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Elton Sawyer named to NASCAR’s top competition position

Dale Jarrett shares why he had an idea that Kevin Harvick would retire "sooner than later" based on conversations he had with the driver, and along with Jeff Burton, speaks to the difficulty of retiring from racing from personal experience.

NASCAR Wednesday named former driver and long-time official Elton Sawyer its senior vice president of competition, replacing Scott Miller, who will assume the newly formed role of competition strategist.
NASCAR also announced the promotions of several individuals to key positions within its competition team. John Probst has been promoted to chief racing development officer; Dr. Eric Jacuzzi has been promoted to vice president of vehicle performance; Dr. John Patalak has been promoted to vice president of safety engineering; and Brandon Thomas has been promoted to vice president of vehicle design.

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“Elton Sawyer has shown incredible versatility throughout his four-plus decades in motorsports,” said Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR chief operating officer, in a statement released by NASCAR. “Following his lengthy driving career, Elton held key leadership positions for several race teams and here at NASCAR for the last eight seasons. He will excel in this role, and we look forward to watching him continue to grow the competition team during this crucial era in our sport’s history.

“We are thrilled that Scott Miller has chosen to remain a key part of the NASCAR competition team. When he joined NASCAR in 2016, Scott lent immediate credibility to the position. A trusted voice in the garage, Scott used his decades of experience to lead our competition team to new heights during a time that saw a new race format, a new playoff format and a new race car. The mark he leaves on the organization is significant.

Sawyer joined NASCAR in February of 2015 as managing director of the Craftsman Truck Series. Most recently, he held the role of NASCAR vice president, technical inspection and officiating, a role he assumed in 2016. In that capacity, Sawyer oversaw race event management, transportation and NASCAR official training and development.

In his new role, Sawyer will oversee all aspects of on-track competition, inspection, rule development and officiating, focusing specifically on NASCAR’s three national series – Cup Series, Xfinity Series and Truck Series.

“I have been a proud member of this extraordinary team for eight years, and I look forward to continuing to help grow the outstanding competition we’ve seen over the last several seasons,” Sawyer said. “NASCAR racing has been my life for decades. I have a deep passion for the sport, and am honored to be in a position to help shepherd the competition team during these exciting times.”

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Sawyer began his racing career competing at Langley Speedway in his home state of Virginia. He debuted on the NASCAR national series scene in 1983, racing in what is now the Xfinity Series. Prior to joining NASCAR, Sawyer served as director of team operations for IMSA’s Action Express Racing. He has also previously held competition roles at Red Bull Racing and Evernham Motorsports.

Miller said it was time for a change.

“After more than 40 years around race cars week after week, it’s time to step back and look at the next chapter of my life in motorsports,” Miller said. “I’m thankful to the France Family and everyone at NASCAR for the opportunity they gave me seven years ago, and I appreciate the chance to stay in the fold to help however and wherever I can. We have a strong team at NASCAR, and I’m excited to remain a part of it.”

Miller’s focus will center on a several “big picture” special projects such as the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum, the NASCAR All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro Speedway and the Chicago Street Course race, as well as long-lead planning around NASCAR competition strategy.

Probst, who most recently held the title of senior vice president of racing innovation, oversaw the development and evolution of the Next Gen race car. Probst joined NASCAR in 2016, providing senior oversight of an engineering group that develops and incorporates new technology into all aspects of NASCAR competition.

Jacuzzi, who manages aerodynamic engineering for NASCAR, joined the sanctioning body after working as a computational aerodynamicist for Corvid Technologies. Since joining NASCAR in 2014, Jacuzzi has led the team tasked to design the aerodynamic elements of the race vehicles for all three national series – including the Next Gen car – as well as the Garage 56 car scheduled to run in the 2023 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Patalak, who has worked at the NASCAR R&D Center since 2005, oversees NASCAR’s safety team, researching, developing and approving driver and vehicle safety systems. In this role, Patalak also investigates all crashes and driver protection issues.

Thomas joined NASCAR in 2019 following time as a crew chief and engineer with Richard Childress Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing, Petty Enterprises, Red Bull Racing and Hall of Fame Racing. Brought to NASCAR to help shepherd the Next Gen project, Thomas led the day-to-day management of the Next Gen car since the beginning of the development cycle in 2019.