By Matt Weaver — Elliott Sadler is feeling more relaxed these days, displaying a confidence and swagger that suggests the focus that is required to close out on the Nationwide Series championship that has eluded him over the past three seasons.
Despite a career that has spanned two decades, including three victories in the Sprint Cup Series and a berth in the Chase for the Championship, it has been fatherhood and the family life that has inspired the most self-assurance out of the 38-year-old.
“Having kids has really reenergized me,” Sadler told Popular Speed on Saturday at Bristol Motor Speedway. “I truly believe that it has made me a better race car driver. I’m more focused on the big picture of what’s going on during a race and I don’t let the little things get to me like they use to.”
The rebirth of his career played a role in that confidence too as Sadler, facing an uncertain future in the Sprint Cup Series back in 2011, accepted an offer from Kevin and DeLana Harvick to lead their Nationwide Series effort. And while Sadler has bounced around from Kevin Harvick Inc., Richard Childress Racing and now Joe Gibbs Racing, the decision to return to Nationwide Series competition has put him back in the spotlight following several frustrating seasons at the end of his Sprint Cup tenure.
Sadler is living the dream as a competitive NASCAR driver again and considers himself fortunate that he’s able to share his life and times with his wife, Amanda (Prince), and children Wyatt and Austyn.
“It’s been a fun couple of years back in Nationwide and knowing that I have a chance to be competitive,” Sadler added. “And I feel younger right now than I did 10 years ago.”
Much has changed for Sadler during that time span, going from the driver that won races and made the Chase in 2004 with Yates Racing to struggling with Evernham Motorsports as it underwent several identity changes and dropped further from the front of the field before merging with Richard Petty Motorsports.
On the personal front, Sadler and Prince began dating in 2006 following their long-time friendship. They ultimately married in 2009 having their children in 2009 and 2010 just as Sadler made the decision to rejoin the Nationwide Series for the start of the 2011 season.
Sadler’s spotter and long-time friend, Brett Griffin, says he wasn’t sure how fatherhood would affect his performance due to media speculation that it would inspire him to redirect his focus away from motorsports.
“Elliott is the most competitive person I’ve ever been around,” Griffin said. “But I wasn’t sure which direction it would take his will to win when he settled down and started a family. I saw the various media folks explain how it could change a driver’s focus but I don’t think someone who would report that has competed in a professional sport after having a family.”
Sadler’s will to win has only increased in the past half-decade according to Griffin, the veteran spotter attributing that focus to his children and family life.
“He trains harder than he ever has before when he’s not behind the wheel,” Griffin said. “His children turn his toughest days into good ones and his perspective on life in general is the most positive that I’ve ever seen it.”
To completely diminish the notion that having a family would signal the end of his career, Sadler says that retirement hasn’t entered his mind once and that he wants to be in NASCAR as long as he’s competitive and able to do it.
Next up for Sadler veteran is deciphering the puzzle that is the Nationwide Series. Following consecutive runner-up finishes to Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in 2011 and 2012, Sadler dropped to fourth in the overall standings in his first year with Joe Gibbs Racing and new crew chief Chris Gayle.
“Chris was coming in as a first year crew chief and it took us a while to get on the same page as far as what I needed to tell him about the cars so we could make the right adjustments,” Sadler said. “It was a huge learning curve, more than any I’ve ever had in racing, and I’m sure Chris had one too. We felt like we made some gains at the end of the season and feel more comfortable with each other this season and know where we stand.”
With familiarity defining every aspect of his life and Joe Gibbs Racing emerging as the team to beat in the Nationwide Series, this could be the year that Sadler rises to the pinnacle of the sport and becomes a NASCAR champion.
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