The 2012 season will be one of redemption for Elliott Sadler in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. After finishing second in the Nationwide Series driver championship point standings in 2011, Sadler returns to the series with the goal of claiming the title in 2012. This time, it's a new season, new team and a renewed hunger for the championship.
The Sadler family began their involvement in racing nearly 45 years ago. Bud Elliott, Sadler's uncle for which he was named, and father Herman Sadler, along with their brothers, raced on the short tracks of Virginia long before the young Sadler was born. It was here where Sadler received his training on the short tracks of his home state, just as his father and uncle before him.
Climbing behind the wheel of his first go-kart at age seven, Sadler captured more than 200 victories before moving on to the heavier stock cars. At the age of 18, Sadler joined the ranks of the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series, claiming a track championship title at South Boston (Va.) Speedway in 1995. His success served as a stepping-stone to the NASCAR Nationwide Series when he caught the eye of team owner Gary Bechtel. Bechtel tabbed the young driver to pilot his car in a full-season Nationwide Series effort in 1997.
Sadler wasted no time in proving his ability. The rookie driver captured the pole for the season-opening event at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. Thirteen starts were all Sadler needed to capture his first-career Nationwide Series win at Nazareth (Pa.) Speedway. Sadler rounded out his rookie year with three more pole awards and victories at Myrtle Beach (S.C.) Speedway and Gateway (Ill.) International Raceway. He finished the year an impressive fifth in the Nationwide Series championship point standings. Sadler scored two more Nationwide Series wins in 1998 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway and North Carolina Speedway, and following two stand-out seasons, growth came the following year for the young driver.
In 1999, the legendary Wood Brothers, also native to Virginia, looked no further than their own backyard to find a driver for the No. 21 entry and signed Sadler to his first fulltime NASCAR Sprint Cup Series ride. Their first victory together came in 2001 at Bristol Motor Speedway in Sadler's 75th career start. The win in "Thunder Valley" was monumental. Sadler took the checkered flag after staring from the 38th position, the farthest starting position that any driver had ever won from at the half-mile bullring. Sadler started in the 38th position, an impressive feat. The win also marked the return of the famous Wood Brothers organization to victory lane for the first time since 1993.
After four seasons, Sadler and the Wood Brothers parted ways and the Virginia native moved to Robert Yates Racing. Sadler won two pole awards, Darlington (S.C.) Raceway and Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, in 2003 with his No. 38 Sprint Cup Series team. He completed the year with two top-five and nine top-10 finishes which earned him a 22nd-place finish in the point standings. Energy was infused into Sadler's team with personnel changes during the offseason, setting the stage for Sadler's most successful season to date.
The 2004 season proved to be a breakout year as the Virginia native surprised many in the garage area. Sadler struck early at the season opening event at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway by winning the outside pole for the Daytona 500. Later in Speedweeks, he won one of the Twin 125 qualifying events which gave primary sponsor M&M's their first ever trip to victory lane.
Success continued throughout the season as Sadler experienced more of the same with a win at Texas Motor Speedway. Later in the season, Sadler scored his third-career victory at Auto Club Speedway, clinching a position in the inaugural Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Sadler was one of four drivers to stay in the top 10 in the driver championship point standings the entire season and rounded out the year with two wins, eight top-five and 14 top-10 finishes. He finished ninth in the final standings.
In 2005, Sadler was strong out of the gate, remaining in the top five in the point standings throughout the first half of the season. Late-season difficulties, however, plagued the No. 38 team as they narrowly missed qualifying for their second consecutive Chase. There were several highlights for Sadler in 2005, as he earned four pole positions including the prestigious Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
After three-and-a-half seasons with Robert Yates Racing, Sadler joined forces with Gillett Evernham Motorsports as the driver of the No. 19 Sprint Cup Series entry. He took the wheel of his new ride at Michigan International Speedway in August 2006 for the final 14 races with his new team posting two top-10 finishes.
In 2007, Sadler led 62 laps, posted two top-10 finishes and finished 25th in the driver point standings. He finished a season-best sixth at the Daytona 500. Sadler went longer than any other driver (29 races) before failing to finish a race in 2007. The 2008 season saw several highlights including a fifth-place finish at New Hampshire and a fourth-place finish at Indianapolis while leading 21 laps during the season.
In 2009, Gillett Evernham Motorsports teamed up with Petty Enterprises to create Richard Petty Motorsports. Joining Sadler were teammates Kasey Kahne, AJ Allmendinger and Reed Sorenson. Sadler closed out the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup season with one top-five and five top-10 finishes.
Upon entering the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup series season, RPM made the changed manufacturers. The season was a tumultuous one for Sadler and the RPM group. Sadler recorded only one top-10 finish, but the highlight of his season was his eighth-career pole at Texas Motor Speedway in November. Branching out from the Sprint Cup Series in 2010, Sadler took the opportunity to jump behind the wheel of a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series entry for Kevin Harvick Incorporated (KHI) for the first time in seven years. In only his fifth start, Sadler earned his first-career Truck Series pole at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway and went on to win his first-career Truck Series event that same day. The win marked an emotional turning point for Sadler as he visited victory lane for the first time since 2004.
2011 served as a season of rejuvenation as Sadler joined KHI in the Nationwide Series in efforts to win the series championship. In his first fulltime Nationwide Series schedule since 1998, Sadler drove the No. 2 OneMain Financial Chevrolet and led the team to five pole awards, 12 top-five and 24 top-10 finishes. Although the season started off with a 38th-place finish at Daytona, Sadler made up ground quickly and worked his way to the top position in points several times throughout the season. An untimely incident in the second-to-last race of the season knocked Sadler out of serious contention for the championship, and he finished second in the standings for the season. His return to the Nationwide Series proved to be a hit with the fans, however, who voted Sadler the 2011 Nationwide Series Most Popular Driver.
The 2012 season brings more exciting changes for Sadler. KHI has merged with Richard Childress Racing, and Sadler will start the next chapter of his racing career driving for the Nationwide Series championship for RCR in the No. 2 OneMain Financial Chevrolet.