Compton, Melling not alonge at Daytona

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., Feb. 9, 2001 -- Stacy Compton, driver of the No. 92 Kodiak Dodge Intrepid R/T, realizes his single-car team won't stand alone this season on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit. Thanks to the Dodge "one-team" approach, ...

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., Feb. 9, 2001 -- Stacy Compton, driver of the No. 92 Kodiak Dodge Intrepid R/T, realizes his single-car team won't stand alone this season on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit.

Thanks to the Dodge "one-team" approach, Compton and his Melling Racing Team can call for reinforcement from other members in the Dodge Garage.

"We might be a single-car team, but with Dodge's 'one-team' concept, we're actually part of a 10-car team," Compton said. "It was a no-brainer for us to switch to Dodge. We'll be able to pool resources from all the other Dodge teams, so it will probably benefit us more than anyone else."

Compton, a former Dodge Ram driver in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, has seen Dodge's "one-team" concept work first-hand.

"Our concept has already been tested and proven in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series," said Jim Julow, Vice President, Dodge Global Brand Center. "The cooperation and teamwork we're seeing now among the Dodge Winston Cup race teams is unprecedented in motorsports history."

A Winston Cup sophomore, Compton hopes to make his 33rd big-league NASCAR start on Feb. 18 in the 43rd annual Daytona 500. The historic event at the famous 2.5-mile track in The Sunshine State will mark Dodge's return to the series after a 15-year absence. A former series champion, a pair of up-and-coming rookies and several past winners will pilot the 2001 Dodge Intrepid R/Ts.

Although Dodge will be the new kid in town, Compton says he doesn't expect to get pushed around by the other manufacturers.

"I think people might be taking Dodge for granted," said Compton, a 33-year-old native of Hurt, Va. "They might not think the Dodges are as good as they need to be, but I think they're going to be surprised how good we really are. Just look at the experienced drivers in the Dodge camp.

"Bill Elliott and Sterling Marlin each have two Daytona 500 wins, and they can win any time at any track. Bill Davis has proved his teams are competitive and can win races, and Petty Enterprises' record speaks for itself at Daytona.

"I think we're real confident that we'll run good in the Daytona 500. Qualifying will be the key. Based on a good starting spot, I'd say to come out with a top-15 finish is not out of the question. We have some high goals set, and I know Dodge has set some high goals, too. The potential is there."

Dodge also brings back a winning racing heritage to the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit. With a pair of manufacturers championships and 160 victories during its first NASCAR Winston Cup run from the 1950s through the '80s, Dodge doesn't plan on wasting any time returning to NASCAR's promised land. Richard Petty last reached that hallowed ground for Dodge at Daytona when he won the 1974 Daytona 500, one of his record seven victories in the season-opening classic.

Parking in the Daytona winner's circle may be a tall order for the Dodge teams, but Compton's young car owner, 30-year-old Mark Melling, has been there before.

The youngest team owner in all of professional sports, Melling went to victory lane at Daytona with his father, team founder Harry Melling, and Bill Elliott in 1987.

"This will be the 15th year in a row I've gone to the Daytona 500," Melling said. "I wasn't there in '85 when Elliott won it for Melling Racing, but I was there in '87 and it was really a special time for me. I have a picture on my wall of my dad and Bill in victory lane at Daytona in '87.

"When I see Bill in that No. 9 Red Dodge on the track this season, I'm sure I'll be rooting for him, too. Those are good memories."

The 43rd edition of The Great American race also should inspire plenty of memorial moments for Melling.

"There's always a lot of hoopla around the Daytona 500," Melling said. "It's one of the biggest races of the season, and it's going to be even more special this year with the Dodge debut. We're a single-car team, and we know that'll be a hurdle to overcome, but Dodge will help us do that. Other Dodge owners already have given us a helping hand. Dodge's 'one-team' concept really works.

"I was on a conference call recently with the other Dodge owners and needed some help with our wind tunnel data. Bill Davis and Kyle Petty said to give them a holler and we'd talk about what they could do to help us out. The information we got from them was invaluable."

A strong run in the Daytona 500 would be very valuable to Melling's outfit, and Compton's confidence would receive a huge boost to start the long 2001 campaign. Although qualifying for positions 3-30 in the Daytona 500 is based on finishing positions in the Gatorade Twin 125 qualifying races on Feb. 15, Compton is still concerned about his speed in time trials.

"Because of where we finished in the points last year, qualifying will be critical for us in the first four races," he said. "Qualifying might be the toughest part of the Dodge program at Daytona. If we can qualify well, I know we'll do well in the race."

Quick qualifying laps became a habit for Compton in 1999 in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. Driving a Dodge Ram to a fourth-place finish in the '99 series standings, Compton captured the Bud Pole award that season with six No. 1 starting spots.

Compton qualified 33rd for his first Daytona 500 last year and finished 26th. He qualified 13th for last July's Pepsi 400 at Daytona and was running 13th before an accident on lap 113 of 160 forced him out of the race.

"I don't have a lot of experience in a Winston Cup car at Daytona, but I'll get some seat time and we'll be in good shape," Compton said. "We're pleased with what we've seen so far, and we think we're ready.

"As far as I'm concerned, it's time to race. I know everyone at Dodge is ready, and I can't wait to get started."

-Ray Cooper

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Bill Elliott , Kyle Petty , Sterling Marlin , Stacy Compton , Richard Petty