Elliott Sadler hasn't been to Victory Lane with his new team this season, but he certainly knew the feeling when Joe Gibbs Racing stablemate Matt Kenseth prevailed at Las Vegas Motor Speedway last weekend -- even from the comfort of his TV room at home.
A vicarious victory? Not exactly, but Sadler certainly has a thing or two in common with Kenseth, who also joined the Gibbs organization in the offseason.
"If anybody recognized and heard what Matt Kenseth was saying after he took the checkered flag at Vegas about thanking the Lord for putting him in this situation, and his interview that he gave on FOX about how comfortable he was in this new car and this new environment with this new race team ? I'm sitting at home watching and I go, 'I know exactly what you mean, Matt,' "Sadler said.
"This organization, this team, makes everybody feel so welcome, all on the same page, all family atmosphere, just great, great people. But as far as the transition over to being a part of the team and with the people, it has been very seamless. It's been a lot of fun."
The fun has translated into the results column so far for Sadler, who carries consecutive fifth-place finishes into Bristol Motor Speedway, where he is the defending NASCAR Nationwide Series race winner. The consistent start has him sitting in a three-way tie for second in Nationwide points behind series leader Sam Hornish Jr.
Sadler posted the 12th-fastest time in Friday's first practice and the 17th-fastest time in the second practice. Qualifying begins at 10:35 a.m. ET Saturday morning.
The pairing with Gibbs came about late last season as Sadler's departure from Richard Childress Racing loomed. As a runner-up in the Nationwide standings the past two seasons, Sadler had opportunities, but the chance to drive for JGR seemed like the right fit.
So was sticking with a top-tier Nationwide Series team rather than returning to NASCAR's premier division with a middling team -- a career path Sadler chose in 2011 after six winless seasons in Sprint Cup.
"I haven't really talked to other drivers about it. Maybe they are thinking the same thing; go back to Nationwide, kind of reboot, get yourself re-energized, get in some really good equipment and try to make the most of it," Sadler said. "I have nine poles and four wins and a bunch of top fives and top 10s just in the last two seasons, and I think that says a lot."
Where the next phase of his career takes him could likely depend on how quickly he forges a relationship with his new crew chief, Chris Gayle, who previously served as a senior team engineer for JGR. If communication is key in shaping an ideal driver-crew chief bond, Sadler is certainly doing his part and then some.
"I warned him before we got to Daytona: I'm going to apologize, I'm going to call you probably five or six times a day because my mind is just always looking ahead, always wondering about what we can do to make our cars faster," Sadler said. "He and I are on the same page as far as we eat, sleep and drink racing all the time. We call each other all hours of the day and night thinking about different programs and setups and simulations we can run to make our cars better.
"So as soon as Chris and I get on the same page on exactly what I need to go fast, and me being able to tell him exactly what he needs to hear to make adjustments, we are going to be really, really good."
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