drivers fastest late in a run at 167.627 mph. He ranks top-five in a series of categories from fifth in fastest laps run to third in green-flag speed to second in speed by quarter. It all adds up to a 102.8 driver rating that places Sadler second among all drivers at Las Vegas.
This weekend’s race will be an anniversary of sorts for Sadler as it commemorates the second time he’s been paired with one of JGR’s founding partners in Interstate Batteries. Sadler raced his way to a fifth-place finish beneath the Interstate colors at Las Vegas one year ago. He hopes to improve on that performance this weekend with a trip to victory lane.
Elliott Sadler, Driver of the No. 11 Interstate Batteries NASCAR Nationwide Series Toyota Camry for Joe Gibbs Racing:
What are your thoughts about the race this weekend at Las Vegas?
“It’s easily one of my favorite places to race. Las Vegas is just a fun place and the track is a fast racetrack. It’s very slick and it’s got some bumps and stuff in turn one but it always opens up to a really good race. You can run on the bottom, the middle, the top. That track has really aged well and has become a multi-groove racetrack that lets you put on a good show for the fans. All of the races there are really good shows. Las Vegas itself is a great place with a lot of great entertainment, of course. It’s a great destination and the track has done a great job with the garages and provided well for fan accessibility. So, it’s a fun place to race and a fast place to race and, hopefully, we’ll go there and do well.”
What is the key for finding success at Las Vegas?
“The biggest thing for Las Vegas is maintaining speed all the way around the track. At Las Vegas, you have bumps in the center of (turns) one and two and then bumps off (turn) four, so I think you fight trying to keep the car turning and working through the bumps because it upsets the car a lot. We don’t have that at a lot of places. You have traditional mile-and-a-half tracks that are smooth and you just try to take advantage of the speed, but it’s easier to do on those smooth tracks. It’s much harder at a place like Las Vegas with the way the track has aged.”
How much different is it going into this weekend’s race at Las Vegas than one year ago?
“I know this is going to sound dramatic but it’s just night-and-day. There was quite a bit of a learning curve we were dealing with last year for me with a new team, new manufacturer, just getting used to everybody and everything. This year, everything is the same. It’s been probably five or six years since I’ve been able to say that, but this year everyone is the same – same crew chief, same guys working on the car. It means a lot and we are going to take advantage of that as much as possible.”
“You know going into it that the Interstate Batteries sponsorship and brand is a very important part of Joe Gibbs Racing. It’s part of the orientation you go through when you join JGR. Interstate has set such a great example by being so loyal to the sport for such a long, long time. I’m pretty proud of the fact that I get to be part of that Interstate Batteries Racing family and it’s exciting for me to have them back on our car for Las Vegas. I know I told people this last year, but it’s extra special for me because I look back to Dale Jarrett’s Daytona 500 win in 1993 – the first Daytona 500 win for Joe Gibbs Racing in an Interstate Batteries car – and he’s one of my best friends. So here, years later, I get to drive for the Interstate Batteries company. So that, to me, is still pretty cool and something that I’m pretty proud of.”