Its that time of year again when the drivers, crews and teams are full of optimism and enthusiasm concerning the upcoming season. In the coming weeks at Daytona we will all get to hear the “driver’s speak” and spin first hand. But the other day, I took a bit of time to read what others were writing about ‘my driver’, Elliott Sadler, and just what was the pulse for the 2008 season. There were a few common themes that I noticed.
“Trouble in Turn Two” mentions that Sadler “At this point in his career arc might be in the Dale Jarrett late bloomer mold (compare their numbers through 9 seasons and there are similarities), or go the way of the dodo like a Jeremy Mayfield”. Talk about standing at the crossroads!
“The Frontstretch” gives an interesting preview but also feels that “2008 could be a do-or-die season for the veteran”. She also touches on a common theme (or excuse) that many like to fall back on with this, “Things were supposed to improve with an August infusion of cash by new team co-owner George Gillett. However, while the move appeared to boost momentum for GEM’s No. 9 car and Kasey Kahne, nothing seemed to help the No. 19 of Sadler get going.”
ESPN writes in their fantasy driver preview: “Somewhere Jeremy Mayfield is smiling…a year and a half into the Sadler Administration, and the No. 19 isn't any better off.” ESPN also mentions the ‘new money’ seen mid way last season, and the lack of results for the 19 team with this comment, “An infusion of cash from Montreal Canadiens owner George Gillett Jr. was supposed to help Evernham last summer, but that improvement never came….”. Then there is this that is something that I commented on in the first third of the 2007 season and some of the Sadler faithful took offense to. “Sadler had three crew chiefs last year alone, but the third, Rodney Childers (who came over from the No. 10 in November) will hopefully stick around through all of '08…”. The revolving Crew Chief door is something that has to be addressed in order to turn the ship around; problem is, what is the reason for this? There is one constant that doesn’t seem to get changed.
But one of the most interesting pre-season takes came from Athlonsports: begin with “When you’re down and out, the only way to go is up”, followed by this very pointed comment. “Everywhere Sadler goes, he seems to do OK to start, but then it all falls apart. … He goes through a lot of crew chiefs and people, and he always seems to be the same. He’s the only variable, and yet’s he’s the only part that hasn’t been changed.”
Now for the most part almost every preview I have read feels that Elliott Sadler should improve from his 25th place finish of 2007 and I will 100% agree with that. Some can use the ‘sub par equipment’ excuse all they want, but that hall pass can only go so far. It was less than half way thru the 2007 season when Evernham made the public claims that their engineering software and premises were at fault. So a half a season later, that hall pass has been long expired.
It was just a year ago when ‘Spotterman' made the claim of “we are going to win SOME races this year”. That’s a plural SOME too. But how long will the new owner be willing to ride the storm out? That’s the million-dollar question. Interesting though, might be what the new owner considers ‘success’, to the race fan, much of the time means visiting victory lane every so often. Just consider this, it has been 120 races since the last time Sadler visited victory lane, and that is the longest stint in his Cup career.The key to much of this just may lie within GEM and more specifically the #9 team. If Kahne is able to make a significant turn-around while the 19 still runs in the pack the clock maybe tick a bit faster. But if the #9 car continues it's struggles of the 2007 season, can and will Elliott Sadler use his now famous 'out' clauses and move on to some other race team? Chance are there is no out clause with this contract through.