Sadler set for first extended Cup opportunity in three years as MWR fill-in

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Elliott Sadler takes over the No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota for the final four races of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season starting this weekend in Martinsville.

It’s a temporary fill-in role for Brian Vickers due to Vickers’ latest health issue, but it could also serve as an audition for Sadler to possibly return to Cup after a journey back to the Nationwide ranks.

Sadler has started only one Cup race this year (finished 24th at Kansas in April in a fourth Joe Gibbs Toyota) and one in 2012 (10th in a fourth Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet at the Daytona 500). So he’s been off the Cup radar for the better part of three years as teams have looked elsewhere to fill vacancies.

What Vickers has accomplished in his own road back to Cup has seriously impressed the Emporia, Va. native.

“How Brian is handling all of this; I’ll be honest with you – I’m not sure I could do this,” Sadler said in a team release heading into the weekend. “The way he handled it last time and fought back, working his way back through the ranks and getting himself a fulltime ride with Michael Waltrip Racing was amazing. For him to have this setback again is really hard to watch. It is tough to see a friend go through what he is going through. I’m just there to fill in these last four races and get these guys to the end of the year.”

Sadler did speak highly of the MWR/Joe Gibbs Racing relationship, which has played a major role in Sadler being picked to fill his Nationwide teammate’s seat.

“The relationship between MWR and Joe Gibbs Racing was already really close,” Sadler said. “When I called (JGR President) J.D. (Gibbs) and asked about it he said ‘Man, that’s great for you, a wonderful opportunity, we’ll do all we can to help MWR.’ It’s pretty neat how close these guys all try to work together and help each other out. It wasn’t a really big hard decision to make. The guys worked it out pretty well.”

Sadler’s last Cup start at Martinsville came in the fall of 2010, when he finished 28th driving a Richard Petty Motorsports Ford. In 24 prior Martinsville starts, Sadler has a best finish of fifth (spring, 2003) and two other top-10 finishes.

Lewis Hamilton receives Daytona 500 invitation from Bubba Wallace

Lewis Hamilton Bubba Wallace
Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images
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Lewis Hamilton is a fan of the new NASCAR Cup Series team formed by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan to field a car for Bubba Wallace.

Will the six-time Formula One champion also be a fan in person at a NASCAR race in the near future?

Wallace is hoping so.

After Hamilton tweeted his support Tuesday morning about the news of a Hamlin-Jordan-Wallace team making its debut with the 2021 season, Wallace responded with a sly invitation to the Daytona 500.

Much would need to be worked out, starting with how much garage and grandstand access would be afforded for a 2021 season opener that likely would occur during a still ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

But it would seem fitting given that Hamilton and Wallace have been two of the world’s most outspoken Black athletes about the quest for diversity and racial justice. Hamilton recently reaffirmed his commitment to activism after his donning a Breonna Taylor shirt sparked an FIA inquiry.

The idea of Hamilton attending the season opener already had legs, too. The Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 driver has expressed a desire to race the Daytona 500 after he has retired from Formula One.

He was a spectator (with racing legend Mario Andretti) at four-time champion Jeff Gordon’s final Cup race as a full-time in the 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In 2011, Hamilton swapped cars with three-time champion Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen International.

Having rubbed shoulders with other racing greats so often, it only would be fitting if Hamilton — who is one victory from tying Michael Schumacher’s career record and also could tie the F1 record with a seventh championship this season — spent some time with the greatest basketball player of all time.

Jeff Gordon was flanked by Mario Andretti and Lewis Hamilton before the 2015 Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).