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Coming home, Sadler hopes to ride the momentum

Posted: Friday, April 16, 2004

MARTINSVILLE, Va. A second career victory has encouraged Elliott Sadler to think about more than just winning races.

''This was exactly what we needed to build our confidence, build equity in this team and chase that championship,'' Sadler said, alluding to his win in Texas. ''You might see a whole new Elliott Sadler behind the wheel.''

Sadler is fifth in Nextel Cup points, and would like to move up even higher Sunday at Martinsville Speedway the oldest and shortest track on the NASCAR circuit.

His victory over Kasey Kahne in the eighth-closest finish in series history came three years after his breakthrough at Bristol Motor Speedway, another of NASCAR's short tracks

The win April 4 in the Samsung/RadioShack 500 got Sadler within 90 points of series leader Kurt Busch.

Sadler also has established himself as the top driver for Robert Yates Racing, with former series champion Dale Jarrett continuing to struggle. Jarrett was 26th in points last year, four spots behind Sadler, and is 20th now.

In the Advance Auto Parts 500 at Martinsville, Sadler expects to react ''like a horse coming out of the gates,'' a full-bore approach that might work to the Virginian's advantage on the .526-mile oval.

''Martinsville is like a train wreck waiting to happen,'' he said, reprising an annual drivers' lament that the paper clip-shaped oval is too small, narrow and flat to handle 43 stock cars fighting for position.

But, complain as they do, drivers also love the beating and banging that goes on for 500 laps, and the inevitable battle of attrition.

''Our goal is to survive, keep the fenders on it and the radiator in it,'' said Kevin Harvick, seventh here last fall. ''If you are not around after 400 laps, you are not going to have a chance of winning it.''

Ricky Craven learned that in 2001, oulasting Jarrett to get his first career victory in his 173rd start.

For Craven, Martinsville will clearly always be special, but he can't imagine any driver who doesn't enjoy the old-style, short-track racing.

''It's a fun place to race,'' Craven said. ''And you know it's fun to go back to a throwback to the old days when you lean on each other, get knocked around a little bit, use the front bumper a little bit.''

The closeness of the racing makes it plenty entertaining without any extracurricular headhunting, Craven said.

Racing etiquette is particularly important on a track where the cars are often bunched together. One crash can take out a handful of contenders, or more.

''There is a difference in making contact and throwing a few jabs and taking one another out,'' Craven said. ''I've got no problem with going toe-to-toe, bumping, beating ... as long as you don't take someone out.''

That etiquette came into play a year ago when four-time series champion Jeff Gordon was chasing Bobby Labonte with the laps winding down. Gordon was faster, but had to nudge Labonte aside without crashing anyone to create an opening.

Gordon's resulting victory was his fifth at Martinsville, where he took both races in 2003. It also left Labonte with no hard feelings.

''That was good, clean fun,'' he said.



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