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NNS: Sadler Hopes To Climb Final Rung

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Two seasons and two runnerup finishes for Elliott Sadler in the race for the Nationwide Series championship.

This year? It’s different. Sadler has relocated to Joe Gibbs Racing, where he once more will pursue the first NASCAR major-series championship of his career.

It’s a new day, and a better one, in Sadler’s view.

“I’m definitely in a great situation this year,” Sadler said. “Coach (Joe) Gibbs and J.D. (Gibbs, team president) really welcomed me with open arms. They’ve made me feel part of the family. Made me feel wanted.

“I’m definitely starting over. I’m the new piece to the puzzle. I’m the one with the steepest learning curve, but I feel comfortable with my knowledge of the Nationwide car and tracks. We should be able to hit the ground running and be fine.”

Sadler has watched in frustration the past two seasons as Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who is moving up to Sprint Cup this year, rolled to the Nationwide championship. Sadler slowed late in both seasons.

“We’ve definitely been in the mix,” he said. “I think this year is another great opportunity. I really like what I see so far. They have a great program and put a lot into it. I’m as comfortable and stable right now as I’ve been in a long time, and I think that’s going to translate to the race track.”

Sadler, 37, has three Sprint Cup wins but none since 2004. He hopes to eventually return to NASCAR’s top level.

“My dream is one day to go run some Cup races,” he said. “That’s hopefully still ahead. If I go do what I need to do, some opportunity will come. Right now I need to win some races and some poles and this championship.

“We’re still competing at a high level. There’s still time. It’s so hard to win a championship. We’re still here fighting hard, and we want to pull through and make it happen.

“I don’t feel at all like my window is closing. I think I’m as good as I’ve ever been. If you go out and win races and compete, you’re fine. If you take care of yourself and show speed on the race track, there’s no such thing as your window closing.”

Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 31 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.