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Elliott Sadler is on top of the world this weekend....

  "Amazing" Elliott Sadler rips off a hot lap in Texas 500 qualifying...and this pole couldn't come at a better point in his career (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern


   FORT WORTH, Texas

   "It's been a great day to be Elliott Sadler," Sadler was saying Friday afternoon at Texas Motor Speedway. And it's been a long, long time since the veteran racer could say that.  
   "I am glad my wife and my kid are here. It has been awesome."

   First, he announced a new 2011 deal with Kevin Harvick....then he followed with the fastest qualifying lap of the season, and the fastest qualifying lap here in four years.
    So Team Ford, after a ragged Talladega, where Team Chevrolet dominated, charged back to the headlines here Friday with a dominating performance in qualifying for Sunday's Texas AAA 500, topped by Sadler's amazing 195 mph pole-winning lap.
   Sadler, Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards went 1-2-3 in Jack Roush-powered Fords, and Ford's David Ragan was 5th, making Juan Pablo Montoya the lone Chevy ranger up front.
   The backdrop of course is the precipice that Richard Petty Motorsports, Sadler's current Sprint Cup team, rests upon at the moment, with its future seemingly in doubt from week to week.
   So Friday morning when Sadler, who has been full-time Cup since 1999,  was able to announce a full-time 2011 Nationwide deal with Harvick, willing to step down to NASCAR's Triple-A division in order to get back to winning and racing competitively, he proudly called it "the first day of the rest of my life."
   A turning point.
   And of course his team here too is running scared about the future, so Sadler lavished praise upon his crew.
   "A lot of cool things happened today," Sadler, the fourth driver most of the season on Petty's four-team roster, said. "I am proud of my guys for getting this car here this weekend.
    "I can sit here and say a lot of things about myself, but (crew chief) Todd Parrott is the man. He has turned our program around so much.
   "What I like about Todd is his focus, his drive and his emotion. He is good with me mentally and knows how to keep me up on the wheel.
    "His attention to detail is second to none. And with these cars that is very important, because we are in such a tight box with these NASCAR rules.
     "He definitely does not get anywhere near the credit he deserves. He does more with less than most crew chiefs do. And he has really put some great effort in the last few weeks."

     Elliott Sadler: a new NASCAR deal with Kevin Harvick for 2011 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Sadler's lap – a quarter-second quicker than Biffle and Edwards – was a stunner.
   "Elliott has wings or something," Edwards marveled. "I am telling you my lap felt extremely fast. So my hat is off to him.
   "It feels real, real fast. I was hooping and hollering after I crossed the stripes because I thought it was the pole. I wouldn't be able to sleep if I had run any faster than that.
    "I am going to go watch the tracker on TV and see where Elliott beat me. That is amazing."

    Biffle says he's surprised at some of the day's slowest – including Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Harvick and Jimmie Johnson: "It blows my mind how far off they are...and then how bad they beat us at the shorter places."
   Will those title contenders, Johnson, Hamlin and Harvick, be slow Sunday too, or will this lightning-fast track slow down enough that whatever pace that trio can comfortably handle be good enough to lead the race?
   Unlike at many tracks, qualifying at this 1-1/2-mile monster is typically a good harbinger of what to expect on race day.
   "But we're not going to get any rain, and we've got a Truck race and Nationwide race to lay down some rubber, and the tires will  be falling off over a run," Biffle says warily. "Now I've been to tracks where I just couldn't run, say a 28.30 without wrecking, but when the track slowed down to 28.50s, man, I could run those all day."
   The championship storylines here are clear: it's a three-man chase, with Hamlin and Harvick chasing Johnson, with three races to go. 
   But Johnson has one big advantage over his title rivals: He doesn't 'need' to win this championship,  because he's won four straight. Hamlin and Harvick on the other hand have never won this title.
    Hamlin, for his part, has played a defensive game through most of the chase (except for Martinsville), as if he were too worried about making a mistake and falling out of the title run. That's typically not the way to win a championship.
    Johnson, for his part, has an ace in the hole – Phoenix, the next tour stop, where he has won four of the last six races and where his average finish the last eight races is a sizzling 4.9....much, much better than either Hamlin or Harvick.
   Harvick has been on the charge, and the tour's regular season winner exudes an air of both confidence and determination.
   However it looks like right that Hamlin and Harvick really need to make something big happen here, before getting to Phoenix.
   The traditional line on winning NASCAR championships is that a challenger needs to be within about 30 points of the tour leader heading into the season's final race, to have a good shot at the title.
   But Jeff Burton says he senses this year may be different: "You have been around racing long enough to know that anything can happen -- A guy can cut a tire, a guy can break a motor, a guy can make a mistake, could have a wrong pit stop at the wrong time.
    "All those things can happen, and take a guy that had a 25 or 30-point lead, or even a 70-point lead, and now he doesn't have it. 
    "If someone goes out and maxes out with points, with laps led, and wins the race (195 points), that's a big swing in points right, there compared to a guy that runs 12th (127 points)."
    Being within 30 points of the leader heading to Homestead, Burton said, "certainly makes the odds better...but it's not inconceivable that a guy could go into Homestead 45, 50, 55 points back and still win the championship."
   Despite Biffle's questions, Hamlin insisted he'll be okay: "Not as quick as we wanted to be...but we felt pretty good in race trim. We didn't qualify very good here in the spring either and made our way to the front."
   No kidding. Hamlin qualified 29th in April here and charged back to win, albeit after Jeff Gordon crashed out.
    "We're struggling for a little bit of speed right now," Hamlin conceded. "I'm not too alarmed at this point. I know we'll be fine on Sunday."
   Johnson says he's not feeling pressure, though it's hard to read: "With the small margin we have, it's really easy to know what I need to do -- win the race. 
   "I need to finish ahead of Denny and Kevin...and that's going to mean me winning the race. 
    "So the week has been really easy for me, where other weeks coming into Texas I was in more of a defensive mode, trying to protect...and worrying about things. 
    "It's all offense right now."
    And Johnson certainly remembers too well how last fall's race went here: he qualified 12th....and got crashed out in a bump with Sam Hornish on just the fourth lap of the race.

                            Friday's qualifying results for Sunday's Texas AAA 500



    Texas' track promoter Eddie Gossage (L) is determined to prove even a monkey can sell race programs to his 'No Limits' Texas 500 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


Only a great writer could

Only a great writer could find a way to write a full column on Sadler's Pole run.

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lol.....well, that's what i'm

lol.....well, that's what i'm here for, comic relief. but, really, if you've been following the elliott sadler saga for as long as i have, it's nice to be able to put up some nice words.....

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