Darlington II: Notes of interest

NEWS OF NOTE Ø Championship battle...The top five drivers in the NASCAR Winston Cup points race, led by Sterling Marlin (No. 40 Coors Light Dodge), are separated by 145 points, the second-closest margin in NASCAR history between the top...


Ø Championship battle...The top five drivers in the NASCAR Winston Cup points race, led by Sterling Marlin (No. 40 Coors Light Dodge), are separated by 145 points, the second-closest margin in NASCAR history between the top five with 12 races remaining. The tightest race at this stage of a season was 1984 when 111 points separated the top five.

Ø Hustlin' Harvick... Kevin Harvick (No. 29 GM Goodwrench Service Chevrolet) has six top-10 finishes in his last seven starts and has rocketed from 35th to 19th in the championship standings over the last 10 races."We're on this roll right now," he said."These next races can make or break you, and a lot of it has to do with luck. We're short track racing for a while here. We came through Bristol extremely well, and now we have Darlington, Richmond, and New Hampshire. All of these are places where you can run really well and finish really bad because of someone else's mistake. This is where you'll see the shake up in points, and we're just trying to get on the good side of it all."

Ø TV timeout... In the Nielsen Media Research overnight ratings for this past weekend, the Sharpie 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway on TNT drew 4,137,000 households, a 23 percent increase from last season's event and the largest number of households ever for a Bristol event on cable television. The 4.8 overnight rating made the Sharpie 500 the weekend's highest-rated sports event on cable....

Ø TV timeout (cont.)... In the final Nielsen Media Research ratings for the weekend of Aug. 17-18, the Pepsi 400 presented by Farmer Jack at Michigan International Speedway on TNT drew 4,497,000 households, a 32 percent increase from the previous year's race. The 5.3 rating was the highest ever for a NASCAR race broadcast by TNT and it ranked second overall in sports for the weekend, trailing only the final round of the PGA Championship (7.5, CBS).

Ø Etc... There have been 15 different race winners and 13 different Bud Pole winners through 24 races. ... The NASCAR Winston Cup Leader Bonus will be worth a record payout of $200,000 at Darlington. The current record payout of $190,000 was set in 2000 when Bobby Labonte (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Pontiac) won at Indianapolis. The bonus, which begins at $10,000 and rolls over each race until there is a winner, is given to the driver who is the race winner and points leader following that event. The last driver to win the bonus was Marlin at Darlington's spring race ($20,000). ... Effective this weekend, Kenny Wallace replaces Hut Stricklin in the No. 23 Hills Bros. Dodge for Bill Davis Racing for the remainder of the season. NVE Pharmaceuticals and Bill Davis Racing announced Tuesday a multi-year deal agreement with Wallace and Stacker 2. Wallace will drive the No. 23 Dodge with Stacker 2 as its primary sponsor, beginning in 2003.... Terry Labonte (No. 5 Kellogg's Chevrolet) made his first start (9/4/78) and earned his first NASCAR Winston Cup win (9/1/80) at the Southern 500.... Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet) will make his 100th career NASCAR Winston Cup start Sunday.... Casey Atwood (No. 7 Sirius Satellite Radio Dodge) will have a teammate for the second time this season, as NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series title contender Ted Musgrave will drive the No. 07 Kenwood/Sirius Dodge at Darlington. Musgrave debuted with the team at Indy, where he finished 21st.


Ø Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) has finished among the top four in six of his last seven Mountain Dew Southern 500 starts. He kicked off the run by winning the event four consecutive years, beginning in 1995. He finished outside the top four in 1999 - settling for 13th - but rebounded in 2000 to finish fourth and runner-up last season. Overall at Darlington, he has five wins and 12 top-10 finishes in his last 14 races.

Ø Jeff Burton (No. 99 CITGO Ford) has finished among the top two in four of last five Mountain Dew Southern 500s. He was victorious in 1999 and registered runner-up finishes in 1997,' 98 and 2000. He finished sixth in last season's race. He also is the last driver to sweep both season events at Darlington ('99).

Ø Among active drivers, Bill Elliott (No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge) ranks first in career poles at Darlington (5) and is tied with Gordon for the lead in wins (5). In 48 career starts, he has posted 32 top-10 finishes, including 20 among the top five. His last win in the Mountain Dew Southern 500 came in 1994.


Ø "At Darlington, you really have to race the track and you have to stay pretty focused all day long. You run so close to the wall that you can get into it pretty quick. Rubber builds up six inches away from it and one little slip and you're in the fence. I enjoy racing there. It's a fun track to me." - Sterling Marlin (No. 40 Coors Light Dodge).

Ø "When I'm watching TV and I see an old race from Darlington, I'm able to see the history of Darlington and the Southern 500, along with all of the greats who have run there and won there and crashed out of the joint. There's some deep history there, and the race fans down there are some of the most dedicated race fans in our series. That makes it really enjoyable to run well, and hopefully win there." - Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Pontiac).


Ø Johnny Mantz, starting 43rd in a 75-car field, won the inaugural Southern 500 on Sept. 5, 1950. He averaged 76.260 miles per hour in a Plymouth for the winning car owner group consisting of Bill France Sr., Hubert Westmoreland, Curtis Turner and Alvin Hawkins. The historic race was NASCAR Winston Cup's (then known as Grand National) first-ever 500-mile event.


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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Bill Elliott , Jeff Gordon , Bobby Labonte , Terry Labonte , Tony Stewart , Kevin Harvick , Kenny Wallace , Sterling Marlin , Hut Stricklin , Casey Atwood , Ted Musgrave
Teams Bill Davis Racing