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NASCAR MEDIA CONFERENCE
November 17, 2016
Q. Might as well start with the obvious thing. You're working with Mike Bumgarner this week after the lug nut issue in Phoenix. You worked with him before. How does he compare in style to Kevin?
ELLIOTT SADLER: No, I have not worked with Mike at the racetrack. But Mike, being a shop foreman, has his hands on our car every day. He's the guy that helps get these things prepared.
He and Kevin are good friends. They have the same personality. Communication‑wise, they both got the same type of speech pattern and things like that.
Anyway, as far as working with him, definitely it's going to be different, but feel like a lot of the same. He has the most experience of anybody we could pull from in the shop to come down here and give us the best opportunity to win.
He's ready for the challenge and he's looking forward to this weekend.
Q. When you ask to bring in a replacement crew chief on short notice, is something like mannerisms and tone of voice really crucial?
ELLIOTT SADLER: Yeah, we've already talked about that. I'm pretty sure he's already kind of gotten some insight from Kevin to different mannerisms that we have, especially during the race.
He'll be fine. He has experience. He's crew chiefed before. We'll be in good shape. It's all on me, my shoulders. I'm the quarterback, I'm the leader of the team. I know that Mike is going to feed off of me and follow my lead.
As long as I give him good information and stay calm in the seat, do my job as a driver, he's got plenty of tools to do everything we need to get done and make the right calls, do everything on pit road that needs to happen to give us an opportunity to win.
Q. Did you have any extra meetings with him this week? How did you prepare?
ELLIOTT SADLER: We've had a really good week. I feel like I'm in back in school again. We've had a really good week of preparation because it is a little bit different circumstances than what we've had the rest of the year.
But we've had some extra meetings, make sure our language is right, make sure we know the strategies we want to apply not only during the race, but also qualifying and practice, because it's the first time Mike and I are working together.
So we have a game plan. Kevin and I have been on the phone a lot this week, which we are anyway. But we've been on the phone extra time this week just to make sure we're all on the same page, the few things we want to cross off during practice and all, to get the car as good as we can.
Q. Is your mom still coming down?
ELLIOTT SADLER: She is. Look, I appreciate you asking about her. My mom and dad are coming down. They're coming down tonight. They're looking forward to this opportunity. They're coming to hopefully share a good moment.
But to see her travel and be here is definitely going to give me some inspiration on Saturday.
Q. Did the doctors say she could travel?
ELLIOTT SADLER: Her doctor is coming. My best friend in the world is actually our family doctor. He's here coming with her in case something happens. So it's pretty cool that one of your best friends is a doctor and can come down with her and be here with me in case something goes wrong.
Q. She's been in the hospital?
ELLIOTT SADLER: She has been in the hospital for a couple weeks. Gotten her energy back up, her strength back up. She was fired up this week. She wanted me to stay focused and make sure I had my head on straight when I came to Miami this morning. She came by to visit me last night to send me off on my way before I came down. She's back to her old ways. She wants her son to be focused. That's her text message I get before every race: Stay focused. That was the word I got last night before I left. So she's back to her old self.
Q. Do you read her text messages?
ELLIOTT SADLER: I try to listen to her text messages. She knows me better than anybody. It's going to be neat having her down here. We got a lot of good family and friends coming. She's definitely at the top of the list.
ELLIOTT SADLER: This is a gallbladder issue. She got septic issues. Her mental toughness through cancer, through breast cancer, being a survivor, going through what we've been through the last couple weeks, it's pretty inspirational for me. I need to have that same type of mental toughness in the racecar. Definitely drawing strength from her.
Q. Talk about your relationship with Dale to this point. What would a win here mean to both of you?
ELLIOTT SADLER: Oh, man, that would be good.
Dale and I have got a great relationship. He and I have known each other a long time. We raced against each other when we were teenagers and early 20s in the late models. We hung out a lot together in the late '90s. Thoroughly enjoyed each other's company. Now we feel like we've come full circle.
He's just a really good friend of mine. I've leaned on him a lot the last two months to get myself ready for this run for the championship. I talked to him a lot after the race at Phoenix. He and I stayed on the phone almost the whole night and the next day just getting prepared, getting ready.
