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2012 NASCAR Driver Review: Elliott Sadler

Elliott Sadler

2012 Rides: No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
2012 Primary Sponsors: OneMain Financial, Pierre Drive-Thru Sandwiches, Charter Communications, Hunt Brothers Pizza
2012 Owner: Richard Childress
2012 Crew Chief: Luke Lambert
2012 Nationwide Series Stats: 33 starts, 4 wins, 15 top fives, 25 top 10s, 4 poles, second in points

High Point: After failing to win a race in 2011 despite finishing second in points, Sadler took only until the second week of the season to make it happen in the spring, using pit strategy late to overtake teammate Kevin Harvick and score his first Nationwide Series win since 1998 at Phoenix. The victory was part of a four-race top-three finish streak to start 2012 that had Sadler’s team leading the points, convincingly, for the first two months of the year.

Low Point: Having watched their summer points lead evaporate at the hands of missed late-race adjustments plus relentless pressure by the No. 6 team, Sadler entered the penultimate race of the season at the same Phoenix track he broke his winless streak at in desperate need of another trophy if he was going to stay in the title chase.

Instead, middling in the top 10 for much of the race, Sadler got in over his head in the closing laps, forcing the issue and causing a wreck. The resulting 22nd-place result was Sadler’s worst in six months, rendering the Nationwide title fight between he and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. an academic exercise heading to Homestead.

Summary: It’s hard to find fault in a season that produced four wins and a runner-up points finish, but there were oh so many factors that really should have made this one the year for Sadler and the No. 2 team. They managed to find victory lane after failing to do so in all of 2011, yet were unable to sustain momentum or secure trophies when push came to shove in the title chase. They were unable to capitalize on having Richard Childress Racing, perhaps the most accomplished organization Nationwide Series racing has seen, making its return to NASCAR’s “AAA.”

And as far as the driver himself is concerned, Sadler’s season got off on the wrong foot courtesy of an over-aggressive move in the Daytona 500 (his lone Cup start of 2012) that drew the ire and frustration of a number of his former peers in the field. That wreck, which eliminated both Danica Patrick and Jimmie Johnson, set the tone for one of the most bizarre Great American Races in our history.

Team Ranking: First of two. He won more races and finished higher in points than teammate Austin Dillon. But Sadler wasn’t hired at RCR to play runner-up… he was here to win a championship. On that mission, he came close but no cigar… twice. Even after being handed a gift in the spring as Stenhouse’s No. 6 team suffered through a rash of wrecks and mechanical failures, it was the No. 2 Chevy that faltered down the stretch. Sadler’s moving on from RCR in 2013 having returned to victory lane, but being no closer to his ultimate goal of returning to Cup despite driving one of the most potent cars in NASCAR’s “AAA” division.

2013 Outlook: All is not lost for Sadler, though, who is making the move from Richard Childress Racing to the vaunted JGR Nationwide operation for 2013, taking a ride alongside another former Cup regular, Brian Vickers. With an experienced teammate and Toyota racecars that have been nearly untouchable for half a decade, Sadler may well have gotten a step up in equipment heading into this season.

He will be challenged by Roush Fenway Racing’s Trevor Bayne and former teammate Dillon (not to mention Vickers) but there’s no reason to think Sadler won’t be in the thick of it up front in 2013. A limited Cup opportunity at JGR also awaits, based on sponsorship which could mean one last chance for Sadler to pave his path back to the promised land.

2006 Frontstretch Grade: D
2007 Grade: B-
2008 Grade: D
2009 Grade: D
2010 Grade: D
2011 Grade: B+
2012 Grade: B

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