STERLING MARLIN (No. 40 Coors Light Dodge Intrepid R/T) "I think we've got a good car. We were eighth quickest in practice before we qualified, and I pulled out another good qualifying effort here at Charlotte and we're starting 35th. We're...
STERLING MARLIN (No. 40 Coors Light Dodge Intrepid R/T)
"I think we've got a good car. We were eighth quickest in practice before we qualified, and I pulled out another good qualifying effort here at Charlotte and we're starting 35th. We're going to put the same setup we had last fall in it and we'll know more after this morning. I think we've got a pretty good car. It drives better than the car we had here last week. Hopefully we can make Jeff (Kuhn, a Hanover, Pa., resident and Winston No Bull 5 contestant who wins a million dollars if Marlin wins the Coca-Cola Racing Family 600) a million and make us a million.
"It would be pretty neat. Maybe he can go buy his dad's high school ring back. It's neat we can run for the million and if we can't win, hopefully we can wind up in the top five and be in position. I feel like we've got a good car. It's a long race and you've just got to be patient and work your way up through the field.
"When Chip (car owner Ganassi) came in, he totally reorganized the team. We hired a lot of different people. The big deal for us was going to Dodge. We got a lot more help from Dodge than we had before. Getting Ernie Elliott to do the motors, those guys are great on the motors. We have our own fab shop, the whole deal. We've pretty much rebuilt the whole team and it's showing.
"We feel like we've got a good race car. If we're a little bit off on the chassis early in the race we can pit and get it fixed. Like Texas, we probably had a 20th-place car when we started the race, but we ended up seventh and we could run faster than Matt (Kenseth) at the end. It's a long race and the thing about it here at Charlotte, you can pass high, you can pass low. It's a good track to run on for me. It's not like one of those one-groove tracks. The tires slow down here a good bit and it makes for good racing.
"We went and tested at some tracks and didn't go to the tracks where we were going to race. That's where we made our mistake. Going to Greenville-Pickens to simulate Martinsville, and it's nothing like it. We've got two or three tests left, and we're going to go back to Martinsville and Richmond and try to get better. We had a good car at Richmond on Saturday night and it rained the race out. The sun came out Sunday and we were a little off, but we had a good car Saturday night. It's just been some little things. At Bristol, I feel like we had a top five car and cut a tire down. We've just got to get our short track stuff better toward the end of the year when we get down to championship crunch time.
"We're trying to win races. It's way early. If it comes down to four or five races to go and you've still got a hundred point lead, you might back off a little bit. But the deal now is everybody runs so hard. If you back off, you're going to be 25th. If you've got a hundred-point lead and Matt is still second and runs in the top five, he's right back on you. As competitive as Winston Cup Racing is now, every week in and week out you've got to do all you can do.
"From what I hear from our motor guys, our motors have been looking real good after the teardown this year, after Texas and it was a 500-mile race. This track you can go out and run 30 flats right off the bat and 10 laps later you might be running 30.70s. It's not like Texas or somewhere like Atlanta where you can run 30 flats for 20 laps and get the rpm's back up a couple of hundreds from where you start. Last year we pulled a gear that was real conservative, and we're going to have the same gear in and not turn as many rpm's as some of the other guys.
"The car we ran in The Winston was the car we won with here last fall. It's pretty much history, so we brought the car (203) that we won Darlington and Las Vegas with. To me it feels like it drives better. It does drive better, so hopefully we brought a better car back.
"Daddy (Coo Coo Marlin) hasn't said a word. It probably hasn't dawned on him that we're running for a million dollars. He's busy cutting hay. That's what he's worried about. It hasn't said a word about it (leading point standings). He'll say just try to bring back a win this week, but it probably hasn't sunk in on him yet that we're leading the points. He went to New York in '83 when we won the rookie title, so if we can pull it off I'll definitely have him a reserved seat.
"It's neat that Ricky (Rudd) has run that many races consecutively. I don't know how many we've started, but we were pretty close. We missed Atlanta a couple of years ago the first year I drove for Felix (Sabates). It rained out qualifying and we didn't get to make a run, but it's pretty neat. You get to looking back at it and where it started for Ricky. It's a lot of consecutive races.
