NASCAR Media Conference
April 4, 2007
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, and welcome to the second day of Car of Tomorrow NASCAR Nextel Cup series testing at Richmond International Raceway.
We are going to start the teleconference today with Elliott Sadler, driver of the No. 19 Dodge Dealers UAW Dodge. Elliott is, of course, from nearby Emporia. It's great to have him here.
Currently you're 14th in points. Never too early to start talking about that 12th place position. You're 11 points out of that 12th place spot. Tell us your feelings on the tests today and yesterday. Tell us how it's going.
ELLIOTT SADLER: Just glad to be here at Richmond. Like you said, growing up here in southern Virginia, coming here as a fan when it was a half mile, and I was actually here the day they made it a three-quarter-mile track. It's always special every time I get to come up here.
We're having a pretty good test. The car is pretty good on long runs, and that's what we've been working on the last two days. Of course the Car of Tomorrow is just a different animal than anything we've had here in the past, so we're just trying to figure out what it wants here at Richmond International and Goodyear brought a different tire back this year than what we had last year.
So just getting a lot of data, but we've had beautiful weather and we've learned some good things. Right now we feel pretty comfortable about our car and our chances when we come back.
THE MODERATOR: You've been coming here since you were a kid. Talk about the new grandstands.
ELLIOTT SADLER: That's awesome. I heard about it at Martinsville but they didn't tell me it was that high. I kind of want to walk to the top of it but I'm scared of heights. I might watch the Busch race from up there.
It's definitely a great addition here to a magnificent raceway anyway, and it's pretty tall. It's neat. It's an awesome addition.
Richmond has always been a fan-friendly racetrack, it's always sold out, it's always great racing. If you talk to every driver in the garage, I think 95 percent of them will say this is their favorite racetrack just because it creates great racing. It's going to be the same.
It's getting like the old Richmond. It's getting nice and gray; cars are sliding around a lot. That's going to bring in a lot of different grooves, and I think these race fans are going to see a great race when we come back.
Q. So you see the Car of Tomorrow producing very similar type racing?
ELLIOTT SADLER: We'll see. We're definitely learning more as a whole, as NASCAR I think officials and team owners and drivers and everything alike learn more about this Car of Tomorrow every time we race it. By the time we race it at Phoenix, by the time we finish the testing the last two days, by the time we get back we'll have a good handle on the Car of Tomorrow.
I think you can pretty much race anything here around Richmond and create some good side-by-side racing. I think you won't be disappointed with it when we come back.
Q. To the man, most drivers that have talked about this car said it's difficult to get it to turn the corners. As drivers, are you guys surprised that's something that maybe wasn't addressed a little more in the development of this car before it was turned over to you guys?
ELLIOTT SADLER: Well, this is a very frustrating car from what we're used to. As a driver with the old car, if the car is a little bit tight, you can make it a little bit loose. If the car is a little bit loose, you can do things inside the car to make it a little bit tight. This is what you've got is what you've got. If the car is tight, it's just going to be tight. If the car is loose, it's just going to be loose.
It's a very frustrating vehicle. I think, one, because it's new and it's something like I've ever driven before and it's something like my guys have ever worked on before so we've got a lot to learn about the Car of Tomorrow.
I think when you hear guys lash out against the Car of Tomorrow they're just frustrated because it's something new. They haven't hit a home run with it yet maybe like Jimmie and some of the other guys have. It's just a frustrating car.
Today I've been very frustrated with it. We've got to get it to turn. If we get the car to turn, then I think it's going to be the best when we come back here for the night race. It definitely offers a lot of hard work, and the splitters are something new that we've never worked with. I wish they could raise the splitter up a little bit. Trying to find ways on the racetrack to bend it up some before the race starts and it might help me out a little bit.
It's just frustrating because it's new to us and we all want to jump right in this race car and be fast right off the bat, and it's just not going to happen for everybody.
Q. Unleaded fuel, did NASCAR explain what the reasoning was behind changing to it, and do you think ultimately it's going to be good for the sport?
ELLIOTT SADLER: I think it's going to be good for the sport. I mean, that's what everybody puts in their cars every single day when they're going back and forth to work. I think it's definitely good. We had to make the change I think one day, and it just happened to be this year.
We're all going through some things as far as -- it doesn't coat the parts as much as leaded fuel used to, so they've got to spend some money and do some extra testing this winter to get some things figured out. We really haven't had many motor problems here the last two weeks, so I think a lot of the engine builders are figuring this deal out, and I think it'll be better for us in the long run.
We learned some things about it, it burns a lot hotter, it makes the exhaust heat a little hotter, so we'll put a couple extra coatings and pads and stuff under the seat to help with heat, and everything should be fine.
Q. Just talk about your start. I mean, are you happy where you are? You got the races last year at the end of the year. Talk about where you are.
ELLIOTT SADLER: I'm happy where we are because we've just had a couple bad luck races and a couple things happen to us. We're only sitting a few points out of the Top 12. So where we're sitting at, we're in pretty good shape.
