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This NASCAR season so far has been full of surprises....like Elliott Sadler!


Elliott Sadler gets pit service in Sunday's California 500 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern


   Certainly can't accuse that new Richard Petty-George Gillett operation of not providing any excitement so far.
   Those guys have single-handedly made about as much news as any three other operations on the NASCAR tour.
   Maybe they should give it a rest.
   Then again, if you're on a roll, stay with it.
   Take Elliott Sadler.
   For the last few years he's been under the radar so much he's almost been subterranean.
   And it wasn't surprising when Gillett – or somebody over there at that currently-being-redefined operation – decided in the off-season to drop Sadler and plug in somebody new. Like AJ Allmendinger.
   Well, that somebody apparently forgot to check the contract….that extension that Sadler had just signed. So the Emporia, Va., racer-hunter took exception.
   After some awkward moments Sadler wound up back in that car once again, good ol' number 19 – but now clearly under pressure to perform. And he knows it.
   At Daytona he was within just a few raindrops, one way or the other, of winning the sport's biggest race (in a finish that still needs further explanation eventually).
   At California not quite so well, a 25th.
   Still, it's been a wacky few weeks so far – like Kevin Harvick, second at Daytona, blowing an engine at California, and the lightning-fast Rick Hendrick bunch hit first by tire-and-chassis issues at Daytona and then by 'bad parts' in the transmissions at California.
   And the NASCAR top-12 does look, well, odd.
  Now two weeks doesn't make the championship chase, but some hotdogs, like Dale Earnhardt Jr., suddenly have a lot of ground to make up, while some others are sitting pretty.
   Like Sadler, 11th in the points coming here for Round Three.
   Sadler has a personality that over the years has become very well defined: he's moody. When things are not going well, he gets down, very down. But when things are going good, he's a great guy to be around.
   And at the moment he's back on top of the game.
   So he's going to take a day or two 'off,' though in this NASCAR world that is a relative term, and check out Vegas
   For a guy who seems more at home in the backwoods of Virginia with some huntin' iron, this may be interesting:
   "Las Vegas is a fun town, and we've been working hard the last couple weeks -- Daytona and California can be a stressful period while you're trying to get the season off on the right foot," the 33-year-old Sadler says.
   "But since we're staying out in Vegas this week instead of traveling home, we are going to take advantage of this nice, little break to have some fun, and blow off some steam.
   "I'm pretty excited to take in LOVE at the Mirage (the Beatles-inspired Cirque du Soleil). I've heard amazing reviews."
   And when the grind begins again?
   "To be honest, I wish we were a little bit further up in the standings," Sadler says.
   "It's nice to be in the top-12 after two races…but it would be a lot nicer to be first, second or third.
   "We had a good night at Daytona but let one slip away there that we should have been able to capture.
   "California was a little more difficult; we attempted some things (with the chassis) we thought we'd learned at Rockingham (testing) that might give us a slight advantage, but it backfired on us.
   "So we could have finished better in California. But we are going to take what we've learned and use it in Las Vegas."

Elliott Sadler helps his crew push his Dodge onto the grid at California (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


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