He was at the shop first thing Monday morning to make sure we picked a good replacement to come crew chief the car, as well as being there in case we needed anything from him.
So seeing him being that much involved means a lot to me. I know he cares. He wants to see us do well. Of course, I want to do well for him and Kelley, as well.
Q. A lot of us assumed that Ryan would be the crew chief this weekend. Tell us about who Mike is and your relationship.
ELLIOTT SADLER: Right. It was their decision. When Dale and I talked about it, and Kevin, it was Kevin's decision on kind of who he felt most comfortable with on the box. I think it would have been unfair to take Ryan away from the other two teams. Justin is also trying to win a championship, the 88 with Alex also wants to finish strong. Ryan does a lot of going back and forth.
Bummy is the one guy in the shop that works on all of our cars, I mean, hands on, he physically knows what's going on with our racecars every single week before we go to the racetrack. As far as working on the cars, knowing what they want, knowing what's in them, he had the most experience.
He and Kevin have known each other from the Hendrick days. He's a big part of why our cars go fast, because of stuff he can do to them. He just seemed like the perfect fit for all of us to kind of stay on the same page, which way we're going as far as communication, attitude, being together. I think the biggest thing was the most hands‑on experience, Bummy had it.
Q. Saturday night the XFINITY season comes to an end. Sunday night Tony Stewart's career comes to an end. Do you plan on watching that race?
ELLIOTT SADLER: Of course, I'm going to watch that race. I'm going to pull for Jimmie Johnson to win his seventh championship. I'm going to watch Tony Stewart and see how he does. He and I were rookies of the year candidates together in 1999. He's a good friend of mine. To see a great career come to the end, I think it's always tough. But definitely wish him well.
But I'm definitely going to watch the race on Sunday. Who is not, man? With this format and anything goes, winner take all, it's such a great racetrack. We couldn't pick a better racetrack to have this race at. It's so multi‑groove, such good racing. I'm definitely looking forward to watching the race on Sunday.
Q. You're the only one here who has Chase experience, obviously a different format. How are you approaching this weekend?
ELLIOTT SADLER: We do have Chase experience. But that was a couple years ago. I'm pretty relaxed, man. We got to go out and do our job. I don't know why I'm so calm and relaxed about it this week. We're looking forward to it. We're going to put our best foot forward and see where the race takes us.
I think sometimes you can paint yourself in a corner if you try to overanalyze everything. We want to show up and do what we've been doing to get us in this position, see if we can make it happen.
Q. With Justin in the final four, what happens if it comes down to you two?
ELLIOTT SADLER: We're going to race each other hard, man. I've been asked that question before. You have two Gibbs teammates, and two JRM teammates.
Justin and I have been racing each other hard all year but being fair. We still communicate with each other very well. Our teams share a lot of information. We'll continue to do that all through the race on Saturday night.
Q. How much would this title mean to you with everything you've been through throughout your career?
ELLIOTT SADLER: Yeah, the title will mean a lot. I have been through a lot of ups and downs. Lucky to be here. Went through a time in my career I could have easily got pushed to the side and never been able to race again. To kind of battle back, put ourselves in this position again means a lot to me and my family. We want to go make the most of it.
Q. Does your mom tell you how to drive?
ELLIOTT SADLER: No, no. My dad does (laughter).
Q. She tells you to focus?
ELLIOTT SADLER: All my mom ever does is tell me to stay focused and you can do it. She's positive encouragement, which my wife is a school teacher. Ever since we've been married, I've learned a lot about positive encouragement. It's been good for me because I used to be Negative Nancy 10 years ago. I was always the glass is half empty. Now it's always half full. My dad tells me how to drive. My mom, Do your thing, stay focused, you can do it.
ELLIOTT SADLER: My son. Well, I'm going to tell you something. When my son was born, he had to have two surgeries. He was fighting for his life. He was in the NICU for 10 weeks. Stayed there every day all day until I had to leave to go race on the weekends.
To watch him fight for his life, not knowing if he was going to make it just changed my whole perception. Just built a fire in me not to be a failure. I want him to look up to me. I really looked at it, if I can see my son fight for his life the way he did, I sure as hell can fight to be a driver, a racecar driver, to be a champion.
His power to want to live and to still be here with us has given me a lot of drive as a person and as a driver. That's why I think I still eat, sleep, drink racing so much. I've kind of fed off him.
