FOUR DODGE INTREPID R/T's RANKED IN TOP 25 AT MIDSEASON -- After 18 of 36 point races on the 2001 NASCAR Winston Cup schedule, four of 10 new Dodge Intrepid R/T teams are ranked in the top 25 in the Winston Cup Standings. Sterling Marlin leads...
FOUR DODGE INTREPID R/T's RANKED IN TOP 25 AT MIDSEASON -- After 18 of 36 point races on the 2001 NASCAR Winston Cup schedule, four of 10 new Dodge Intrepid R/T teams are ranked in the top 25 in the Winston Cup Standings. Sterling Marlin leads the way in fifth place, followed by Ward Burton (18th), Bill Elliott (19th) and Dave Blaney (24). John Andretti is ranked 31st in the standings and has Dodge's best finish of the season, a runner-up performance at Bristol. Stacy Compton ranks 32nd and has won a pole. Four Dodge drivers have combined for nine top-five finishes and six Intrepid R/T drivers have combined for 24 top 10s. Marlin, Elliott and Compton have won poles. Following is a capsule look at the four Dodge drivers ranked in the top 25 and their outlook for the rest of the season heading into race No. 19 of 36 on Sunday at Loudon, N.H. Also, Tim Culbertson, Program Manager, Dodge NASCAR Winston Cup Engineering, gives Dodge's perspective on the first half of the season.
STERLING MARLIN (No. 40 Coors Light Dodge Intrepid R/T) Marlin has led the way for Dodge all season. Driving for the Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates team, Marlin has had the top finishing Dodge in 10 of 18 events. He has five top fives and 10 top 10s with only two DNFs. The 44-year-old Franklin, Tenn., native is the only driver who has been ranked in the top 10 all season. He hasn't been lower than seventh in the standings and he was at the top of the class after his third place finish in the third race of the season at Las Vegas. Marlin is only 11 points behind fourth-place Rusty Wallace and 218 points behind co-leaders Jeff Gordon and Dale Jarrett at the halfway point. "I thought all along that we had a top five team," Marlin said. "We've had some bad luck and some bad finishes (35th at Atlanta, 34th at Texas and 39th in the Pepsi 400 at Daytona after starting on the pole). We were running good in all of those races, but we ran into some problems. "Maybe we've got all our bad luck out of the way. We've had a couple of races we could have won this season. I really thought we had 'em covered at Michigan, so I'm anxious to get back there and try it again. The guys are working hard, and we're going to do all we can to win for Dodge in these last 18 races." Marlin has led laps in 13 of 18 events. He's led a total of 36 times for 297 laps and led the most laps at Talladega (51). In 12 starts at New Hampshire, Marlin's best finish was a sixth in 1993. He's had three top 10s but hasn't finished in the top 10 since 1995 at Loudon. "Everybody said Daytona started the second half of the season and in a way it did because it was the second time we'd raced there this year," Marlin said. "But really, Loudon starts the second half, and we're going to do all we can to start out strong. We've had a top-five car in just about every race this season, but we haven't been able to finish in the top five in every race. "If you look at the guys ahead of us in the standings, they've all got more top fives (except Wallace). We've got to figure out how to finish and stay out of trouble. Dodge and everyone on our team is working hard, and we're still working on a few problems. No one is giving up. We won't be happy until we win, and then we won't be happy until we win again. "It might be asking too much for us to win the championship this season, but we've got a team capable of doing it and stranger things have happened."
WARD BURTON (No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge Intrepid R/T) Burton has had the top finishing Dodge in four races this season, including two of the last three. A sixth-place finish at Sears Point and a fourth-place run in the Pepsi 400 moved Burton from 23rd to 18th in the series standings. He's 240 behind 10th-place Bobby Labonte after finishing 20th last Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway. Burton has finished ninth and 10th in the standings the past two seasons. Burton has two top fives and four top 10s in 2001. He's led laps in four events, including the most laps (53) in the Daytona 500. "We've got a good team, and we can see improvements in some areas just about every week," Burton said. "We've had to change some of our setups because of the new Goodyear tires, and I've had to change my driving style quite a bit, too. I think we've just about got it figured out, and it's been showing up recently with our finishes. "Sterling and his team have really been doing a good job with the Dodge, and we're kind of keying what we do off that team because it's been the best Dodge team week in and week out. We've been good on occasion, but we haven't been consistent. That's what we've got to work on, and if we get consistent then we'll have a better chance to win." In 11 career starts at New Hampshire, Burton's best finish was an eight in September 1999. That was his only top 10 at the one-mile track where Friday's qualifying will consist of only one lap. "That's really going to throw a new wrinkle into qualifying," Burton said. "I like the new rule about one round of qualifying, but we'll have to see how the one lap works out. If you hit the first lap everything will be fine, but if you have a problem, you might run into trouble. Track position is a premium everywhere we go now, so you want to start as close to the front as you can. I know some guys have won races or have had some good finishes after starting in the back this season, but it's much easier to stay up front when you start up front."
