Daytona II: Dodge Motorsports - Sterling Marlin interview

STERLING MARLIN (No. 40 Coors Light Dodge Intrepid R/T) "It's good to be in the lead. We've been there since Rockingham. I was listening to the bonus we could get ($120,000 for winning Pepsi 400 from R.J. Reynolds for winning race and leading ...

STERLING MARLIN (No. 40 Coors Light Dodge Intrepid R/T)

"It's good to be in the lead. We've been there since Rockingham. I was listening to the bonus we could get ($120,000 for winning Pepsi 400 from R.J. Reynolds for winning race and leading standings). We're proud of the team. We're ahead of schedule from where we were last year. We hadn't won a race this time last year, and we were probably fourth or fifth in the points. It's been a good year so far.

"We went and tested all last week. We finally got here to North Carolina, Wrightsville Beach and did a little fishing and playing around down here and we'll head to Daytona Thursday morning.

"Back when we first started (racing), she (wife Paula) had to drive a whole lot. There was a time when we had to drive to just about every race. She'd drive at night when I got sleepy and she'd drive home after races. She's always been there. We've pretty much got a suitcase on wheels. We pull it in and park it and she reloads it and go back out the door. She goes to probably about 80 percent of the races. We've been doing it since we were 20 or 21 years old. She's pretty much used to it. She never really mentions the racing side of it. She pretty much asks where you going this week and never really says much about the racing. She doesn't mettle in business much. She lets me do my thing with the racing and she does the house side of it and we get along great. There's a lot of interest in this sport now, a whole lot more than there was 15-20 years ago. I'm just glad to be here and be part of it.

"After the season we had last year, I think a lot of people thought before the season started that we were going to be about like we were before. We had some real good tests before the season started. Going into the season, I felt like if the motor situation played out and we didn't have any trouble we could be a top five team and win a couple of races. That's exactly what happened. Going into this year, we had the momentum from last year and I felt like we were championship contenders. We went from leading last year to seventh back to third. All a long I figured we were a championship team, and it kind of worked out that way.

"Week in and week out you go to the race track and you want to win the race. The points take care of themselves. If you win, top five, top 10, it'll all work out, but going into the year I felt like we could win four or five races this year and be back in the points championship. Right now we've got two (wins) and the season is not quite halfway so maybe we'll win four races before the year's out.

"It looks like you've got the same guys. Jeff and Jimmie have been running good here of late. It looks like Yates has got his cars going good again. Tony Stewart will have a good race and have a bad race. He can't put a streak together. Mark Martin is right on our heels and the Roush cars are running good. A lot of guys are nipping at our heels. We've just got to stay focused on our stuff and get it driving good and see what we've got.

"Jeff is an excellent race car driver. Teaming up with the Hendrick team, that's one of the top teams in Winston Cup racing. When you get all of them ingredients you're going to have some good runs. Look at Jimmie Johnson. He came in as a rookie and really run good. They've got great race teams, great personnel and that's what it takes. When you've got a groove and a half, it's hard to change it much (at Daytona), but it's about everything. The driver, the crew chief, the people you've got working for you, the sponsor and everything have to go good together. They've got a good package.

"It's pretty neat. I think the fans really enjoy it. I like daytime races better. It's hot and you have about half the guys beaten when the race started because they didn't like being in the hot weather. You had to make your car drive good in the daytime. I just like the daytime races better for me, but the night races anywhere we go are really neat. I think the fans like 'em better because it's cooler.

"I'm not sure (about new engine rule), but I think it starts at Daytona. That's what Tony Santanicola (Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates engine specialist) told me about a month ago. I know at the wind tunnel in Atlanta that Ford had the best car. I think Dodge was second, Chevy third and Pontiac fourth. Since then they gave Chevrolet an inch and a half, so Chevrolet may be the best car now. I don't know. We spent four days last week testing and it's just crazy the stuff that you do to the chassis. You make a big change and it does nothing. Because of the hard tires, if you change the springs a hundred pound, the car does the opposite of what it should do. It's kind of deal where you just kind of guess now what the chassis needs. You've can't think we did this last year and it ought to work. You've just got to throw all kind of options at it and make something work. The Memphis track seems to be laid out a lot like Richmond, and I think we tried some odds and ends there. Kentucky is a lot like Las Vegas, Chicago and Kansas. You test a lot of aero stuff there. What works there will pretty much work at a lot of these mile and a half tracks we go to. When you're at the race track, you've got two hours before qualifying. You've got two 45-minute sessions on Saturday (to practice) and that's not much time to get a car set up. As much stuff as they've changed over the past year, it's just hard to get it all done real quick. We spent a good two days in Kentucky, and we're probably going back in a week or two. We'll just make sure we get all our stuff right.

