By Brian Eberly, Contributing Writer
HOMESTEAD, Fla. – After the checkered flag fell at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Saturday, Elliott Sadler climbed from his race car and shared an ice cold Bud Light with his JR Motorsports teammates. The long-time Xfinity Series veteran is retiring from full-time competition after a NASCAR national series career that started in 1995 behind the wheel of equipment owned by his mother Bell Sadler.
The night didn’t go as Sadler would have hoped, as he finished 14th in the No. 1 One Main Financial Chevrolet after making a late pit stop under green flag conditions for a vibration.
“Man, its tough. It is. It didn’t really end the way we wanted to for our team,” Sadler told a group of reporters on pit road.
“I’m sure it will hit me tomorrow but it’s cool to see the laughter and I’ve got such a great group of guys. I didn’t know how my emotions would be but actually I’m ok which makes me feel good about my decision. I feel good right now. It feels right.
“I gave it my all and came up short but I don’t have any regrets in my career. With the opportunities I had, I tried to make the most of them. I’ve had long enough to purse my dreams and what I want to do and now it’s time for me to help my kids pursue theirs.”
Sadler felt a vibration with 20 laps to go and decided to bring the car to pit road with JR Motorsports teammate Tyler Reddick leading the race and in line to win the Xfinity Series championship.
“Man I didn’t want to screw the 9 (Reddick) up. I had a vibration and my spotter said the 9 had a straightway lead,” said Sadler. Reddick went on to win the championship by 6.902 seconds as the balance of the race went caution free.
“I’m not racing anything for 10th place so I just decided to come in and would rather be safe than sorry. I did not want to take a championship away from Tyler and (crew chief) Dave Elenz and that whole team. That’s not a good teammate. It would be different if we were racing for the championship also. I didn’t want to take any chances.”
If championship implications weren’t involved, would Sadler have still hit pit road?
“No, I would have stayed out,” Sadler said with a huge grin. “I just did not want to be that guy. You don’t want to be that guy and take it away from your team. I know what it’s like when somebody took it away from me last year and that’s not fun and it’s hard to ever get over. I didn’t want to be that guy for my teammate.”
The Emporia, Virginia native has made 853 NASCAR national series combined starts (438 in Cup, 395 in Xfinity and 20 in Truck) and ranks 21st on the all-time NASCAR national series combined starts list. His 395 Xfinity starts are eighth most all-time. Sadler is also one of just 29 drivers all-time to win in all three of NASCAR’s national series and recorded 17 wins (Three in Cup, 13 in Xfinity and one in Trucks).
The 43-year-old finished in the top four in points in six of the last seven Xfinity seasons; including four runner-up finishes in the championship standings.
After the long history in the sport, Sadler didn’t hesitate when asked what he would miss the most in retirement.
“I’ll miss the fellowship and the friends. I’ve got a lot of good friends in this sport. It was neat today with all of the text messages and people that came by. I got a ton of texts from a lot of different drivers, wrestlers, country music singers. They were all going to watch tonight for my last race. That’s what I’m going to miss the most. I would have never met half of these people, or probably any of them, if it wasn’t for NASCAR and the camaraderie we have.”
Prior to the race, there was quite the crowd gathered around Sadler’s car as he strapped in. What struck Sadler the most from those final moments?
“All of the cool people that came up and said ‘hey’ to me. Edsel Ford came up and talked to me for a long time. I was in a Ford for a while and built a great relationship with him and for him to come over and stick his head in the car meant a lot to me. It’s how personable some of the big people are in this sport. It was neat seeing a lot of the friendly faces coming over and giving hugs and talking about tonight.”
How will Sadler spend the rest of the weekend now that he has retired from full-time driving duties?
“My son and daughter both want to go hunting in the morning. I will be up in the tree stand at 5:30 in the morning so that is my plan for tomorrow. That is 100 percent what we do on Sundays. Last week we had a terrible week at Phoenix and Sunday I went and took my son hunting and he got the biggest deer he ever got and I didn’t even think about Phoenix anymore so I will go home and spend some time with them.”