BROOKLYN, Mich. - When the field for Sunday's Sirius 400 race sweeps around the track at Michigan International Speedway, Elliott Sadler will be doing what he does best - hunting and driving a stock car.
Sadler will have his hands on the steering wheel, but he also will be doggedly hunting for the leaders.
The native of rural Virginia has had a life-long passion for hunting that likely pre-dates his affinity for pushing a car around an oval track at around 200 miles an hour. The instincts honed in each sport sort of meld to make Sadler better at both.
“I'm just a big deer hunter - probably about the biggest deer hunter in the United States,” Sadler said between runs while tweaking his No. 38 Ford for the MIS race.
“We hunt about 50,000 acres of land back home and I love it. It is just nice to get out in the woods and get away from the phone. I sleep in a barn for about seven or eight weeks each year and do a lot of deer hunting with my family and friends I grew up with.
“Everybody has their own little thing they like to do, and that is what I like to do.”
When he's not on the track, that is.
He is 19th in the Winston Cup points standings coming into the first MIS race of the summer, and feels like the spate of misfortune his Robert Yates team has encountered in the first 14 races of the season is the only thing that has kept him out of the top 10.
“I think things are finally coming together. We have gelled as a team,” Sadler said. “We've had some very, very fast race cars this year; we've just had some terrible luck.
“It just seems like anything that can happen bad, man it has really happened to us. We've been in wrecks we shouldn't have been in, a blown motor, a blown tire, got in somebody's oil on the track - all of them were top-five finishes when something happened.”
Sadler, who tested his car at MIS last week, said he expects to put all of that behind him and start a second-half surge at MIS.
“I hope at Michigan we answer some questions we've been dealing with, and kind of get a direction to go in. I'm so proud of these guys on this crew - we have been so fast off the truck, we've been qualifying very well, the best I've ever qualified at a lot of these places. Things are going well, but we've got a lot of areas we still need to work on.”
Sadler said he has benefited tremendously from his association with veteran Dale Jarrett on the Yates team. Jarrett's advice and counsel have given Sadler a highly optimistic outlook on his season and career.
“The biggest difference this yeas is that now I have somebody to lean on,” Sadler said. “Dale Jarrett is one of the nicest guys I've ever met, and everything you run into, he's been there and done that.
“He's won races, won a championship. Now each week when I go to the track I have somebody to bounce ideas off of.
“It has made me a better race car driver. I am twice as good a driver this year as I have ever been, because I have somebody to lean on and I have the right mindset when I get to the race track. If I'm struggling with any- thing, I can go to him and he can ease my mind. so I can concentrate on racing. Having a teammate has made a huge difference.”
Sadler was a star high school basketball player in Virginia and was headed to play for James Madison on a scholarship when he tore up his knee and ended his competitive playing career. He said he quickly changed his direction and has made racing his professional passion.
“I have the ambition and the focus to try to make it in NASCAR Winston Cup. It's something that has driven me for a long time. I've been racing a little over 20 years, and I'm only 28 years old, so this is really all I know.
“I've given up a lot of things in my life to try to get me to this point, just to make sure that when I stepped in a Robert Yates car that I was going to have the focus and determination it takes to become a Winston Cup winner.”
Sadler said he has remained confident, despite the flurry of woes his team has encountered through the first 14 races of the season.
“We're just so disgusted right now. We definitely should be in the top 10 in points, but certain things have just killed us,” Sadler said.
Sadler's crew likes its chances on the wide-open MIS layout, where Ford's advantage in horsepower can translate into a significant edge.
“I haven't been that great at this track, but the guys on the team are all fired up about how we can run here, with the horsepower we have,” Sadler said.
Sadler will approach the race just as he has every other one, and just like he approaches a day spent hunting in the woods. He has the knowledge, the know-how and the right equipment to achieve success. The rest is up to him - and luck.
“No matter what I am doing, I just try to use the talent that the great Lord has given me.”