BRISTOL, Tenn. -- For most of his Winston Cup career, Elliott Sadler has been best known as the guy who once ate 16 bologna burgers in one sitting.
Now that he's moving over to Robert Yates Racing, stepping into one of the premier rides in NASCAR, the pressure will be on Sadler to show something on the race track.
"I've had a lot of sleepless nights before I got this deal done, and now that it's done, I think I'm sleeping worse," Sadler said. "Now, it's a lot of pressure to get in this race car next year.
"I need to win races. We need to run good each and every week. Why? Because this car has always run good. So, I think the pressure on myself is probably going to go through the ceiling."
Sadler, 27, is stepping into the first car Yates ever fielded when he entered Winston Cup racing in 1989. The car has always been the No. 28 Ford and was an instant winner with the late Davey Allison.
Ricky Rudd has been in it the past three seasons, but Yates is letting Rudd's contract expire in December because he had a shot to sign Sadler. With Dale Jarrett in his other car, Yates only wanted two teams.
So Sadler will step into the seat next season, but as of now, the car is switching to No. 38 because of a pending split with Texaco-Havoline, the only sponsor the Ford has ever had.
Different number, different sponsor -- but same expectations for a team that is used to running up front.
The problem is that Sadler, so far, is not.
He was successful on the Busch series, winning five races and four poles in two seasons. But since making the jump to Winston Cup in 1999, the results have not been as good.
He scored his only Cup victory at Bristol Motor Speedway in March 2001.
Sadler finished second in the season-opening Daytona 500 this year and earned another runner-up at Darlington Raceway in March, but he doesn't have any other top-five finishes this year and sits 24th in the points.
For most of his four seasons in Winston Cup, there's been a greater interest in him rehashing the night he sat in the grass at South Boston (Va.) Speedway and ate as many bologna burgers as he could.
Part of the fascination is hearing him tell the story in his distinct Virginia drawl, never skimping on the details.
But Yates will surely expect Sadler to become more than the "Bologna Burger Boy."
"I feel like there will be more pressure on me next year to perform than there ever has been, and that's going to be a tough deal to swallow," he said. "I know how competitive they are, they want to win races. I know how competitive I am. I'll need to come in ... and really be focused week-in and week-out to not only run up front but try to get in Victory Lane."
Yet this is what Sadler so desperately wanted when he asked the Wood Brothers this spring for an early release from his contract.
As a single-car team operating on a family business budget, Sadler did not think the Virginia-based operation could compete with the multiple-car teams that consistently beat the No. 21 Ford.
So he asked the Woods to let him pursue other work.
Hammering out the details of his release took months and Sadler, feeling so guilty about letting the Woods down, forfeited his race winnings for the rest of the year so the owners would have more cash to wave at Sadler's replacement.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.