Elliott Sadler may not be the fastest driver in the garage, but he demonstrated on Thursday why he is a fan favorite.
Elliott's Richard Petty Motorsports teammate, A.J. Allmendinger, had a bit of a shock when he arrived at Daytona for Speedweeks. Because of all the owner point swapping, the new driver of the No. 44 Dodge suddenly found himself outside the top 35, and not guanteed a starting spot in the Daytona 500.
"...that was one of the big reasons Valvoline signed on (as sponsor). They thought they were in the 500," said Allmendinger. "Coming down here to learn they weren't was tough."
So Allmendinger promised Valvoline that he would race his way in to the Daytona 500. A promise he might not have been able to fulfill if not for his teammates—Sadler and Reed Sorenson.
"I think early in the race Elliott had a chance to be up front. It looked like he had a chance to go win the race. I watched him fall back to come back to me," said Allmendinger.
"I dropped back and helped him," Sadler added. "... trying to do everything I could as a good teammate to get him in the Daytona 500. That's what good teammates do."
Allmendinger went on to make the Daytona 500 based on his finish in the second of the Gatorade Dual races.
This could be a nice, feel-good story about new teammates in a newly reoganized organization learning to work together. What makes this a great story that is catching media attention is the preseason history between Sadler and Allmendinger.
Just six short weeks ago, before the merger which brought in a fourth car, Gillette Evernham Motorsports had decided to replace Sadler with Allmendinger, despite the fact that Sadler's contract doesn't expire until 2010. Sadler threatened legal action against both GEM and Allmendinger. Sadler kept his seat in the No. 19, and Allmendinger was added to drive the No. 44 once the merger with Petty Enterprises was complete.
I wonder what it must be like to go to work every day for an organization who tried to get rid of you.
Elliott Sadler insists there are no hard feelings with Allmendinger. "We sat down when we first got down here—our buses are parked beside each other—and said, 'Look, we need to work together. We need to help each other. Let bygones be bygones.'"
"You've got to be a man about these things," Sadler continued. "Kasey Kahne is the flagship driver of Richard Petty Motorsports. But I'm the most experienced, the oldest...been here the longest. If I don't lead by example and set good ways for the drivers to go by, who will? A lot of times you have to be the bigger man—race the way that's not only good for you but your company—and hopefully everyone will benefit in the future. That's what I did [Thursday]."
Allmendinger chimes in, "Like I've said from day one, I've never had a problem with Elliott. I think he's a great race car driver. He's a great teammate. Obviously, there was a lot of stuff that happened over the last two months. Honestly, it was probably out of both of our hands. Really, neither of us could do anything about it. We happened to be the two guys put in the middle."
Elliott Sadler has something to prove this year; does he deserve to stay in the No. 19? Only time will tell if his finishes will improve from the last two years. However, if Richard Petty Motorsports needs a driver who will be a team player, they need to look no further.
*All quotes taken from NASCAR.com*