In this week's 12 Questions interview, Elliott Sadler talks about the best and worst teammates he's ever had – and when is the one time you shouldn't ask him for an autograph.
Our series of weekly NASCAR driver interviews continues with Elliott Sadler, the Richard Childress Racing driver who currently leads the Nationwide Series point standings and has four victories this season.
SBN: What percent of your career races can you remember?
ES: I'd say 60 percent. The rest maybe get lost in the shuffle, like nothing exciting happened in that race or I didn't learn anything in that race. In 60 percent of them, something bad happened on a pit stop or there was a mistake I made or something good happened. Or maybe there was a bad wreck somebody was in or a bad wreck I was in or I was leading the race, stuff like that.
SBN: What was the first win you got in any form of motorsports?
ES: Go-kart racing at age 7, my first ever race. Brodnax Speedway in Brodnax, Virginia. Just showed up that Friday night and won the race.
SBN: Who is a clean driver you enjoy racing with in NASCAR?
ES: Jimmie Johnson. He has probably got the best car control of anybody in the sport, and he's always been the cleanest, fairest driver I've ever raced against.
SBN: On the opposite side of that, is there anyone who always races you extra hard or always seems to hold you up unnecessarily?
ES: AJ Allmendinger is horrible. He's just all take, take, take and no give. Especially when you're teammates (as the two were at Richard Petty Motorsports). So I'd say he's the most inconsiderate driver I've ever raced against.
SBN: What's your personal code of conduct on the racetrack?
ES: The personal code I try to live by – and I Iearned this from Tony Stewart in 2000, when he and I came in as rookies together – is "I race you how you race me. Period." I've seen great examples of that throughout the years when I've raced against Tony. If I raced him hard with some nonsense, he'd race me hard, too. If I did give-and-take with him during a race, he'd do give-and-take, too. So I kind of live by the rule that I heard from him.
SBN: Do you keep a mental list of drivers of drivers for on-track payback purposes?
ES: Well, I have a mental list of guys who I know would not give me a break no matter what, so I'm not going to give them a break no matter what. I'm going to make them earn it the hardest way they can. There are certain guys I race against who really know and understand how to really give and take toward the early or middle part of a race, and I'll definitely do the same for them.
SBN: If you could turn back time and be on the same team as someone who doesn't race now, who would it be?
ES: Dale Jarrett. He was the most amazing, best teammate I've ever been around. I learned so much from him (at Robert Yates Racing) on how you treat your teammate, how you treat your sponsors, how you treat your fans, the relationship you're supposed to have with your owner, the relationship you have with other drivers. I learned so much from him other than just sitting in a car and racing. He is an unreal human being and a man. He's the best teammate, by far, that I've ever had.
SBN: When is the last time you got nervous about anything?
ES: I'll tell you what: I got pretty fired up and nervous about the Nationwide race at Indy. That was such a big race, and I just remember qualifying that morning and on the starting grid that day feeling just how big of an event Indy is. We knew we had a car that could win, so then your expectation goes up and probably your nerves go up a little bit. So I would say the Nationwide race at Indy is the last time I really felt nervous about what was going on.
SBN: And then the chance to win got taken away from you.
ES: Yeah, no shit.
SBN: You guys meet a lot of fans, and sometimes they can ask awkward or uncomfortable questions. Do you have any recent stories along those lines?
ES: Not really. I've only been embarrassed once in an autograph session, and that was 2003, so that was a long time ago.
SBN: What happened in 2003?
ES: It's not good for your story. (Laughs) But other than that, fans always say, "Can you wreck so-and-so?" or "If you wreck so-and-so, I'll give you $5." They don't really ever put you in a bad position, but it's funny how all the fans have the same mentality at autograph sessions.
I actually just came from an autograph session, and two or three of them asked me to wreck the same person. They always ask me to wreck that person. It's probably not too hard to guess.
SBN: If you had to pick one of these jobs after your driving career is over, would you rather be a NASCAR broadcaster or a high-ranking NASCAR official?
ES: If I had to pick that, I would be the broadcaster. I don't want to be an official. They spend so much time from home and travel just like we do, and to be on that side of the fence would be tough. Those guys get pulled in a lot of different directions, and every time you make a rule, someone is trying to bend it or break it or move the gray area line. It's just a hassle all the time being on that side. I'd be more comfortable being a broadcaster.
SBN: What's a question you get asked a lot that you're tired of answering?
ES: Well, I get the "What happens if you need to go to the bathroom in the car?" question all the time. But I don't mind being asked it. It's pretty funny. I make up stuff.
SBN: Wait, you make up the answers? What do you say?
ES: Just different things here and there. (Smiles)
SBN: You don't give the same answer every time?
ES: No, of course not! (Smiles bigger) It's always something different.
But you know, we get asked all the time: "What are you going to do when you're finished racing? What are you going to do when you retire?" Hell, I don't know. I still feel like I've got a lot left in the tank, so that's one question I don't like answering. I'll cross that bridge when I get there.
SBN: So pretty much like the question I just asked a couple minutes ago?
ES: Yep, just like the one you just asked me. (Laughs) I hate the question you just asked me, Jeff.
SBN: Awesome. Well, I've been asking each driver to give me a question for the next guy, so this question comes from Greg Biffle: "What's the worst time to approach you for an autograph?"
ES: The least-opportune time is if I'm eating dinner with my family. Before I eat dinner or after I eat dinner, it's fine. And I always tell people that: "Just come back when I'm finished." But right in the middle of dinner is not good. You know, I eat a lot of finger foods – pizza or ribs or chicken wings – so when people walk up and ask you to sign something, I have stuff all over my hands and stuff hanging out of my teeth. I'm like, "Uh...give me five minutes?" (Laughs)
SBN: And finally, do you have a question I could ask the next driver?
ES: Yeah. Ask them, "What are the restart rules in NASCAR?" Because obviously I don't know them.