Trying season can’t stop Stadler

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Associated Press
July 9, 2009
— Elliott Sadler’s season has been about as bumpy as a lap around Daytona International Speedway.

He threatened a lawsuit to keep his ride, nearly won the season-opening Daytona 500 and endured all sorts of changes, cutbacks and layoffs at Richard Petty Motorsports. But Sadler remains upbeat, even with the team’s uncertain future with Dodge.

Why? Because he believes things are about to turn.

“We just need some momentum, we need a little change of direction, we need something really good to happen to this race team,” Sadler said.

Coming off his second 10th-place finish in the last three weeks, Sadler has reason to be optimistic heading into this weekend’s race at Chicago. It also helps that some of his favorite racetracks—Indianapolis, Pocono, Michigan and Bristol—are on the horizon.

Nonetheless, Sadler realizes he’s a long shot to make the Chase for the championship. He’s 23rd in points, well behind the 12th-place cutoff, but not far enough back to give up on the season.

“I’ve still got some unfinished business for this year,” Sadler said. “We’re not too far from 20th, but we need to have some good luck and run as good as we can each and every week.

“Right now, 2010 seems like 10 years away for me. I feel like we still have a lot of racing to do this year before we drop this season and work on next.”

No one, including Sadler, knows what might happen between now and next season.

RPM laid off nine employees last month and reduced salaries throughout the organization, a byproduct of Chrysler’s bankruptcy filing. RPM took the measures because of anticipated cutbacks from Dodge, a subsidiary of Chrysler.

RPM is in the final year of its contract with Dodge, and the team is widely believed to be trying to negotiate a switch to Toyota in 2010. Petty declined to address the speculation last week at Daytona.

RPM currently fields Cup cars for Sadler, Kasey Kahne, Reed Sorenson and AJ Allmendinger, who are all signed through 2010. The team has funded Allmendinger’s car largely out of pocket all year, and has only committed to run it through the 26th race.

Now that financial backing from Dodge has become a concern, the organization could scale back even more—maybe even drop a team—at any time.

“If you go through some of those bad times, you go through some of that tough stuff and you go through some of that adversity, it makes you appreciate the good weekends even more,” Sadler said.

The good weekends, however, have been scarce.

Sadler finished fifth at Daytona in February, but went the next 14 races without another top-10 finish.

Maybe it took that long to get over his near-win at Daytona. Sadler moved to the front just as the rain neared the superspeedway, all he needed to do was hang onto the lead for another lap.

He couldn’t do it. Matt Kenseth passed Sadler just before the final caution and was declared the winner when NASCAR called the race 20 minutes later.

“I was literally 15 or 16 seconds away from becoming Daytona 500 champion,” Sadler said. “That’s pretty hard to swallow. I still think about it a lot, ‘What if? What if I would have done this different? What if I would have done that different? What if the rain had come a little earlier?’ That was tough to swallow.”

With Allmendinger (third) and Sorenson (ninth) also in the top 10 at Daytona, it was the best showing in years for Petty’s team. It also was a soothing start following a tumultuous offseason, during which Sadler threatened a lawsuit to stop Gillett Evernham Motorsports from dumping him in favor of Allmendinger.

GEM, which later merged with Petty, worked out a deal to keep both. Sadler said time and Tom Reddin’s resignation in May as Petty CEO have eased the tension.

NASCAR out to suspend Mayfield again

NASCAR on Wednesday asked an appeals court to ban Jeremy Mayfield from racing, alleging the participation of “a proven methamphetamine user” could lead to fatal consequences for other competitors and fans.

NASCAR wants the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn U.S. District Court Judge Graham Mullen’s decision last week to lift Mayfield’s indefinite suspension following a positive drug test.

Mayfield attorney John Buric scoffed at the idea Mayfield is a potential danger and revealed the driver was tested twice Monday—once at an independent laboratory and once at his home by NASCAR.

“He’s not a danger, and they have the right to test him anytime to find that out,” Buric said. “In fact, they did test him on Monday night at his home. A group of people went to his home and watched him pee in a cup. It was humiliating.”

Mayfield was suspended May 9 for failing a random drug test eight days earlier. NASCAR has said he tested positive for methamphetamine, but Mayfield has denied using the illegal drug.

NASCAR’s appeal did not mention the most recent random test, but NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston confirmed Mayfield was tested Monday evening.

Buric and NASCAR differed on what exactly happened during the seven-plus hours between the time Mayfield was asked to report for testing and when NASCAR collected a sample—a lag time the program administrator called “a classic case of delay tactics used by someone who doesn’t want to be tested.”

Stewart gives new Indy tires a thumbs-up

Two-time Allstate 400 winner Tony Stewart says he’s confident Goodyear has solved the tire problems that plagued last year’s race at the Brickyard.

Stewart was among the drivers who participated in Goodyear’s seven test sessions at the track since last year, when the problems turned the race into a series of 10- to 12-lap sprints. Stewart says he was able to run about 30 laps on the new tires during the tests.

and he’s “not at all” concerned about their durability.

The July 26 race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway will be the first for Stewart as both driver and team owner.

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