Our series of weekly interviews with drivers outside the top 12 in points comes to an end for this season, concluding with Elliott Sadler. Currently at Richard Petty Motorsports, Sadler is expected to announce his future plans this month. SB Nation sat down with Sadler at Atlanta.
What's the best race you've ever driven?
ES: I felt like one of the best jobs I ever did was when I finished second in the Daytona 500 to Ward Burton (in 2002). We qualified like 47th or 48th with that car and worked with it all week and got it to where it was handling pretty good. Felt like I did a pretty good job, got in the right line at the right time and finished second for that race.
Who do you think is the most talented driver in NASCAR?
ES: Tony Stewart. Just no matter what he drives, whether it's an open-wheel car, a dirt car, a Nationwide car, a Cup car or a whatever he's in, he's fast.
When is the best time for a fan to approach you for an autograph during a race weekend?
ES: I think any time on race morning. You know, a couple hours before the race when we're out doing appearances and meet-and-greets, that's the best time for race fans to get their favorite's autograph. Maybe (when we're) going into the drivers' meeting, something around that time frame.
What's something fans may not know or understand about you based on what they've seen on TV?
ES: That's a good question. I don't know, because I try to be straightforward with all my interviews. I don't try to be somebody I'm not.
One thing about it is I do have a short temper and a short fuse, but I try to be mature about that on TV and not show it. That's probably the biggest thing I try to keep to myself – my raw emotions when things are going bad.
Except when Ryan Newman wrecked me (in the 2002 All-Star race). I threw my helmet, and $10,000 later, I figured out I'd better not throw my helmet anymore (laughs).
What's the worst track on the circuit?
ES: Wow. Worst place we go to? I can say this: Pocono – because they need to put up SAFER barriers and keep up with the times. See, now I have a reason to say that (after his terrifying wreck there last month). It's 2010, it's not 1975. Keep up with the times. If you get two NASCAR races a year, you should be able to afford to put in the right safety equipment.
Who is one driver you especially admire outside of NASCAR?
ES: I tell you what, I'm a huge World Of Outlaws fan. People like Donnie Schatz, Joey Saldana, Danny Lasoski, Steve Kinser – I mean, they haul butt. And they're awesome drivers. They drive them things out of control, no spotters, no rear-view mirrors. They just race so hard for these 20- and 30-lap features. I've looked up to what those guys do and think it's pretty cool.
Ideally, how long would you want your career to last?
ES: I do not think I'll drive at Mark Martin age, but I'd love to drive until I'm about 41 or 42 (Sadler is 35 now). Then after that, it's not that I won't be in shape or won't be able to do it anymore, I just feel like maybe it'll be time for another chapter in my life to begin, with kids and family and stuff like that.
When you get home from a long race weekend, what's the first thing you do when you walk in the door?
ES: First thing I do is actually sit on the couch and relax, and probably cook a nice supper. Maybe sit on the back deck of the house and kind of take it all in that I'm back home. I feel like don't have to rush or go do anything now that I'm home. Sunday night is a night of relaxing, finding something on TV and being a couch potato.
Who wins the Sprint Cup in 2015?
ES: Kasey Kahne. Do I get money for that if I get it right? I'll tell y'all what – Kasey Kahne in a Hendrick car...he's gonna be tough. SBN: Will that be his first championship? ES: Mm-hmm.
If you were in charge of NASCAR, what's one thing you'd change?
ES: I would have a traveling safety and fire team that went with us to every race, if I could change one thing. Just so it's the same people getting you out of the cars every time, the same people that work on you every time, the same nurses, same doctors, same everything. Then you know who they are, and they know not to grab you and pull on you and stuff like that. Anytime you're in a tough situation, you're more comfortable with a familiar face than a stranger.
If a new driver came to you and asked one driver he should learn from and one driver he shouldn't, who would those people be?
ES: That's a really good question. I learned from Dale Jarrett and Mark Martin – especially Dale Jarrett. He's no longer in the sport, so a guy like Mark Martin would be great, just because he's got a lot of time and knowledge of the sport. He's a straight shooter and he's not going to lie to you. Anybody who's going to be truthful and honest with you, definitely go talk to them.
I wouldn't go to Juan Pablo Montoya because he don't understand what I'm saying and I can't understand what he's saying. (laughs) But other than that, I think everybody's OK.
Would you rather be known as a great driver or a great person?
ES: Wow. I'd rather be known as a great person. After driving is over with and you don't have that any more, I don't want to be known as a jerk that was a great race car driver. You don't have to be a jerk to be a great driver.
Jimmie Johnson is the perfect example. He's setting records as a champion, and he's one of the nicest guys you've ever met in your life. So that's a great role model to be: You can get the job done, but you can also be a nice guy at the same time.