Elliott Sadler has spent the last three years mulling over a mistake in the 2009 Daytona 500, wondering if he'd ever get a chance to redeem himself.
And when he had no ride for last year's 500, Sadler began to think he wouldn't have a shot at the redemption and glory he so craves. But an offseason phone call from his friend and Nationwide Series team owner Richard Childress changed all that.
Sadler will drive Richard Childress Racing's No. 33 car in the 'Great American Race' and has a locked-in spot thanks to Clint Bowyer's points from last year.
He plans to work with Jeff Burton during the race and figures to have a realistic shot at winning the whole thing.
"It would make my life, man," Sadler said.
Sadler said he can't get over the 2009 race because a small mistake cost him the chance to be a Daytona 500 champion for life.
In that race, Sadler was leading as rain approached. On what turned out to be the final lap of green-flag racing, Sadler let Matt Kenseth slip by him. A caution then came out due to a wreck, and the race was eventually red-flagged due to rain and never restarted.
That gave the win to Kenseth and denied Sadler of achieving his childhood dream.
"To tell you I don't think about it, I'd be lying through my teeth at you," Sadler said.
The circumstances have haunted Sadler ever since. But a phone call from Childress gave him renewed hopes of a Daytona 500 win.
Childress typically calls Sadler once or twice per week to talk about hunting, ask how Sadler's family is doing or ask the veteran driver's opinion of a team decision.
Around the start of the new year, though, Childress left Sadler an urgent message: "Hey, I need to talk to you."
"I didn't know if that was good or bad," Sadler said.
But Childress was calling with some very good news.
"He just said, 'Would you be interested in running the Daytona 500 if I could find sponsorship?'" Sadler recalled, chuckling at his own reaction. "I was like, 'Hell yes! Yes sir! I would love to.'
"He said, 'Well, we're talking to some people. We're going to use your name and see if they want to do this deal. I think you could go down there and win that damn race.' And I was like, 'Yes sir!'"
Childress built him a brand new car – sponsored by General Mills and Kroger – for next Sunday's race, and Sadler is optimistic he can go all-out for the victory.
"I would love to win this race," Sadler said. "... We come down here to win the race."