Will Sadler-GEM marriage of convenience work?

Jay Hart

You can't blame Elliott Sadler for going back to Gillett Evernham Motorsports – or Richard Petty Racing, or whatever it's going to be called. Jobs are hard to come by, especially in the Sprint Cup Series, where these days there aren't even 43 full-time jobs.

But can the two – Sadler and GEM – coexist after GEM unceremoniously dismissed Sadler in December only to have him back two weeks later after Sadler threatened to sue?

From my vantage point, the reconciliation makes sense.

Sadler gets a job that he otherwise wouldn't have had, while GEM retains a competent (Sadler qualified for the 2004 Chase), fairly popular driver who's more of a known quantity to sponsors than AJ Allmendinger, who was to be Sadler's replacement.

But this doesn't mean it will work.

In the aftermath of GEM's mishandling of the situation, both sides are saying and doing the right things.

GEM CEO Tom Reddin says the organization functions as a family, and "sometimes in a family you have differences. We have resolved all differences. We are moving on and excited about heading to Daytona."

Sadler deserves credit for taking the high road. In refusing to point fingers, he's instead chosen to, as he put it, look through the front windshield instead of the rearview mirror.

"I think it's made us a stronger family having this fight," Sadler said Wednesday. "Now we feel like our backs are against the wall. We have a lot of motivation; we have a lot of things to prove, and that's why we're so eager to get this season started with."

Talk about spin city.

Time will tell if this marriage of convenience – and right now, isn't that what it is? – will last beyond the reconciliation phase. Only then will we know if Sadler's glass-is-half-full approach is rooted in genuine belief or blind optimism.

Regardless of how outwardly confident he is today, it's imperative Sadler get off to a strong start in 2009 – for his sake and his team's.

GEM didn't think they were taking a step back when they made the original decision to go with Allmendinger, who's now been reduced to a part-time role with the organization. Yes, he may have come cheaper, but in his five-race trial with GEM at the end of last season, Allmendinger spanked Sadler, finishing ahead of him every time.

"You know, we had some meetings, and some of them were good, some of them were bad, but I don't think it's fair to sit here today and say that the team didn't want me," said Sadler, who is getting married this weekend. "I think what they want is the best possible situation they feel they can succeed in as far as their sponsors are concerned, as far as the crew members and stuff like that are concerned."

Still, Sadler is aware of how Allmendinger upstaged him last season. The team is, too. So while Sadler may be a great guy and his crew may love him to death, the what-if questions will start popping up everywhere if he doesn't produce right away, especially if Allmendinger does well in his part-time role.

It's all about performance. Had Sadler produced better results last season GEM wouldn't have been in a position to have to make a choice this season. When they did, Sadler was left with only one move – fight for his job. He couldn't afford to sit on the sidelines, waiting for another opportunity to open up, not with jobs so hard to come by and Bobby Labonte still on the free-agent market. And he certainly didn't want to happen to him what happened to Jeremy Mayfield, who is still looking for a full-time gig after being replaced at GEM by, ironically, Sadler.

These are desperate times and apparently not even million-dollar athletes are immune to having to resort to desperate measures.