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Q and A with Elliott Sadler at Daytona testing

 

January 9, 2006

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Elliott Sadler is one of three Ford drivers participating in the first test session of 2006, which also marks the on-track debut of the new Ford Fusion. Sadler, driver of the No. 38 M&Mís Fusion, took part in a question-and-answer session in the infield media center at Daytona International Speedway early in the afternoon.

ELLIOTT SADLER Ė No. 38 M&Mís Fusion Ė ON DRIVING THE NEW FUSION FOR THE FIRST TIME. ďFirst of all, Happy New Year to everybody. Second of all, I think the Ford Fusion is great. I really like the way it looks, the way itís turned out. The way the character lines on it. I like the way it drives. Iíve been very happy with the way my car feels in the race track this morning. So, I like the new Fusion body. I like the nose on it, the front tires in the ground, and I canít wait to get it some drafting practice to see the full effects of it. But, so far, so good. Iím real happy with everything. Iíve got a car thatís handling great. I think to run good here at the Daytona 500, you got to have a comfortable race car and right now we have that.Ē

TESTING IS ALWAYS IMPORTANT AT DAYTONA. WITH THE NEW FUSION, IS IT EVEN MORE IMPORTANT NOW FOR THE FORD TEAMS? ďYeah. Anytime you bring a new body type to a race track or open a season with it, youíre going to have different things that youíve got to do to massage on it and get it right, get it close. But from a team standpoint, weíve been so lucky how much testing Ford has done in the wind tunnel before we got it. They ran it through the wind tunnel time and time again, and massaged on it for us, and it really got it great. By the time the actual teams got the car, the Fusion was pretty much in race-ready trim. When we got it, the guys put the nose and tail on it, and massaged it all it up and got it right. We got to the wind tunnel and we were pretty close. We were like, ĎWow, weíre right here in the ballgame.í So, we knew when we unloaded this morning that the Fusion was going to be fast, and it has been. One of my cars has been pretty good, and itís driving good. Anytime you bring something new thereís a possibility that you might struggle here or there, but I think that Ford as a company did such a good job of making it ready before they gave it to the race teams, I donít think weíre going to have any problems with it.Ē

WHATíS THE DIFFERENCE THAT FANS WILL SEE? ďI hope they see more of us running up front, is what I hope to see. Itís a slicker look. I like the way they changed the character lines on it. I just think itís a nicer-looking package on the front end. I just think the front end is a much sportier-looking car, and I like it. When you walk up to it itís just a neat-looking vehicle, so I hope that theyíll see the Fusion as a sportier car, and if we run up front more, theyíll definitely get to see it more.Ē

HOW YOU HAVE YOU OVERCOME THE FRUSTRATION OF THE WAY 2005 ENDED? AND, HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO START 2006 WELL? ďLast year, to me, seems like 10 years ago. Iím not really thinking about it because so many things have changed this winter at Robert Yates Racing. I donít feel like weíve got the same mentality, the same chemistry, the same team, anything. Itís just a whole new outlook on racing. And here, we just want to get out of the blocks strong, and I think thatís very important. You donít want to feel like youíve got to dig yourself out of a hole each and every week. So, weíre excited, just like every other team because weíre all tight at the moment, to come into Daytona and really get off to a good start and put our best foot forward. Iíve been very impressed with my team, how hard theyíve worked this winter, and going to the shop and seeing all the cars we have lined up, and the organization. Our team is so organized right now, itís unbelievable, and I canít wait to feel the effects of that, and I think thatíll help us in the long run more this year.Ē

ELLIOTT SADLER, continued Ė ANYTHING UNUSUAL HAPPEN DURING THE OFF-SEASON? ďNothing happened unusual in the off-season. I had seven great weeks of spending time in Emporia, Virginia, with my family. Did a lot of deer hunting. Just had a good time. Didnít really do much. My new crew chief made a deal with me that he wanted me at 200 pounds when I came here for the Daytona 500 and I was 212 pounds when I left Homestead, and Iíve already lost 11 pounds, Iíve got one more to go, so other than trying to lose some weight and have some fun hunting and things like that, and kind of refreshing my brain and getting a new fresh start on a new season.Ē

