At Michigan International Speedway on Sunday, Elliott Sadler crossed the line in ninth place, best of the Richard Petty Motorports' entries. He scored his first top-10 in the 2010 Sprint Cup series, on the heels of a Saturday afternoon in which he drove the wheels off the #88 JR Motorsports Chevy en route to a seventh-place finish in the Nationwide race.
Even so, Sadler currently seems to be the odd man out at RPM, with A.J. Allmendinger securing his 2011 contract and rampant rumors that Marcos Ambrose is on his way to take over the #9 car from Kasey Kahne. Although there's still an outside chance that RPM could retain him, Sadler indicated his status is little different than what he stated in June: the brass isn't saying much to him, which is never a good sign.
As Sadler reiterated his status with RPM on Saturday in a Dustin Long feature, he added an extra -- and thought-provoking -- glimpse into his potential future. First, several potential deals have fallen through and his Cup negotiations are down to one team outside of RPM. More importantly, while speaking of himself in the third person, he explained, "If I have to go back to Nationwide or go back to the Truck (series), you'll see Elliott Sadler do that instead of go somewhere to (start-and-park) or ride around."
Make no mistake: winning is intoxicating in any series, and Sadler visited Victory Lane at Pocono for the first time in any series since 2004. It clearly made an impression on him.
Start-and-park will not suffice for Sadler, and quite honestly, he has too much talent to relegate himself to that status. "I don't have a big enough ego to where I have to be labeled a Cup driver," he told Long. "I want to be a driver that's competitive."
It's truly hard to believe that good drivers "forget how to drive" at this level. There are vast differences in equipment, and momentum and psychology play a larger role than many drivers are willing to acknowledge. Given the opportunity, some believe that Sadler could be the next Jamie McMurray, enjoying a resurgent season after leaving Roush Racing -- including McMurray himself.
What do you do? Drive for wins and perhaps a championship in the lower-tier series or keep yourself at the Cup level, no matter what or for whom you drive? Elliott Sadler seems to say: just win, baby.