CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Everyone deserves another chance at some point, even a NASCAR driver who has wrecked everyone in his way, or let his temper derail his career, or lost both his confidence and competitive edge.
Elliott Sadler got another chance from Kevin and DeLana Harvick, who gave him a job last season when nobody else was interested in a journeyman driver running at the back of the pack.
For the first time in years, Sadler had competitive equipment and a chance to run up front and race for the championship.
OK, so he went winless in the Nationwide Series. But he showed enough that Richard Childress kept him this season after buying out the Harvicks’ Nationwide program.
On Saturday, Sadler went to Victory Lane for the second time in three races.
Before this month, it had been 14 years since Sadler last won in the Nationwide Series. His last Sprint Cup Series win was in 2004.
“When you have an owner, Richard, who when he talks to you believes in you as a person, believes in you as a driver, it makes all the difference in the world,” Sadler said.
Ironically, its Sadler’s resurgence that created an opportunity for Brian Vickers.
Michael Waltrip Racing announced March 3 that Sadler would run six of the Cup races Mark Martin doesn’t have on his schedule, but the deal blew up hours later after Sadler’s Nationwide win at Phoenix. That apparently made RCR and Chevrolet balk at the idea of Sadler driving a Toyota for another team.
So MWR turned to Vickers, who has been unable to find a ride since Red Bull Racing shut down at the end of last season. He closed last year with a horrendous final month, starting at Martinsville, where he was involved in five cautions and initially took no responsibility for any of the accidents. The final caution was a deliberate wrecking of Matt Kenseth.
The Vickers who met with the media last Friday at Bristol was a humbled man. He distanced himself from a 2011 profile in Maxim magazine – it depicted him as a hard-partying playboy with a huge ego – and emphasized that his focus was getting back into a full-time ride.
Bristol isn’t the ideal place to emerge from a nearly four-month layoff, and Vickers has never been very good there. Yet he led a career-high 125 laps Sunday and finished fifth, his first top-five finish at Bristol.
Then there’s bad boy Kurt Busch, who got another chance when Phoenix Racing partnered with him when he was untouchable.
A month into the season, it’s clear that the driver ability far outclasses the team capabilities. A rash of bad luck has nearly derailed the effort. Busch has no one to blame but himself for his position. But with every flat tire, bad pit stop and fluke accident, one begins to wonder whether he hasn’t been punished enough.