ON THE EARLY RELATIONSHIP WITH NEW CREW CHIEF, TOMMY BALDWIN, AND THE FORD ENGINES. ďThe engine part of it is, I expect weíre going to be right in the ballgame from the very beginning. Doug Yates, you can pretty much give him anything and he can figure out how to make it run, and heís down here today and weíve done a lot of engine testing already this morning, for all of the Ford teams. We got all of our engine equipment hooked up, all our engine computer stuff hooked up so they can go back to the engine shop this week and take all their data in and then come back next week with the 88 and kind of do the same thing, but thatís for all the teams. Dougís ready to go. Heís pumped up for the Daytona 500 this year, and he really wants to have some cars on the front row and I think he wants a shot at winning. We think the Fusion is going to give us a better chance of winning the 500, so he knows he wants to hold up his end of the bargain, too. As far as Tommy and I, weíve had a great relationship so far. Heís a very determined, very focused person Ė and very open. Heís just like me, I think. I feel like Iím looking at myself in the mirror when talking to him because he doesnít mind telling you whatís on his mind and kind of the plan that he wants to do, and Iím the same way. So, weíve kind of hit it off pretty good. I love his ideas and I love his enthusiasm. He feels like he has a lot to prove and I feel like Iíve got a lot to prove, and weíre very determined to make the Chase this year, and whatever it takes. Heís very organized. The guys have fallen in love with him, and that means a lot to me.Ē

LAST YEAR YOU EXPERIMENTED WITH YOUR HAIR. IS THAT CONTINUING THIS YEAR? ďNo. To be honest with you, Iíve been in the woods for seven weeks, I havenít had time to get a haircut, so thatís why my hair looks like it does today and thatís why Iíve got a hat on, but Iíll go get it trimmed up and look nice when I get a chance to get back home. But I left straight from the woods to come down here and I havenít had time to get a haircut, so Iím sorry for my appearance. Next time Iíll be better looking, hopefully. Not better looking, maybe a little more cleaned up.Ē

YATES RACING DID NOT HAVE ANY DRIVER CHANCES DURING THE OFF-SEASON. FIRST, CAN YOU BELIEVE ALL THE CHANGES, AND, SECOND, HOW MUCH OF ADVANTAGE DOES YATES HAVE BECAUSE THERE WERE NO DRIVER CHANGES IN THE ORGANIZATION? ďI think youíre seeing a lot of changes in NASCAR and I think youíre going to continue to see more changes the more years that we go, and a lot of that is due to the Chase and the pressure there is to make the top 10, and when teams feel like they did make the top 10 they just donít want to keep both feet buried in the sand, they want to do something different, whether itís a driver change, crew-chief change, engineers, whatever. Every teamís looking for the right chemistry to make it work. Theyíll give it a couple years and if it doesnít work, theyíre going to do something else. Every sponsor wants to be in the Chase Ė every driver, every team owner Ė and it just doesnít happen. So youíve got to make changes and youíve got to take chances and see what happens. I donít think youíre going to see changes getting less, I think youíre going to see them getting more and more and more, and itís making our sport more competitive. ďBy the time five or six guys leave this organization and go to another one, they bring all the secrets with them and by the time these guys leave and go over there Ė pretty much every team in this sport knows what the other oneís doing. So it just brings the competition up to a higher level, it brings the competition, I think, more close to each other. So, when you donít make the top 10 you have to try some more things, and I think thatís just what youíre seeing in our sport. Itís so competitive nowadays youíve got to make changes sometime to see what happens. Thatís why I love driving for Robert Yates. Heís not afraid of making changes to see what happens. Heís not afraid of taking chances. And he wants to win, he wants to be upfront, he wants to sit on poles, lead laps, and if weíre not doing that he wants to try something different.Ē

HOW DID YOU PUT LAST YEAR BEHIND YOU? ďI think itís just a lot of things compounded on top of each other, and I think it was more not me with Todd, I think it was more Todd and the team. I think Todd and I today are still great, great friends. Just sometimes the chemistry is not there, and you can try to force people to work together, not in our case but in any case, what kind of sport, sometimes it just doesnít click. We had just not had the success last year that we thought we were going to have, that we thought we needed to have, and missing the top 10 was tough and hard to swallow, so we felt like we needed to do something different. Thereís no pointing fingers that itís this personís fault or that personís fault, we just didnít get the job done. And weíre at a point in time in our life, or in our career, or as a team that we need to try to do something. We need to try to get back in the ballgame and win races, so thatís why the changes were made. But, as for myself, I probably couldíve done a better job down the stretch. I think a lot of people on our team felt they couldíve done a better job down the stretch. This off-season has been a breath of fresh air for me to get away and get home and kind of clear my mind of everything thatís happened in the past, kind of put it in a filing cabinet to use as something I might have to use one day for experience to make sure I donít get myself in that problem again. I can sit here today and say Iím very optimistic, which everybody is, about the new year. I think I learned a lot as a person, last year, off the race track, not necessarily on the track, but things I can learn to use to be better prepared this year for each race. So, weíll see what happens.Ē