BILL ELLIOTT (No. 9 Dodge Dealers Dodge Intrepid R/T) In his first season behind the wheel of a Dodge after years in the Ford camp, Elliott started off in style by winning the pole for the Daytona 500 and finishing fifth in the race. That's been his only pole and only top five finish this season, but the 45-year-old driver from Dawsonville, Ga., has had top 10 finishes in three of the last five races. First-year car owner Ray Evernham and Elliott had the top finishing Dodge in the Daytona 500. Elliott has a total of four top 10s to go along with his one fifth-place run, and he has no DNFs. "We keep nipping away at it, and we just need to keep working hard," Elliott said. "It seems like when we gain something, everyone else does, too. We're just going to worry about our program and go from there. "We hadn't been very good at New Hampshire in the past, and it's really of my least favorite places to go because we don't run good there. The winters are obviously hard on the track, and we just haven't been able to get a handle on it yet." In 12 starts at New Hampshire, Elliott has three top 10s and one top five. His best finish there was a fifth in July 1999. "We ran restrictor plates the last time we were there, and you really didn't know what to do then," Elliott said. "We'll go to New Hampshire and work hard and maybe Mike (crew chief Ford) and I can come up with something that'll work. "Qualifying is going to be interesting with just one lap, so we'll just have to see what happens. It's always nice to start up front, so that's what we'll try to do. We qualified fourth last week at Chicago and finished 10th. If we can improve just a little on our start and a little more on our finish, we'll be in good shape."
DAVE BLANEY (No. 93 Amoco Ultimate Dodge Intrepid R/T) Blaney scored the best finish for Dodge at Texas, a career-best sixth-place run for the 36-year-old driver from Hartford, Ohio. Blaney has led laps in only one race this season, but his Intrepid had the field covered for 70 laps at Atlanta before a miscue in the pits robbed him of the victory. Blaney has three top 10s and jumped from 27th to 24th in the standings with his 12th-place finish last week at Chicago. Blaney wrecked his primary Intrepid in practice on Saturday at Chicago and had to start a backup Dodge from the rear of the field. He gained 31 positions by the end of the race. Blaney also started 43rd at Texas when he finished sixth. With just 57 career starts on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit, the former World of Outlaws champion gives Bill Davis Racing two cars in the top 25. He's 201 points behind his teammate Burton but only 108 points out of 20th. Blaney has three career starts at NHIS with a best finish of 26th there last September. "We're just trying to get better every week," Blaney said. "Doug (crew chief Randolph) and the guys did a good job with the backup car last week at Chicago. We struggled a little bit with both cars, but we got a decent finish out of it and that's a tribute to our team. "Qualifying at New Hampshire might pose more of a problem than usual with this new one-lap format, but everybody is playing by the same rules and we'll just have to make that one lap count and then get ready to race and start the second half of the season off the right way."
TIM CULBERTSON (Program Manager, Dodge NASCAR Winston Cup Engineering) "We've kept our heads down working all year. We started off with a bang at Daytona in February. We took a lot of pride putting two Dodges on the front row for the Daytona 500, and we raced well there, too. Sterling Marlin put together a string of three strong races to start the season and led the points after the third race at Las Vegas, so we thought it was inevitable we'd get a win soon. "Then NASCAR came along with the spoiler rule for Talladega, and that slowed us down. I was real proud of the way our teams went to work and made up for that, but I don't think we've made up for it totally. We qualified well at Talladega and again at Daytona for the Pepsi 400. All three of our poles have been on the superspeedways, but we have some concerns regarding the way we're able to compete in the superspeedway races. "May came along and we hit a lull. We were running way too consistently in the middle of the pack. We're focusing on getting more total downforce and more power. So I guess to sum it all up, we're hungry for a win. We're 100 percent focused on winning, and we're going to do whatever it takes to get one. We're tired of coming close."