STERLING MARLIN (No. 40 Coors Light Dodge Intrepid R/T) NOTE: Marlin has had the top finishing Dodge in 10 of 18 events this season. He has five top fives and 10 top 10s with only two DNFs. The 44-year-old Franklin, Tenn., native is the...
STERLING MARLIN (No. 40 Coors Light Dodge Intrepid R/T)
NOTE: Marlin has had the top finishing Dodge in 10 of 18 events this season. 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, currently fifth in the NASCAR Winston Cup Standings (NWCS), is only 11 points behind fourth-place Rusty Wallace and 218 points behind co-leaders Jeff Gordon and Dale Jarrett at the midway point. 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 NHIS, 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. He'll start 37th in Sunday's 43-car field.
"This is the second provisional we had to take this season. We took one at Texas, too. We were just off down there for qualifying, but we had worked our way up to fifth in the race. We got spun out. Yesterday, I thought we could have run a lot better, but we got loose on both qualifying laps. It worked good when it was cooler, but the track got hotter and we were real loose. I almost spun in one and two on the first lap and then we almost spun in three and four on the second lap.
"This is probably the hardest track to get hold of and get a car to handle for some reason. Whoever designed this track did something... they just weren't thinking when they designed the track. It's one groove and you cannot pass on it. It's boring. I'd run 10 Bristols in a row to this one race. It's nothing against the people up here. It's just a track that needs a lot of work on it.
"It needs some banking and the entries to the corners need changing. You kind of run downhill going into turn three, but you're in trouble when you pull off pit road here. If you look back, how many exciting races have you seen here? Not too many. I think Ernie and Gordon had a good battle, and that's about the only one I can think of.
"It's not a place like Richmond or Bristol where you can really set somebody up and get a good run off the corner. All somebody does here is just pull out and block you. At Bristol, you've got your hands full seeing where it's going and if you get up under somebody you pass ^Ñem. Here, you get a good run up off the corner and they just pull down and block you. You can't pass ^Ñem on the outside because there ain't no groove on the outside.
"You think about it (teammate Kenny Irwin's accident here last year) a little bit, but this hasn't ever been one of my favorite tracks.
"Last week, I felt like we had a fourth to sixth-place car. Some of the guys used good pit strategy and pitted and got track position on us. We're going back to Pocono, and we ran real good at Pocono last time. I think we've got some real good tracks coming up. We worked on a lot of race stuff at our Indy test, and I thought we were pretty decent. It looked like the Chevrolets, especially the 24 car in race trim, have got everyone covered.
"If we can hit some good races here, we can get right back in the points race. We don't talk about it much. There's really no need to until you get down to the very end of the season. We've been having a little trouble with the fuel pump on restarts. It's like it's starving for fuel. We got it corrected. Last week, we ran a motor that hadn't been corrected. It just choked down, starved for fuel. We went to Kentucky and tried to do some stuff with the transmissions trying to get a little better ratios for restarts. We found a little bit there.
"I think what hurts the Dodge here and on short tracks, too, a little bit, is we've got 50 more pounds of weight up front on the motor. I think that hurts a little bit on short tracks and places like this where you've got to get wowed up on the corners and get it turned. We've never run this car, and we'll try to get it handling good and try to beat ^Ñem off the corners. Handling and track position will be the key. We might try some two-tire stops. Goodyear has got a real good tire. They've done a real good job on their tires this year. They've been real consistent.
"We want to win, but from where we're starting and the position we're in, a top five would be real good. We had got to fifth at Texas, and then Rusty cleaned us out on a pit stop. We got jammed back in the back. We came out about 15th and got run over on a restart. We got run over at Charlotte, too. "I think our guys are prepared good for this stretch of races. We've got a lot of cars laid out. We don't have a Sunday off at Indy now. Sundays off mean a lot. We've got Richmond and Bristol on Saturday night, and that's great. At least we've got two Sundays off."
ANDY GRAVES (Team manager Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates)
"We're hurting on downforce. The motors are too heavy, and most of the Dodge teams are struggling with the torque curve of the motors. I think between those three factors, you see our problem. None of us were too good at Martinsville. We're not too good here. Short tracks are just a struggle. Some of the Dodges did well at Bristol, but you just have compression there. You don't have lateral G's like you have at Martinsville and here and Phoenix. Basically a lateral G is when you're running on a flat track and you're trying to get grip. There's no banking there to hold you. I think we've adapted well when we have some banking that can hold the cars and handle that extra weight in the front of the car without sacrificing downforce. I don't think there's a quick fix. We're just going to have to keep working with it and do the best we can. Somewhere along the way we'll hit on something that will help us. We've just got to do some more testing, and hopefully we'll get some help from NASCAR. Currently, they (NASCAR) doesn't feel like we need any help. They want to evaluate the situation some more, and I can understand that. They've been buffaloed by some other manufacturers in the past that have gotten help real quick. I think they just want to evaluate the situation before they make a kneejerk reaction. After going halfway through the season, I feel like it's time to get a little help.
"You have to earn your respect. I think at the start of the year we surprised a lot of people with our performance. We've been looking forward to this part of the season all year. We felt like as well as we're going to be prepared and the depth of our team and the people we have, that this 20-week stretch is going to run some teams in the ground. We feel like it's going to be our strong point. We've been looking forward to this the whole first half. We're a little disappointed we haven't gotten a win yet, but other than that, we're tickled to death with everything that's going on. Without a doubt, we're going to finish in the top three in points and I think we've got a good chance at running for the championship.
"We're looking to get the 01 in the top 25 in points. Those are our goals right now for the second half of the season, run for the championship with the 40 and get top 25 with the 01. It's tough for the rookies right now. Kevin (Harvick) is a heck of a driver. He's run trucks and Busch and he's got a lot more experience. Everyone is calling him a rookie, and he is a Winston Cup rookie, but when you look at someone like Jason Leffler who only has one year in Busch cars before jumping into this, it's not a fair comparison. Kevin is doing a heck of a job, and our hats are off to him."