My teammates are in two really deep, deep holes, and I look at them and see what they're going through and see how much worse or how much emptier the glass could be.
But right now we're not too far out. We've got some strong tracks coming up for Elliott Sadler that fit my driving style as far as Darlington is concerned, as far as Texas is concerned, and Darlington and places like that, Charlotte. So we're sitting in a pretty good position. I think we're learning a lot, and I think we're going to make the Car of Tomorrow a little bit better for us.
We had it really figured out at Bristol. I think we had a first or second place car there. So we're going to get stronger. We're very new as a team, and I think we're sitting in pretty good shape right now.
Q. You're a Virginia boy. Talk about Ricky Rudd going into the state Hall of Fame. They haven't paid that much attention to racing and now Ricky is going in for Virginia. Talk about what that means for him to go in.
ELLIOTT SADLER: I think it's great. I think growing up in Virginia as a race car driver we all looked up to people like Ricky Rudd and Ward Burton and Jeff Burton and Curtis Turner and the Wood brothers and people from this area, Junie Donlavey, people like that, that have been a part of this sport a long time and have sunk a lot of their time and money into it, and coming from this state it means a lot to me.
So congratulations to Ricky. He's still going strong and still a great competitor and a great guy. You know, he's led the way for a lot of us coming through this area, coming from Virginia. We've got a lot of good owners and drivers and crew members and stuff that come from Virginia.
Being that Richmond and Martinsville are pretty much sold out every time we race at them shows what kind of race fans we have in this commonwealth, also.
Q. Would it be fair to say that the challenges that Evernham has been experiencing relate a lot around the Car of Tomorrow, or are there others that you kicked off the first part of the year?
ELLIOTT SADLER: We're being challenged in every different way. Seems like certain teams have really hit it. Hendrick has really raised the bar for this Car of Tomorrow. We knew this going in. We said this last October, September, October, a team that's going to hit this Car of Tomorrow is really going to shine for the first five or six months until everybody else catches up, and right now it seems to be Hendrick Motorsports has really hit on it. They've really raised the bar and caused some problems for other teams.
We're working hard at it. We haven't hit it yet but it's not by lack of effort. Casey has had some terrible luck and so has Scott, and we really feel they're not only trying to dig out of a hole not only in points but also as far as getting some more data and trying to figure out these Cars of Tomorrow a little quicker than we have been.
Q. When you win all the time people are tough on you, so Jimmie Johnson in the commercial with the trophy, and some people are taking it so seriously, and the fans who don't like him are saying, how can he do Elliott like that, and I just would love your reaction to the making of that commercial and how it appears.
ELLIOTT SADLER: I think it's one of the funniest commercials ever made. Jimmie and I had to do 30 takes on it because every time the guy walked up, I just busted out laughing. It's like I told Tylenol, you know what, and when I have deals with people like that, I want to use my true personality. I mean, that's me. I don't care if I'm the fall guy in the commercial. I think it's pretty cool.
Nextel, with that commercial -- Tylenol has got I think the funniest commercial you've ever seen in your life coming out. We just filmed it last week, and me and Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson and Dale, Jr., and Jeff Gordon are in it but they filmed on a different date. We were crying, I mean, crying laughing for a couple hours at a time trying to film it. It took all day to film it because Kevin and I, we kept messing it up.
I can't wait for the fans -- I like the race fans to get to see the lighter side of some of our personalities. We're always so busy at the racetrack, always so focused. You know, I don't mind being the fall guy or the idiot or the guy that gets the joke played on him in the commercials. That's who I am. I laugh. I can laugh at myself with the best of them.
Q. There are stories out this morning that John Darby said last night that NASCAR will ask y'all to remove the foam padding from the right side and install a heat shield. Have they told y'all about it? What do you know about it and what do you think of it? Is it something that needs to go out until they can figure it out, and are they ordering complete removal or do they mean remove and replace?
ELLIOTT SADLER: I think what they're meaning is to just raise it up off the exhaust pipes. Everybody runs the exhaust pipes off the right side, and with 1,200 degree temperatures it was just melting the foam and catching on fire and causing different types of fumes and stuff inside the car.
Evernham Motorsports had already saw that happening with all the testing that we done and we had already moved out so we hadn't had any problems with it. We had already taken that step, and now other teams just have to catch up with us on that.
That foam is there for our protection but it was getting hotter than I think what they had anticipated. Not going to be a lot of problems, not going to take a lot of time for each team to do that, and it should be safer for all the drivers.
Q. But the foam stays in, it doesn't go out for a while until they can figure it out? It just moves, it doesn't go out? It's not removed?
ELLIOTT SADLER: Right, it is not removed. It is the full length of the door, toward the beginning part of the door and toward the end of it, both the exhaust pipes, we're just cutting out probably the bottom half, half of the door from say the seam line of the door down to the exhaust pipes will not have any foam in it and then the top half will still have it. It's almost shaped like an L.
Q. It was written earlier this week or late last week maybe that Ray is overextended with three cars, the fact that he's looking for a partner. Do you sense any desperation or anything in the team with Casey and Scott having such rotten luck? Talk a little bit about what it's been like around the team.
