COMMENTARY | Elliott Sadler is not a stranger to the Cup series.
In fact, he is a former winner, taking home three victories in the 430 races in his long Cup career (a 2001 victory for the Wood Brothers at Bristol, plus a pair of victories in 2004 for Robert Yates Racing).
His Cup numbers aren't stellar (19 top 5 runs, 69 top-10 runs and 8 poles), but that's more than a lot of drivers can claim.
By 2010, driving for the then-lowly Richard Petty Motorsports, Elliott Sadler's stock in Cup had plummeted and he was then forced back to the Nationwide Series, where he put on impressive, nearly title-winning performances the past two seasons for Richard Childress Racing.
Now in 2013, at his new team Joe Gibbs Racing, Sadler might get a surprise opportunity to show his stuff in the Cup series again, if only for a brief period.
The injury to Denny Hamlin will not require surgery, but will sideline Hamlin from the car for about six weeks. This means that Joe Gibbs will have to determine another driver to fill the void left by Hamlin's injury.
With no big names on the sideline this season that are obvious choices, it's just common sense that Gibbs would look to his Nationwide drivers. Sadler's Nationwide teammate at JGR, Brian Vickers, has a previous Cup commitment driving the #55 car for Michael Waltrip Racing at Martinsville, and it would make sense to stick with one driver for the duration of Hamlin's injury, so Sadler is the only choice that makes much sense.
And with an 11 car that almost always runs up front, it might turn into a great audition for Sadler, who no doubt would love to return to the Cup series in competitive equipment and try to win more races in the sport's top level.
If he does get in the 11 car while Denny is out, you can bet he'll relish every moment of it. If he does well enough, it's possible he could be considered for a fourth Gibbs car for next season and beyond, sponsorship contingent of course.
It's never easy for the ego when a guy has to take a step down to racing on Saturdays after more than a decade of racing on Sundays, so while he might not like the circumstances that have led to this situation (nobody wants to see another driver injured), any chance to drive a car this good will be music to Elliott Sadler's ears. And I'm sure Denny and all the Hamlin/JGR fans will be cheering him along the whole time.
Perhaps I'm reading too much into it all and this potential fill-in ride for Sadler won't mean much, but I do know one thing: If I were Elliott Sadler, I'd devote a lot of effort to making sure that any time I might get in the 11 car leads to good results -- because you never know what that could lead to.
Matt Myftiu lives in Michigan, has been a walking encyclopedia of NASCAR since immersing himself in the sport over 15 years ago, and has worked as a journalist for two decades. His blog on the sport, NASCAR: Beyond the Track, has been published by The Oakland Press for the past 5 years. Follow him on Twitter @MattMyftiu.
- Motor Racing
- Sports & Recreation
- Elliott Sadler
- Denny Hamlin
- Robert Yates Racing
- Joe Gibbs Racing
- Richard Petty Motorsports