Dodge drivers plan holiday weekend

With eight down and 28 races to go on the 2001 NASCAR Winston Cup schedule, Dodge Intrepid R/T drivers have planned a variety of activities for a cherished holiday weekend break. The longest NASCAR season in the past 30 years is not even a ...

With eight down and 28 races to go on the 2001 NASCAR Winston Cup schedule, Dodge Intrepid R/T drivers have planned a variety of activities for a cherished holiday weekend break. The longest NASCAR season in the past 30 years is not even a fourth of the way completed, but the grueling schedule has already taken a toll on some teams. With only three weekends off before a stretch of 20 straight weeks beginning in July, the 10 Dodge drivers intend to make the most of their Easter vacation. Some plan to spend time with their families, go to church and hide eggs, others have golf outings scheduled and some will attend high-speed Easter Parades at various race tracks. Since returning to the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit at Daytona in February, Dodge teams have been knocking on the door to victory lane. So far, they haven't parked in that precious real estate, but two Intrepid R/T drivers hold top-10 rankings in the standings and have been ranked in the top 10 all season. Five of the 10 are ranked in the top 25. Here's a look at the Dodge drivers' accomplishment through the first eight races and a glance at how they plan to spend the holiday.

* Sterling Marlin, driver of the No. 40 Coors Light Dodge Intrepid R/T, jumped off to an impressive start. The 43-year-old Tennessee native is tied for third in the series standings with Johnny Benson, 187 points behind leader Dale Jarrett. Marlin is one of three drivers who has led a lap in all eight races and one of only five drivers with five top 10s in the first eight races. Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates is fielding a two-car Dodge team with Marlin and Raybestos rookie of the year candidate Jason Leffler this season. It's Ganassi's first season as a Winston Cup car owner, and Marlin is off to his best start since 1995 when he finished third in the standings. Marlin will test his Dodge Intrepid R/T at Talladega on Tuesday and Wednesday. It's chassis No. 005, the same Dodge that led 11 times for 39 laps in the 2001 Daytona 500. Marlin finished seventh at Daytona. After testing at Talladega, Marlin plans to help his 20-year-old son Steadman make his NASCAR Busch Grand National debut this weekend at Nashville Superspeedway. "I'll just try to help him get his car running a little better," Sterling Marlin said. "Steadman is real excited about it. I'm not sure how I feel about it, but I know how he'll feel about it if he doesn't make the race, so I'll try to give him a few pointers. That's about all we've got planned. We'll probably stay at the house Sunday and relax for Easter."

* Bill Elliott kicked off the 2001 campaign for Dodge and team owner Ray Evernham in style by winning the pole for the Daytona 500. Elliott finished fifth at Daytona in his No. 9 Dodge Dealers Dodge Intrepid R/T and is ranked ninth in the standings after the first eight races. He's only 96 points behind fifth-place Steve Park and 293 points behind the leader. The 45-year-old Dawsonville, Ga., native says he plans to relax at home over the holidays, hide eggs with his five-year-old son Chase and prepare himself mentally for the upcoming races. "By the time we get to August, September and October, there's going to be a whole different perspective about racing," Elliott said. "I've been around them deals for a number of years. Their philosophy is 'we're just adding another race.' "Well, when they gave up two races at North Wilkesboro, they added New Hampshire and Texas. You could be back home in an hour or so from North Wilkesboro, and all those guys who live in North Carolina could stay home and drive back and forth. "Now, you've got to travel on Thursday and waste half a day Monday getting back to work. Now we're going to Kansas City and Chicago this year. You add testing and other weekends, and it'll wear you out. How teams handle this year's schedule will depend on how well the teams are organized. "It's not so hard on the drivers. But look at the truck drivers and crew guys and people you rely on to put the pieces on the car. Their butts are going to be dragging. We've only had eight races, and I can already see it. We're not even a fourth of the way into the season yet. Right now, it's normal, but that 20-race stretch at the end of the season is going to be abnormal."

* Ward Burton has only one top-10 finish this season, but he's ranked 11th in the standings and is only 32 points out of 10th. Burton finished ninth in the '99 standings and 10th last year. He led nine times for 53 laps in the Daytona 500, more than any other driver, but an accident relegated him to a 35th-place finish. Burton finished fifth at Bristol, and jumped to 11th in the standings -- a gain of 22 spots in five races. Burton's No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge Intrepid R/T joins teammate Dave Blaney in the No. 93 Amoco Ultimate Dodge out of the Bill Davis Racing stables. Davis says he plans to spend Easter on his cattle ranch in Arkansas. "I'd rather go to the ranch than go to the Bahamas," Davis said. "It relaxes me, plus my wife's family is there and we like to get back and see them." Burton's weekend itinerary calls for activities on his farm "We're going to take the kids camping, call a few turkeys, do a little fishing and have some fun," Burton said. "I'll probably do some work on the farm with my tractor, too. "We don't have any trips planned. I take enough weekend trips when we're racing. "Tom Hubert is going to test for me at Talladega on Tuesday and Wednesday, and I'm going to go to Butler's and get to work on a new seat for the race car."

* John Andretti got off to a slow start in his No. 43 Cheerios Dodge Intrepid R/T out of the famous Petty Enterprises shops. An accident in the Daytona 500 resulted in a 39th-place finish and 40th-place ranking in the standings. But Andretti bounced back, finished sixth at Darlington and then scored a runner-up finish in the Food City 500 at Bristol. It was Andretti's best finish ever at Bristol and Dodge's best finish of the season. It propelled Andretti to 16th in the standings, a gain of 24 spots in five races. Tough luck the past two weeks at Texas and Martinsville dropped Andretti to 23rd in the standings, but the 38-year-old Bethlehem, Pa., native feels confident that his Dodge Intrepid will be a threat to win at all tracks this season. Andretti has some very special plans for the Easter weekend. He'll attend a birthday celebration for his 80-year-old grandmother, Mary Stofflet, in Moorestown, Pa.