Q. Did your mom help you through that time at all?
ELLIOTT SADLER: Oh, God, yes. I was tore to pieces, you know. My first kid. It's a son. My parents' first grandson. They had all granddaughters. Then not knowing if he was going to make it. As soon as he was born, they rushed him to surgery. Then he had to have surgery again two weeks later. Worst thing in the world is being a dad, not knowing if your son is going to live or not. To watch him go through everything he did, incubated, shots, IVs, it was a tough time.
But definitely leaned on my mom a lot during that time just because she had been a parent, she understands what it's like to see your kids go through tough times. I lean on her a lot.
Q. After coming so close to winning the title a couple times already, how important would it be for you to win this? Is it now or never?
ELLIOTT SADLER: Well, I mean, I don't look at things as now or never. If I did, I would have quit a long time ago.
Yes, we have been close a couple times. We have finished second a couple times. I've made some mistakes that's taken me out of the championship picture.
I live each day as that day. I don't look at it as, Oh, man, my life is over if I don't win this championship this weekend. I look at it as, Hey, man, we have a great shot. We're one of four that has an opportunity to win the championship. We're going to give it our best. Whatever the finish positions are at the end is what it is.
But I think if you pile too much stuff on the outcome of one race, you're going to paint yourself in a corner. So we're staying pretty loose and pretty free about it. We're going to go ahead and race hard and give it all we got and see where the day takes us.
Q. For you guys in the XFINITY Series, you have the Kyle Busch rule kicking in next year. How do you feel about that?
ELLIOTT SADLER: I don't know. I hadn't really thought about it. I enjoy racing against all the Cup guys. I enjoyed growing up racing against Mark Martin, Dale Jarrett, Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip, Harry Gant, Jeff Burton, Ward Burton. We used to have 18, 19 guys in a field at a time. I kind of grew up in those days.
I haven't really looked at it that much as far as what that's going to bring or the effects of it. I just wish that, you know, the XFINITY Series does a really good job of branding our drivers, giving us attention. That's definitely good for the sport and good for our sponsors.
As far as how it's going to affect the racing next year and all that, I'm not smart enough to figure that out yet. I'm going to kind of watch it just like you guys are and see where it takes us.
Q. On the outside looking in, I watched that 2001 season, you and Dale Jr., you guys are buddies. He's been through a tough year. What would it mean for you to bring him home a championship?
ELLIOTT SADLER: We talked about that. He and I had a great discussion. It was the Tuesday before Darlington when all the stuff was coming out about him going to sit out the rest of the year. He and I had a great heart‑to‑heart talk over the phone about what he was going through, the way our season was going, what we needed to do to get ready for the Chase.
He's got a lot of good friends in that race shop. Junior Motorsports means a lot to Dale. Kevin worked for Dale for such a long period of time. So did Tyler, my car chief. A lot of those guys came from Hendrick Motorsports that were working with Dale. He's definitely personally invested in our race team.
We want to do good for him. Hardest thing in the world is not being in your racecar because of different circumstances. So we know he's going through a lot. It took a real man to take a step back like he is. So we want to do a good job for him. We think he deserves it. We love him being our owner. We got to make the most of it.
Q. Do you have a Tony Stewart story?
ELLIOTT SADLER: Yes.
Q. Can you tell us?
ELLIOTT SADLER: I mean, I got a lot of Tony Stewart stories. I think the neatest story of Tony Stewart is he won the Rookie of the Year in 1999. We were both Rookie of the Year candidates. At the end of the season he came and goes, All right, we got to switch helmets.
You don't want mine. Why do you want my helmet, you won three races, you're the Rookie of the Year.
Yeah, I always switch helmets with people I'm racing the same year.
He took my Ford Motorcraft helmet, I took his Home Depot helmet. I still have it in my showroom at home. I had to put a sign up because I got tired of so many people asking me questions why I had a Tony Stewart helmet.
But I thought that was neat that he always gets helmets and switches helmets with people that he races with. I got the first one of him being Rookie of the Year in 1999. I still have it to this day and told him I will never sell it, I'll never get rid of it. Any day you want it back for your collection, it's there.
That's one Tony Stewart story I can share with you.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports