NEXTEL CUP Sadler out to prove 2004 success no fluke

He was never better than 20th before qualifying for 10-car chase last year.
FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) -- Elliott Sadler's primary passions outside his job are deer hunting and golf.
And when not driving his race car, Sadler's everyday vehicle has to be "something big and bulky and slow," like a truck or sport utility vehicle. He hasn't had a sports car since he was 16 and wrapped his first car, a brand new black Ford Mustang GT, around a tree while driving 95 mph through the neighborhood.
These days, Sadler only worries about being fast where it counts -- on the track behind the wheel of the No. 38 M & amp;Ms Ford.
Feeling some pressure
Sadler was somewhat of a surprise participant in the NASCAR Nextel Cup 10-driver championship chase last season, having never been higher than 20th in points his five full seasons before then. Now he's driven to prove that his sudden success wasn't a fluke.
"I'm feeling a lot of pressure, a bunch. Nobody's putting it on me but me, because I do want to show everybody we have a great team," Sadler said. "We know people have us under the spyglass wondering if we can do it again because we were a surprise.
"We've shown that we can be a top-10 team. We just want to show everybody that we are for real, that we can do it again."
Third in points standings
Sadler, 30, is off to an impressive start through six races in 2005. He is third in points, 182 behind leader Jimmie Johnson and 22 behind Greg Biffle, after consecutive top-10 finishes at Bristol and Martinsville. He has finished lower than 11th only once while completing all but two laps.
Now Sadler gets to go to his favorite track, the 11/2-mile Texas Motor Speedway, where he got one of his two wins last year. He even saved his best car, the same one he drove to Victory Lane last spring, for the Samsung/RadioShack 500 Sunday.
Sadler's surge of success has come since moving from the Wood Brothers team to Robert Yates Racing in 2003 and being paired with crew chief Todd Parrott.
Parrott spent almost 10 years with Rusty Wallace, and was with Dale Jarrett in 1999 for Yates' only NASCAR championship. He's been a good match for Sadler. "He's pushed me to a different level," Sadler said.
Performing under Parrott
Just nine races into his first Yates season, before Parrott joined him, Sadler had five top-10 finishes and was 10th in points. But he then had three straight finishes of 33rd or worse to drop to 20th, and never recovered.
With Parrott all last season, Sadler won twice and had 14 top-10 finishes. He made it into the final 10-race championship chase, a task he thought would be the hardest part in NASCAR's new system.
"Man, were we sadly mistaken," he said.
What hasn't changed is the approach in the first 26 races.
"We're going to try to do the same thing this year in the first 26 that we did last year," Sadler said. "That's run every single lap, race the racetrack, stay out of trouble and see every checkered flag that we can."
So far, things are going just as planned.
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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