* Stacy Compton, a 33-year-old driver from Grit, Va., has some big plans for the holiday weekend. Compton says he's no Tiger Woods, but he has a four-day golf outing planned in Myrtle Beach. On the race track behind the wheel of the No. 92 Kodiak Dodge Intrepid R/T, Compton has put together three straight top 15 finishes and has moved from 35th to 25th in the standings in those three events. He started off the season by qualifying on the front row with Bill Elliott at Daytona, and Compton finished a career-best 10th in the season opener. An 11th-place performance at Bristol and back-to-back 15th-place runs at Texas and Martinsville have put a big smile on car owner Mark Melling's face. Beginning Thursday, Compton will try to wipe away Melling's smile. Compton and his partner will go up against Melling and his friend in head-to-head competition on the golf course. It's a north (Michigan's Melling and company) against the south (the Compton duo). Compton says the south holds "at least" a 2-1 advantage in the series, and he plans to extend his lead. "We're going to play 36 holes Thursday and Friday, 27 holes on Saturday and cut it down to 18 on Sunday," Compton said. "We could probably win 'em all, but that might not be too smart when you're playing the boss."

* Like Compton, Dave Blaney, a second-year NASCAR Winston Cup driver, already has scored his career-best finish this season with a Dodge Intrepid R/T. Blaney's No. 93 Amoco Ultimate Dodge finished sixth at Texas. It was the same car that led three times for 70 laps at Atlanta before mechanical problems cost Blaney a shot at the victory. Blaney has two top-10 finishes in the first eight races and is ranked 28th in the standings. The 36-year-old Sharon, Pa., native who now calls Hartford, Ohio, home, has quite an off week planned. He'll attend a Chicago White Sox-Cleveland Indians game in Chicago on Wednesday. "I'm not going to throw out the first pitch or anything," Blaney said. "They probably wouldn't have a radar gun fast enough to clock me." Blaney will then take a trip to the new Chicagoland Speedway on Thursday and make a few laps around the 1.5-mile D-shaped tri-oval in a Dodge Intrepid R/T pace car. Blaney will cap the weekend in Eldora, Ohio, watching his brother compete in sprint car races.

* Casey Atwood, a 20-year-old Raybestos rookie of the year contender from Nashville, Tenn., has taken his share of hard knocks in the first eight races. Atwood led all Dodge drivers in qualifying at Texas and Martinsville and was the highest rookie finisher at Bristol with a 20th-place finish. Atwood ranks fourth in the Raybestos rookie standings and 34th in the NASCAR Winston Cup Standings. "Our finishes haven't reflected how well we've been running," Atwood said. "We try to learn something every week, and by the time we go to these tracks for the second time this season, I think we'll be in good shape." Atwood will test his Evernham Motorsports No. 19 Dodge Dealers Intrepid R/T at Michigan on Wednesday and Thursday. He then plans to watch the inaugural NASCAR Busch Grand National action at Nashville Superspeedway on Friday and Saturday. "It'll be nice to go watch for a change," Atwood said. "Getting a weekend off will be great, but it probably means more to the guys who have kids and families and don't get to see them much."

* Buckshot Jones, a 30-year-old driver from Tucker, Ga., qualified 16th and finished 19th earlier this season at Atlanta. Driving the No. 44 Georgia Pacific Dodge Intrepid R/T out of the Petty Enterprises stables, Jones ranks 39th in the NWCS. He plans to spend his off weekend at his farm in Georgia. "There won't be much work going on," Jones said. "I'm going to play. I'll probably ride the four-wheeler and do a little hunting and fishing and just relax."

* Jason Leffler, a 25-year-old Raybestos rookie of the year candidate from Indianapolis, drives the No. 01 Cingular Dodge Intrepid R/T for car owners Chip Ganassi and Felix Sabates. Leffler ranks 40th in the NWCS and fifth in the rookie race. "I don't have anything exciting planned for the off weekend," Leffler said. "I've already had my off weekend (Leffler failed to qualify at Martinsville). "I've got a new house, and we're going to try to get it finished up and just take it easy."

* Kyle Petty, driver of the No. 45 Sprint Dodge Intrepid R/T, ranks 45th in the NWCS after the first eight races. Petty has qualified for five races this season, highlighted by a 16th-place finish in the Daytona 500. Petty's home near Charleston, S.C., burned down last year, but a new house has been completed at Isle of Palms, S.C., and the Petty clan will spend Easter there. "Kyle and Patti are going to have the whole family down for Easter," Richard Petty said. "We try to get away with everybody four or five times a year, or as often as we can, and everyone loves it -- especially me and (wife) Linda. "My four kids will be there and they have 10 kids between them, so we'll have kids there from six months old to 18 years old. We'll do all the Easter stuff and then come back home on Saturday, go to church on Sunday and just kick back."

-Dodge Motorsports-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers John Andretti , Ward Burton , Bill Elliott , Dale Jarrett , Steve Park , Jason Leffler , Kyle Petty , Sterling Marlin , Buckshot Jones , Casey Atwood , Stacy Compton , Johnny Benson , Tom Hubert , Richard Petty , Chip Ganassi , Dave Blaney , Felix Sabates
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing , Bill Davis Racing