HOW HAVE YOU SEEN THE SPORT CHANGE FROM INSIDE THE CAR OVER THE PAST FEW YEARS? ďI think the sport is changing as Ė itís being more competitive. When I first started racing in it, there were five teams that could win a race, 15 teams that could be very, very competitive, and for a 500-mile race, you ran around for 300 miles, saving your equipment for the end. Now, you got 30 teams that can show every week that I think can win a race at any given time. A lot of times thereís people that win a race that you never really expect, they get hot, and then you got to run every lap like itís a qualifying lap. If not, youíre going to get lapped. Youíre going to fall to the back and then pit road is going to be full for you, things like that. Competition is going through the roof. I think our drivers are getting better, more talent is coming into the sport, I think our crew chiefs are being more innovative and really taking advantage of aerodynamics as well as chassis. Nobody heard about using aerodynamics as part of the car as much as we do 10 years ago. You didnít have that. All the front ends were slammed on the ground and spoilers were up in the air. So the crew chiefs are getting smarter, the drivers are getting better and that means the competition is getting better and theyíre more close together. So, I think, yes, drivers are having to change their driving styles, the ones that donít I think are going to fall behind. Because you have to drive the cars a lot looser than you used to with the spoilers like they are, and youíve got to drive the car hard, which means youíre more likely to make mistakes sometimes. But I think the sport is going in a very healthy direction as far as competition is concerned. ďNo sport wants to see the same sport win all the time or see the same race team win all the time. I think itís good for the sport to spread it around a little bit when you really donít know whoís going to win. I couldnít sit here today and tell you the odds-on favorite will be to win the championship this year when 10 years ago I could pick one or two cars and I was going to be pretty close, so I think thatís good for the sport.Ē

ON WHAT HE NEEDS TO DO IN 2006 TO IMPROVE. ďIíve got to be more knowledgeable as far as aerodymamic part of the race car. I was not as good last year with that as I needed to be. As far as springs and different things you could do to keep the car aero-wise balanced more, I was always worried about the chassis part of it, chassis part of it, when our sport is really making a swing and using more of the aero part of it. Thatís something my crew chief is helping me with and really giving me stuff that I can study getting me more in the know on whatís going on inside the car, and, of course, working with Ford more closely than we ever have, keeping our eyes open on that part of it, too. We know the new Fusion is going to be very good aerodynamic-wise, and me as a driver and us as a team we need to learn how to use it all the way to its fullest effect.Ē

WHAT DO MISS MOST ABOUT RACING WHEN YOUíRE HUNTING? ďTo be honest with you, when Iím in the woods hunting I donít know much about racing. Iím hunting. Thatís time away. I think if we carried racing with us all the time weíd be high strung and wound up more than we already are. When I go to Emporia, Virginia, Iím in Emporia, Virginia, and we donít talk about racing, we donít relate each track what we did right or what we did wrong, itís just time that I can spend with my family and my friends. I donít get to see my nieces that much during the season, or my mom and day, but thatís what we talk about when Iím at home.Ē

REGARDING THE ROUSH-YATES ENGINES, WHEN ROUSH DOES WELL AND THE YATES DOESNíT, ARE YOU INSPIRED, OR THE OPPOSITE? ďIt makes us want to work harder. I donít know if itís frustrating because I like to see Doug Yates motors run good, whether itís in our cars or Jacks cars. It lets us know that our motor package is there, which we already knew that anyway, we need to work on other areas. I think so far youíve seen the changes weíve had at Robert Yates Racing this winter, weíve had a lot of changes, and thatís one of the reasons why, because Roush has pretty much taken the same motor stuff we have and ran very well last year and had five cars in the Chase and won a bunch of races, and we just needed a chemistry change. No, weíre not looking at it hanging our heads and just going in the corner and pouting about it, weíre trying to make changes and weíre trying to work harder trying to close the gap up a little bit, so thatís what weíve done this winter. I can sit here right now and tell we think itís going to work, we think our teamís going to be better, but I really wonít be able to tell you until we get to Homestead, whether thatís going to happen or not. But I really like the organization that my team has right now and weíll see how it all affects us on the race track.Ē

The author can be contacted at nascar@autoracing1.com

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