Race Weekend Central

Elliott Sadler Relieved as Personal Issues Subside in Time for Championship 4

“Stay focused.”

That pair of words means the world to JR Motorsports’ Elliott Sadler.

The last time he was in a Chase, it was a dozen years ago, when he was competing for Robert Yates Racing in NASCAR’s first year of having a playoff format. The odds were against him then, and he will never forget the roller coaster seasons that followed.

There is no need for Sadler to recount the endless tales of his Sprint Cup Series career. The ups and downs he experienced are all lessons he feels has led him to a better place.

That place is now home. And that home is with a pair of childhood friends, Kelley Earnhardt-Miller and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

“We feel like we’ve come full circle,” Sadler said during the XFINITY Series Championship 4 media session at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Friday. “I’ve leaned on him over the last two months to get myself ready for this run for the championship, and I’ve talked to him a lot after Phoenix. Seeing him being so involved means a lot to me. He wants to see us do well, and I want to do well for him and Kelley.”

“Stay focused.”

Those words are still on Sadler’s mind. Fortunately, he is in a situation that he calls a “perfect fit.”

“I’m pretty relaxed,” Sadler said with a sigh of relief. “We just have to go out there and do our job. I don’t know why I’m so calmly relaxed about it this week, but we’re looking forward to it and we’re going to put our best foot forward.

“I think you can put yourself in a corner if you try to over-analyze everything. We need to show up and keep doing what we’ve been doing to get us into this position.”

(Photo: Brett Moist / NKP)
Elliott Sadler enters the Championship 4 looking for his first NASCAR title after winning three races in 2016 for JR Motorsports. (Photo: Brett Moist / NKP)

And over-analyzing is something Sadler says he’s accustomed to doing. It has hurt him. It has helped him. But over time, he stopped being the “Negative Nancy,” as he calls it.

“Ten years ago, I was always the glass is half-empty instead of half-full,” Sadler said.

With Sadler’s days of stress in the Cup Series long gone, the pressure of succeeding still remains now more than ever before.

Sadler’s mother, Bell, is a breast cancer survivor. After defeating the disease, she developed more issues, ones that have forced her to be hospitalized for quite a while.

“This is a gallbladder issue and she has a septic issue,” Sadler said as he attempted not to choke up. “Her mental toughness through breast cancer and what we’ve gone through over the past couple of months is pretty inspirational. I need to have that same type of mental toughness in the racecar.”

Along with Sadler’s mother’s health issues, another member of the family suffered, though, this one remained quiet until now.

“When my son (Wyatt) was born, he had to have two surgeries,” Sadler said. “He was fighting for his life. He was in a big unit for 10 weeks, and I stayed there all day everyday until I had to go leave to race on the weekends.

“To watch him fight for his life just changed my whole perception. It just built a fire in me to not be a failure. I really looked at it as: If I can see my son fight for his life the way he did, I sure as hell can fight to be a racecar driver and a champion. His power to want to live and want to still be here with us has given me a lot of drive.”

Because of this experience, Sadler says it’s why he still “eats, sleeps and drinks racing so much.”

“Stay focused.”

As soon as Wyatt was born, he was rushed into surgery. Two weeks later, he was sent back into surgery.

And that’s what Sadler did, largely thanks to his mom’s help, along with his wife Amanda.

“I was torn all to pieces,” Sadler said. “It was my mom’s first grandson. She had all granddaughters. The worst thing in the world is being a dad and not knowing if your son is going to live or not.

“It was a tough time. I was leaning on my mom a lot during that time just because she understands to see a kid go through a tough time.”

Undoubtedly, these experiences changed Sadler’s mentality. No longer was he a “Negative Nancy.” Instead, he has a different outlook on life, one that’s all positive.

And the adversity that Sadler’s family faced is something that he hopes will come full circle and bring his family and he success come Saturday’s contest at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“A title will mean a lot,” he said. “I’ve been through a lot of ups and downs, and I’m really lucky to be here. I went through a time in my career that I could have been pushed to the side and never been able to race again. To be able to battle back and put ourselves in this position means a lot to me and my family. We want to go make the most of it.”

Come Saturday, all eyes will be focused on Sadler, including his mother’s and his son’s. Both will be present at the racetrack, determined to see their hero bring not only a trophy and a check home, but also a sigh of relief.

A relief that the pain is over. A relief that the future will no longer be negative.

The family’s doctor will be tagging along with Bell this weekend, making sure that if anything goes wrong, someone will be there for support. Besides being the family doctor, he is also one of Sadler’s best friends, making a possible championship more emotional than it would be already.

As Saturday’s race nears, the pressure is building up for the three-time winner this year. Sadler has a career-high 28 top 10s and an average finish of 6.9 entering Homestead, both division-highs in 2016. But during Saturday’s race, not only will he have to fight off a pair of Joe Gibbs Racing teammates, he will need to beat JR Motorsports teammate Justin Allgaier, who, like Sadler, is a former Cup Series competitor.

“We’re going to race each other hard,” Sadler said. “You have two JGR and JRM teammates racing each other hard all year, but we’ve been fair. We still communicate with each other very well. Our teams share a lot of information, and we’re going to continue to do that throughout the race on Saturday.”

While Allgaier’s perspective is quite different, if the title comes down to the duo at the end of Saturday’s race, the idea of being a teammate is out of the question.

“When you get in that moment — the in the last couple of laps — you can throw all of that out the window,” Allgaier said. “I’m so proud of JR Motorsports. To see both competitors who ran full-time get a berth into the final round, I think that says a lot about the employees of JR Motorsports and everybody touches these racecars on a weekly basis. I do want to beat him, but I think the two of us have our work cut out for us.”

No matter what Sadler’s results are Saturday afternoon, he will not forget the words his mother texted him Wednesday evening:

“Stay focused.”

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