"It's looks like Jack Roush and them really did their homework over the winter. They came out pretty fast. Last year, it seemed like they were behind a little bit, but evidently they worked hard over the winter. Matt is an excellent race car driver, Kurt Busch and the whole deal. It's going to be a deal where maybe you think you can shake 'em, but Matt just keeps coming and keeps coming. Kurt had California covered and he could have two wins right now. We've just got to stay focused on our stuff and make our car run as good as we can. Hopefully, we can stay in front of 'em.
"This is the same car we ran at Darlington. We started dead last and won. We qualified an amazing 24th with it at Vegas. It doesn't ever qualify good, but it races good. It's a long race, so if we can keep our nose clean and keep the fenders on it, we should be right there.
"It would mean about $3.7 million I guess (to win 2002 championship). It would mean a lot. We've been running a lot of years and to finally get the opportunity to get with a team that can give you winning stuff week in and week out, it would mean a lot.
"You look at Matt and them, they're kind of surprising me. I don't know where they finished last year in the points. Roush must have done some homework over the winter.
You've got a veteran crew chief with Kurt Busch. I watched Kurt a couple of years ago in the truck deal and felt like he was a pretty good driver. You just can't overlook anybody. You've got to go in there week in and week out and try to win the race. If you can't do that, you pull out a top five and if you can't do that you pull out a top 10. You can't let up.
"Matt's been racing three or four years in Cup and the veteran deal might help us a little toward the end. What's disappointed me is our short track program this year. We haven't been where we ought to be. After all the stuff was said and done, we went to Bristol to test and got rained out. We've just got to go to the tracks where we're going to run on and test instead of going to the other little tracks and getting pretty close.
"I'll probably just go home. I've watched a million Busch races here. It's a typical deal. Some guys are going to run against the fence in three and four, in the middle and on the bottom. There's nothing you can do about it. They're not going to have a tire problem. Goodyear's got a good tire here, so we'll just probably go on home. We're going to start right where we were last fall in practice today. We won the race with it, so we'll see what we've got. I wouldn't care if we didn't practice. I feel like the car's in good shape, but we'll fine tune it and we've got a set of shocks we're going to try. We feel like they might give us a little better grip.
"When I came along and Rusty and some of them guys, you only had eight or 10 good cars. You had a lot more drivers than you had cars and it took a lot more time to plug along and get a good car and owners and sponsors and get where you need to be. Now, you've got a lot of sponsors coming in and a lot more team owners. Roush has got a lot more cars. It's just more opportunities for young guys now to come in.
"Mark Martin is fourth in points and Rusty is fifth, so there's a mix there. When we came in there wasn't near as much media as there is now. Back then you had (Tom) Higgins and a few more guys writing, but now there's a lot more interest and a lot more fans. The fans are about double. There's a lot more interest in it, and the TV package is a whole lot better. All them young guys bring in the good-looking girls, so that's good.
"I feel just as young as they do. I feel as good as I ever have. I don't wear caps much, but sometimes when you ride in trucks around the track, you have to wear the caps backwards.
"You try to understand the chassis more. That's what wins races, the cars going through the corners. The guy that stays on the gas the longest is going to win. You just try to get your car to drive as good as you can. I probably pay a little more attention to the chassis now than I used to. The chassis has changed over the past two years. You try to pay attention to it and stay on top of stuff that's coming in. We had a good tire here last fall and I didn't realize they had changed it until we got here for The Winston. It's a little different tire, but there's not much change in it. Goodyear has done a good job with the tires all year. It's a big gamble putting on two tires or four tires, but it seems like here at Charlotte you lose half a second to seven tenths after 10 laps. You'll pretty much see four tires all day.
"Tony (Glover) and Lee (McCall) and me put our heads together. If I want to try something, they'll do it. It's no problem. Sometimes you might have to fight Glover. You just have to argue with him a little bit, but he doesn't put up much resistance. Sometimes it'll work and sometimes it won't. You never know until you try.
"It's been good week in and week out. I'm having the most fun I've ever had in racing. Hopefully it can all be green flag toward the end tomorrow. We were riding along there third last year with about 50 laps to go and had a caution. We got hung in the quarterpanel on the restart and almost got in the fence and ended up 15th. Hopefully the last 100 miles can stay green."