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Saturday, January 10, 2009

Decision to keep underachieving Sadler shows sponsors rule in NASCAR, not talent

This week, at the same time the merger with Petty Enterprises officially came through, another bit of disturbing news came out of the Gillett Evernham camp … Elliott Sadler isn’t being released after all.

That leaves A.J. Allmendinger still looking for a job, as the fourth car in the newly merged GEM/Petty team will at this point only run a part-time schedule, at best.

The very weak explanation for the backtracking was given by GEM's CEO Tom Reddin, who said: "We had some differences; we're a family. We love Elliott. We got everything resolved."

This move was cowardly by the organization, and is the ultimately proof that the only thing that really matters when it comes to who will get a ride is what the sponsor wants. A couple weeks ago, the news allegedly got out among team members that Sadler was to be replaced by Allmendinger in the #19, and that Sadler was going to be released. He apparently didn’t know it was coming, and threatened to sue if he was released. Even more worrisome for the organization is that some of the team’s sponsors were not happy with the change.

At the time, I applauded the GEM team for their courage to put a clearly better driver, Allmendinger, in the car over a likely washed-up Sadler who had long past the days of competing for wins in the Cup series. For once, I was happy to see that talent landed a driver a ride instead of the fact that he had a sponsor he could bring along. In the final five races of 2008, Sadler averaged a finish of 31.8. Allmendinger: 16.4. You do the math.

But sure enough, just days later, my applause has turned into boos after hearing this latest news. I can’t remember the last time I remember seeing Sadler being competitive in a race, and that leaves only one possibility: The team bowed to sponsor demands and kept Sadler, leaving Allmendinger once again in the lurch and without a ride. He has no contract with GEM, and could end up elsewhere if another opportunity arrives.

It’s pretty simple here: Sadler has become a middle-of-the-pack driver who will blend into the pack and rarely distinguish himself. But he’s good with the media, and just like Michael Waltrip and Kenny Wallace (with similarly unexceptional, yet long, driving careers) will be preferred by sponsors. Never mind the fact that Allmendinger would probably improve the finishing position of the #19 car by 10 spots each week … he can’t sell as many flat-screens at Best Buy.

A.J. is a good driver and will eventually land a good ride. With nothing left right now, his best hope is that the #10 team will find enough sponsorship to run the full season. Otherwise, he may just be a part-timer for 2009, or take another ride over when someone gets fired. Considering how this team has just disrespected him, I hope he is picked up either this year or next by a top-level team that will actually appreciate his talent and not shove him aside to keep a driver who has been far from competitive for years.

I’m not naïve, and I know money runs this and every sport, but keeping Sadler is just plain stupid and shows how sponsors, not team owners, make most of the decisions in NASCAR. They should have paid Sadler off in the lawsuit and moved on to greater heights with A.J. Instead, they’ve accepted mediocrity just to please some sponsors.

Merger good for Petty legacy
While the Petty name will likely be preserved in the newly merged team’s name, it’s a sobering fact that the family that has been around since Day 1 in NASCAR no longer can afford to operate a team without help. It’s the end of an era for the team that won big with Lee Petty in the first years of the sport, won much bigger with The King for decades, and has provided so many highlights that will never be forgotten.

As sad as this is for fans of the sport’s history, this merger is actually a good thing. The team’s legacy has grown increasingly tainted in recent years by the unimpressive cars it has been putting on the track. Rather than carry on forever with a car that is just making laps, maybe the #43 car will actually do well on occasion now that the merger is done. Considering the above-mentioned poor judgment of the GEM team, and the fact Reed Sorenson will be driving the #43, I highly doubt it. But a three-car or four-car team will have a better shot at success than a standalone Petty entry.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with your opinion of the "Sadler Debacle". It is outrageous that such consistently mediocre performance has been tolerated for so long.

Sadler is a loser who has capitalized on his looks and homespun Southern persona for too long. Now, he may find himself a marked man....with fewer fans, little respect and no more chances.

Sponsors? The sponsors will lose right along with Mr. Hillbilly. So be it for their lack of foresight.

Elliott Sadler is a prime example of why NASCAR is in a decline. He simply is not worth the return or the investment made in his career.

Personnally, I'll be cheering for Allmendinger !

January 11, 2009 at 7:20 AM 
Anonymous Dan said...

Amen Brother Matt. Unfortunately for the sport, money (the Big Mo) has ruled for a long time. NASCAR as an organization is less than it's ever been because the Chase (not The Chase) for the Big Mo. I was watching NFL last night (rarely do I) and I saw Coors there high wide and handsome. Where are they in NASCAR? Where is Anheuser Busch or AT&T or Visa or...A whole lot of good and great sponsors have been run off --either partly or for good -- because of NASCAR's "business model." NASCAR is bankrupt. They don't have a business model but greed and it's showing in spades right now as the economy sours and people get fed up with the slackers in DB...

My whole rant goes back to Sadler. He is a product of sponsors selling products and that's what makes the wheel turn in NASCAR and I understand that. But your and my point is what good is it to be a middle of the pack billboard instead of a front runner? Sadler, unless he pull his panties tighter this year and wakes up, is a middle runner, destined for a chair on Speed like all the other has beens (MW, KW and Jimmy Spencer).

My gut feeling is though just maybe it wasn't all about sponsors wanting Sadler...these days lawyers now have as much say as owners and sponsors. If the back story to this GEM v Sadler thing is as being reported (and who knows if it is or isn't) then GEM, who did make a tactical error by signing Sadler and then "firing" him in the same year (if that's so), was more scared of a lawsuit that would have been ugly before it got settled...Maybe it shows that GEM ain't so bright as we might think. Maybe Kaey Khane needs to find him a home at Joe Gibbs and let GEM go the way of all the rest of the back runners (a sad commentary given that Dodge made a great play in 1999 to get Ray Evernham and they brought that program on-line from scratch to make it a winner.)

There is a book out there waiting to be written, and it's entitled:

The Day NASCAR Stood Still

or

NASCAR Shot It's Wad in Five Years
"The True Story of How NASCAR Had it All for 50 Years Then Lost it in Five."

January 11, 2009 at 8:45 AM 
Anonymous Ken said...

Earmhardt Junior is the perfect example of marketing and popularity trumping ability.

With the support and resources that Junion has, I think there are several drivers who would have done much better.

January 11, 2009 at 11:28 AM 

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