SPARTA — He doesn't have the wins Joey Logano has racked up in NASCAR's Nationwide Series this year.
And in the wake of this week's announcement that his rival Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is taking over Matt Kenseth's Sprint Cup Series ride in 2013, Elliott Sadler has answered more questions about his main foe's potential than his own progress.
While his quiet consistency has cost Sadler some media attention, it has put the former Cup veteran in position to secure both a long-awaited series championship and a potential return to first-tier competition.
Whether or not he generates the level of chatter of some of his competitors, Sadler has a pretty substantial bragging right of his own as the points leader in the Nationwide Series.
Heading into Friday night's race at Kentucky Speedway, Sadler — who ran 12 full seasons in the Cup Series until 2010 — has 10 top-10 finishes in this year's 14 races and holds an 11-point advantage over Austin Dillon with Stenhouse 23 points back in third.
It was Stenhouse who denied Sadler the Nationwide crown a year ago, overtaking the Virginia native midway through the season and holding him off to win the title by 45 points. Though he has ground to make up on Sadler again, Stenhouse's three Nationwide wins this year are second only to the five victories of Cup regular Logano. Logano will not add to that total Friday night because the three-time Nationwide winner at Kentucky will sit out the race.
Sadler had nothing but high praise when asked Thursday how he thinks Stenhouse will handle his impending promotion. However, Sadler made sure to point out his own Richard Childress-owned team lacks for nothing in terms of its upside.
"You know it's funny, I get a lot of questions about Ricky after racing with him last year and this year and I tell everybody he's the real deal," Sadler said. "He doesn't have a lot of weaknesses. I honestly think he could take that race team he's got now and challenge to get into the (Cup) Chase next year — just like I think I could take my team right now and challenge in Cup.
"I think we both have that much confidence in ourselves and in our race teams."
What Sadler has this year that was missing in 2011 is the ability to draw upon recent success.
Sadler's run at the championship last season included zero trips to Victory Lane. After going 14 years between triumphs in the Nationwide Series, Sadler won two of the first four races this year, taking the checkered flag at Phoenix and Bristol in March, and he's added in four other top-five finishes.
"Last year and this year have been a total different experience than what I was used to the prior four years (in Cup) before that," Sadler said. "It's the same mentality I had when I drove the 38 car for Robert Yates Racing back in the day when you showed up and you felt like you had a chance to have a successful weekend, to sit on the pole, to lead laps, to be a part of the championship conversation. We're back in the middle of that again."
In his first Nationwide race at the Sparta tri-oval last year, Sadler's vast experience testing at the track helped him win the pole and finish fifth.
While some drivers lament the notorious bumps on the Kentucky oval, Sadler says he enjoys that part of the racetrack and the speed that can result from hitting those challenging spots just right.
"The bumps are probably the most challenging part of this racetrack," Sadler said of Kentucky Speedway. "Especially in a Nationwide car, you dance a lot and you just have to make sure you get the right shop package on there.
"I really feel good we're going to be good here at the end."
Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com.