"It would definitely mean a whole lot to me (winning championship), and I'd definitely like to win it for my dad. He put in a lot of hours back over the years bringing the race cars down the road. I'd definitely like to win it for him. All the guys on the team, Felix has been in racing for a long time and he's part owner now. It'd be neat for everybody on the whole race team, Coors being right there with us through thick and thin and everybody involved on the whole race team. We'll cross that bridge (celebrating) when we get there.

"Daytona, going to Chicago next week, it'll be important to post a top five in Chicago. Any time you can run and knock out some top fives.... You may have an off day and run 15th or 20th, but you can't run 15th or 20th every week and expect to win the championship. We'll get back to where we were and get back to seeing what makes these cars do the crazy stuff they do. We'll get a good car and drive it good and see what we've got.

"We led the most laps in February with it. Lee (crew chief McCall) carried it back to the wind tunnel and tried to get it better. It seemed like last year the Dodges qualified good and couldn't race good. Now this year, none of the Dodges really qualify good on the speedways. We race pretty decent so we'll try to keep getting our stuff better.

"It'd be hard the way inspection stuff is now. It'd be tough to do it (fix a race). It looks like DEI has got a really good speedway program. Back when I was with the 4 car we were really fast on the speedways. They hit on a good combination, and their stuff was really fast. I think the rules kinda favor the Chevrolets with this package, so they'll be right back there Saturday night. Probably half thought the race was fixed and the other half thought it (2001 Pepsi 400) was an up and up deal. From what I see, it would be hard to do anything. I'm pretty sure everything was right.

"We went to Michigan and ran first and third there last year. We pretty much had the same stuff in the car and ran about 20th (in June). We got the car to Kentucky and found out we had a bad steering box on it. I thought we could have gone to Michigan and won the race. The mile and a half tracks we seem to run good on, but we spent all last week testing and getting data so when we go to these mile and a half tracks we'll know what everything does. You change stuff on the car and it doesn't make any sense. The car does the opposite of what it should do. The tires are really hard now and they don't wear out. The aero is so critical on it keeping the left front on the ground. It's nuts on some of the chassis combinations we're running now. We're doing the best we can with what we've got with the Dodge. We're coming right along. We're coming to some tracks we run good at and we'll try to get us a win here pretty quick.

"I don't look at it (point standings). I get in and get out. If I stick around long enough (after a race) I'll get the points sheet and look at it, but there's nothing I can do about it. We'll race as hard as we can each week. Some guys had a chance to knock a big chunk out of it at Sonoma, and they got in trouble, too. Week in and week out we'll go to the races and try to win 'em and do the best we can.

"Mark has been right in the thick of the battle for several years. Gordon is right there, and Jimmie Johnson as a rookie coming in is right there. Tony Stewart will run good for two weeks and then have a bad week. We'll see who is going to shake out of the pack here as we go along, but I think we can hold our own and be right there in the thick of it.

"We were looking at the points before we started the Daytona 500. Look at the 88 and 28. They kind of slumped the first of the year and couldn't run real good. Now they're running good, so it kind of runs in cycles. If you had told me this time last year that I would have won four races and Jeff Gordon had won none, I'd say you were nuts. We've won four races since Jeff has won. Stuff goes in cycles. I think we're down a little bit on chassis and that's why we spent so much time last week testing. We're trying to update data and see what does what.

"I've been doing this a long time and what will be will be. We'll do . everything we can to win races and win the championship. If it doesn't . happen this year, we've got next year. Everybody works hard. I've got a. great group of guys and a great sponsor. We're going to work hard and . see what happens "I think with Chip coming in and having been in racing. all his life, the racing side of it means a lot. Felix is a businessman. and he did racing as a hobby. I don't think a lot of people took him . seriously and took advantage of him. He's a super guy. I think he got . told things that weren't true. That was wool pulled over his eyes a . lot. With Chip coming in, it's going to be hard to fool him. Racing is . all he's ever done. He knows racing inside out .

"I've been doing this a long time. The only thing that upset me (about 2002 Daytona 500) was stopping the race. I didn't say much about it, but I don't agree with stopping the races. Me and Ward (Burton) could have raced back to the start-finish line and that would have probably been the closest finish in Daytona 500 history. The next thing I knew, they were stopping the race. I still don't agree with it, but they're going to do what they want to do.

"I've seen him (father Coo Coo Marlin) get pretty upset. He seems pretty laid back at times, but we just take the good with the bad. We had a car at Daytona that led the most laps and we should have won the race. In my eyes we won the race, but we didn't get the money and we didn't get the check. We did all we could do and came back and finished eighth.