ELLIOTT SADLER: Yeah, I don't see Ray outstretching himself. I think he's a very competitive person. He works at the shop 12 hours a day. I talk to him probably two or three times a day. We talk about different ideas, not only about our team but about the 10 and the 9.
He's frustrated just like the rest of us, but I don't see any desperation there. We're going along, clockwork as scheduled at Evernham Motorsports. We've got people doing R & D stuff all the time, we've got testing going along all the time, we're going along as planned.
It's just sometimes things change. This Car of Tomorrow is a little bit different, the Goodyear tires we're running this year are a little bit different, and we're just playing a little bit of catch-up right now.
I think that Casey and Scott pretty much don't have any more room left for a while for errors. Those guys both got to get hot and get some momentum going to get back in the middle of this thing.
We all feel that, it's pressure. As far as looking for partnerships, you know, I wouldn't want to be a car owner in this day and age, especially this year with the expense of the Car of Tomorrow, with the new engineering help on that. The unleaded fuel has caused some extra spending to get the motor stuff right. Right now it's probably not a great time to be a car owner, so a lot of different great car owners that have been in the sport a long time are looking for investors to come in and put some more money in circulation where we can keep up with the Joneses next door and keep spending and keep testing and keep making our race team better.
Q. How far removed do you feel from '04, making the Chase, then changing teams, struggling to stay in the top 35, and now really being competitive again? Do you sometimes look back to '04, making the Chase as kind of a reminder of, hey, I can do it in this sport?
ELLIOTT SADLER: Yeah, I really feel like I can do it as a driver. I mean, making it in '04 and barely missing it in '05 showed me both sides of the spectrum of how happy you can be and how it's sad and how much you can beat yourself can be.
I pretty much try to forget last year's season. It was just a tough season all the way around and I try to leave that out of my head as much as I can and relate back to the things I did right and wrong in '04 and '05.
I just want to be a good driver that finishes a lot of laps, keeps my DNFs down, and the races we think we can win or run in the Top 5 I want that to happen. The races I think are 15th or 20th place finish is what we need to get all the points we can, then I want that to happen.
I'm trying to be a smart race car driver. I've got nine years of experience now and I want to be around at the end of every single race and get maximum points that we can, whether we lead a lap or not or get a Top 5 or not, get every point that we can each and every week, and then we'll see where the chips fall when we get here in September.
Q. Just another question related to the smoldering foam. I'm wondering -- it sounds like you never really had that problem in the first two races, but I'm wondering, the fact that other drivers did, you know, does that give you any concern going forward that there might be some other unintended consequences of some of these safety elements on the Car of Tomorrow that might kind of rear up?
ELLIOTT SADLER: Well, I mean, we've had some different concerns, of course, with this Car of Tomorrow. Like you said, it's all you guys, it's new to us, it's new to our engineers, it's new to NASCAR. I think we're all going to learn as we go forward. NASCAR learned about the foam getting too hot.
I talked to Dale Jarrett after his wreck at Bristol, and he got hit so hard it knocked the front and rear clip actually off the car where he couldn't repair it enough to get it back on there. That's something that it's made to do, to protect the drivers, but sometimes if you get in a bad wreck you might not be able to repair your car to get back out.
There's different hurdles that you're going to, I think, have to leap over and you're going to learn about in the COT car. Of course there's going to be other things that come up. Brake issues at Martinsville, we had a couple cars have brake issues. We hadn't seen brake issues in a couple years there.
So it's going to be something new every time we come out that's going to be different about this until we learn every different thing about it. I feel my guys at Evernham have done a good job of making it safe. We feel like we've gone a good job as far as the foam, as far as -- we heard about exhaust pipe problems at Bristol. We tested the Car of Tomorrow so much at Evernham that we actually made ours heavier and stronger so we wouldn't have that problem. We saw cracking and stuff starting to appear while we were testing this winter, and we actually bit the bullet, made the car heavier but made it safer for Casey, Scott and myself.
There's certain things called preventive maintenance that you can take as a team, but it's also going to be some surprises, too, but we're all going to learn together because it's definitely a different animal.
Q. Everything is question after question with this new Car of Tomorrow. A lot of the drivers say the toughest thing really is getting comfortable with the car, working much closer with the pit crew, and explaining every single detail. Do you feel the same way, and explain to the fans when you're out there testing how you have to explain every single detail to your pit crew.
ELLIOTT SADLER: Yeah, it's definitely a lot different. Like I said before, it's a different animal. It's going to take different things to make it work. I mean, no matter what you're racing as a driver, you need to explain every detail you can to your crew, especially on race weekend when you have no computers, you have no data to give back to these guys, you've got to be very skeptical of everything going around you with the race car, very observant of it and give them all the information you can to make the car better.
I don't think it's really a Car of Tomorrow thing, I think that's just always been a part of racing, and the drivers that give the best information back to the crew and work better together usually have better success on Sunday.
THE MODERATOR: Elliott, you are free to go. Thank you for your time.
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