Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Sadler Nixes Buyout, Lawyer Says He Wants To Race For GEM in 2009

Elliott Sadler’s lawyer says his client does not want to be bought out of his contract with Gillett Evernham Motorsports.

He wants to drive.

Attorney John Buric said Monday that Sadler will file suit against Gillett-Evernham Motorsports, team owner George Gillett, Ray Evernham Enterprises and driver AJ Allmendinger, hoping to block Allmendinger from replacing Sadler this season in the No. 19 Dodge.

"Our objective is to get in the car and race for them," said Buric, "We have a contract with them. We intend to enforce that contract." Sadler recently filed paperwork in Iredell County (NC) court, giving him until January 20th to file a breach of contract suit, if a settlement cannot be reached.

Sadler learned from Christmas Eve media reports that GEM was negotiating with Allmendinger to replace him, and claims that he still has not been officially informed of the move by anyone associated with the team. Buric says Sadler received a phone call saying only that the team wants to buy him out of his contract.

"We said we don't want to be bought out,” said Buric. “Elliott has a contract that doesn't expire until the end of 2010. He intends to race in 2009 and 2010."

Sadler has three wins in 357 career Sprint Cup Series starts, with 18 top-fives and 63 top-10s. He has posted 11 top-10 finishes in his last 85 starts for Gillett-Evernham Motorsports, and finished 24th in points last season. He signed a two-year contract extension in May, which runs through the 2010 season.

GEM officials have declined to comment.

There is no doubt that Elliott Sadler has a right to be angry. Nobody expects to get fired just seven months after signing a two-year contract extension. There’s a right way and a wrong way to handle this kind of thing, and in my personal view, GEM chose a really bad way.

It’d be different if Sadler had pulled a Manny Ramirez; phoning-in the second half of the season and sending his performance into the dumpster as soon as he signed that new contract in May. But he didn’t. His performance was the same at the end of the season as it was at the start.

Sadler says he knew there was talk of a possible driver change, but insists that he learned of his replacement only when a reporter called him for comment on Christmas Eve. If that’s true, shame on George Gillett. It’s one thing to be fickle, but quite another to deceive people in bad faith. GEM’s handling of this affair may come back to haunt them in the end. If your name is Kasey Kahne -- or even AJ Allmendinger – you know that if it can happen to Elliott Sadler, it can happen to you, too.

I cannot imagine that Sadler really wants to drive the #19 Dodge next season. Driving into Turn One at Daytona is challenging enough, without having to wonder if your car was assembled by a group of people who no longer want you around. The relationship between Sadler and GEM is irretrievably broken, and no court order is going to change that.

No matter what anyone's attorney says, the courts cannot force George Gillett to put Elliott Sadler in a racecar next season. They can force him to pay Sadler’s contract – right down to the penny – but Gillett has the right to put Allmendinger behind the wheel and keep Sadler on the sidelines, if he chooses to do so. My guess is that both Sadler and his attorney know this, and that Mr. Buric’s latest statement is designed to earn his client a more lucrative buyout of his contract. It’s a crafty public relations move, intended to make Sadler look like a nice guy done wrong, and to make GEM look like a bunch of heartless corporate hit men. Both of which may, in fact, be the case.

And finally, one more point. AJ Allmendinger has no role in this mess. He’s doing what Elliott Sadler -- and every other driver in NASCAR -- has done at some point in their career; replacing someone else in a ride that was offered to him.

There’s nothing criminal (or even immoral) about that.

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