"It was kind of aggravating knowing you could do it and not having the stuff there to do it with. You kind of had your hands tied. All I've ever done is drive a race car and that's all I enjoy doing. You just work hard and do all you can do. I guess the old saying goes, 'Good things come to those who wait.' Chip came along and really turned it around for us. I wouldn't take nothing for where I am, seeing the sport grow from the 70s and 80s and seeing everything that went on. I'll probably run another four or five years if I feel good and we're competitive. Harry Gant was still winning races when he was 51 or 52. I'm just glad to be here.

"It feels real good (to be leading points). You've always got a good parking spot in the garage when you come in. So much can happen. It's so competitive. Look back over the years. In the 80s somebody might run fifth and finish four laps down. If you look at our races now, fifth place might be three seconds behind. The competition has really increased. It gets tougher every year.

"You race these tracks so much. It seemed like last year we were really good on mile and a half tracks. We won at Darlington and Las Vegas this year, and they're pretty much mile and a halves. We've got some of those tracks coming up. We went and did some road course testing, of course it didn't show up much at Sonoma because we went out early, but we're going to try to focus week in and week out and all the tracks coming up, I don't have a bit of problem with. I thought we'd be right there in the mix, top three, top four, kind of like we were last year. We started out knocking out top fives with a win here and a win there. It seems like they let the Chevrolets slide the nose forward on 'em and Chevrolets got more competitive. Ford looks like it really stepped up. We spent all last week testing trying to find out where our stuff was and trying to find out what does what on the chassis it's go so crazy.

"Everybody has got changes from last fall except Dodges and Dodge got stuff taken away. I really think right now the Dodge is not as competitive as it was, so we spent last week doing a whole lot of testing trying to make it better with aero and chassis and everything. We made some big gains I think. I think we'll run as good or better in the second half of the year as we did in the first. The aero is so critical on these cars and we're on a really hard tire that lasts forever. It's just crazy how this stuff reacts to it. If they do it, instead of waiting until Wednesday when you go to a track on Thursday, you need to let us know so we can test and see what we've got. I think NASCAR thinks the spoiler is so big. We won Darlington back in '95 and had 700 pounds of downforce total. These cars now have 1300-1400 pounds of downforce. The cars pretty much drive the same, but Goodyear has had to make a harder tire to keep the tires up under us. It's a situation we've all brought on ourselves, trying to update the cars and keep 'em staying on the ground.

"Daytona and Talladega are the only two places where the draft affects the cars much. Indy and Michigan and some of the high-speed tracks do a little bit. It's a deal where two cars get side by side and they knock a big hole in the air and you can get a good run on 'em. Sometimes you make it three deep and pass 'em. You work all day long to figure out which lane is going to be going faster. You go through the middle and catch a seam and get back in. It's something you've got to work on all night.

"You've got to figure who you're racing, who's behind you. Sometimes you need to pump gas a little bit to let 'em get a run on you and have it timed right where you can pass 'em coming up off the corner. Everybody gets nose to nose and if everybody's car is driving real good it's pretty hard to pass. That's the reason I like Daytona so much. The handling comes into play on the cars a lot, especially on a long green flag run. The short 10-15 lap dash is just a lot of luck to it. The aero package they had last year really bunched everybody up. You could pass, but you couldn't get away.

"I've known all you guys (media) forever. As far as comfort level for me, I'm fine with it. I'm glad to be there and hope I can be on Letterman at the end of the year.

"I've been doing this quite a while. Myself and Earnhardt Sr. and Mark Martin and Rusty and all of those guys that are still running now, we saw times when you got home on Monday and wondered how you were going to pay the tire bill or pay this or that. You were racing week to week and hoping you'd make enough money to get to the race track the next week. I've seen how racing has come along and it makes me much more appreciative if we can win the championship.

"The time I ran at Nashville, I think I had $3,000 the whole year from the sponsor. If you won on Saturday night, you made money. If you finished second you broke even and if you ran third, you lost money. I think we won 14 out of 16 races that year. I had enough money to get going. I won the championship and won some more races. At the time my dad got out of racing and I took the money and bought a Cup car. I had it redone. We fixed it and carried it to Charlotte. It cost a lot footing the bill yourself, but you still wanted to go Winston Cup racing and show the guys you could drive these cars. Hoss Ellington picked us up in '86 and he put me in a fast race car and we ran up front a lot. The next year I started running full time.

"The owner I drove for back in '83, me and Paula would usually take off driving to the races and time it where we could drive at night and get close enough to the track where we could sleep in the car. The hotel room would start the next day and she'd go on in and get the hotel room. We'd get in the car after the race and drive home. My rookie year we drove everywhere except Richmond. I flew there myself. It was a pretty long year."

-dodge-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart , Sterling Marlin , Jimmie Johnson , Chip Ganassi , Harry Gant , Felix Sabates , Mark Martin
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing