STERLING MARLIN (No. 40 Coors Light Dodge Intrepid R/T) NOTE: Marlin remains first in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings for the 19th straight race. His 106-point advantage over Martin is his biggest point lead in the last five races, since...
STERLING MARLIN (No. 40 Coors Light Dodge Intrepid R/T)
NOTE: Marlin remains first in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings for the 19th straight race. His 106-point advantage over Martin is his biggest point lead in the last five races, since Michigan in June when he led by 110 over second-place Jimmie Johnson Marlin has scored 16 top-15 finishes and 11 top-10 finishes in 20 races this season. He is also the only driver to remain in the top 10 in the point standings since the Daytona 500 in 2001. Marlin was ranked fifth in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings after 20 races one year ago. Marlin has scored only two top-10 finishes in his eight races at Indy. Marlin started eighth and finished second in last year's Brickyard 400.
"We just got tight last week. We had a good car in the sunshine and hotter conditions. The more we ran the cooler it got and our last set of tires was a little bit tighter. The track probably tightened up, too. We were just a little bit too tight. It's important. We did a lot of testing the week we were off and found a lot of stuff we were missing on. We went to Daytona and ran third. We went to Chicago and had a good car. We should have run in the top five, but I went across the line and got penalized a lap. We had a good car at Loudon. We ran in the top six or seven all day. We should have had four straight top fives, but two out of four ain't bad. It got us back competitive where we need to be and up there leading races like we need to.
"The big lick for us, what hurt us was California. Mark closed within 40 something and we gained 10 back at Daytona. We came back the next week and Mark might have gained a little more and then we gained it back last week. It's been back and forth, back and forth, but Sonoma is the deal that hurt us when the fan belt came off.
"I was still at the car and (Jeff) Gordon came in (at Sonoma) with a gear tore up. I went to the trailer to change clothes and I saw Kenseth in the pits with transmission trouble, and come to find out Jimmie Johnson had trouble. Everybody had trouble running for points. You never know. It worked out bad to start with and then worked out good when the day ended.
"It gets better every week. Hopefully we can keep it going. If we've got to test every week to find stuff and get better, we're going to do it. It's a credit to all the guys. They've been working hard, and we built a couple of new cars for the 20-race stretch. We should be in good shape.
"We've been racing here nine years and a lot of guys have been around here. The rookies seem to run good everywhere they go. We hope to qualify good here because track position is so important.
"I don't know if it's a coincidence or what that the last four guys who won the Brickyard 400 went on to win the championship. Hopefully we're No. 5. If we run second, third, fourth or fifth and don't win it, it's not the end of the world. History has to be broken sometime. I don't know when it'll be.
"If you happen to qualify bad you'll have to work your way through. It's so hard to pass here. You've just got to make good pit stops, no tires, two tires, gas only or whatever. I was really impressed with the track. It had good grip when we came and tested. I was watching Indy stuff, and the track looked like it was wet all the time. Used to when you got out of the groove here it was really slick. Where everybody ran, the track has really got a lot of grip to it.
"I think if you look at Hendrick, they've been successful with three teams for a long time. It just gives you more resources, more testing time. It costs quite a bit of money to start a team. Then two teams, and three teams, it might pay for itself. I think it will help the race team. I think we're ready. We've got 85 or 90 guys who work at the shop now. We'll probably have to hire 20 more guys to do things and just expand a little bit. We've got a pretty big shop, so it's no big deal.
"There's really nothing on the track. The only advantage I see is at restrictor plate tracks, somewhere like Jimmy (Spencer) really helped us at Daytona when we got three wide and he pushed us back up to third (in Pepsi 400). The other tracks, you just race your teammates as hard as you race anybody. As far as helping you anywhere else, the testing stuff is where it's going to help you a whole lot.
"We started last August. We ran good earlier, but we kind of hit on some stuff and came here and run second. We had been to Michigan and had a chance to win the race. We went to Michigan two weeks after Indy and won. There's a lot of prestige to win here, and we're going to give it our best shot.
"We had some trouble last year with the fuel pump. When we went through the gears it would pretty much lose prime and the car would surge for a little bit. After the race we found out we had a broken valve spring and that probably didn't help matters any. They've worked on the transmission ratios and we had some great restarts last week. We're looking forward to doing it this week.
"We brought the same car we had last week. What usually works at Pocono kinda works here. We've got the same car we won with at Darlington and Las Vegas. You bring your best piece here, so hopefully it'll be good enough. It's no pressure. It's just another day at the office. We came here to win, and that's what we're going to try to do.
"We weren't holding back. We had got behind on some chassis and aero stuff. The motors guys went to work and it all kind of came together last weekend. I was at Daytona (Pepsi 400 in July) and saw Fatback (28 car crew chief Michael McSwaim) in the garage. We had been testing all that week. He said ya'll don't have to worry about all this stuff. Just take it easy. You're going to put too much pressure on yourself. I said if I had a Ford I wouldn't be testing. We had to go test. We were getting beat, and we had to get better. We were probably a 10th or 15th place car before. Now I think we're back where we need to be, a fifth-place car week in and week out.
"We found some stuff that doesn't make any sense to do to the race car, but it makes it faster. We just had to go somewhere where you've got two days and you can run all day long. It's so crazy now with these chassis setups, you don't know what does what. There's no rhyme or reason, but for some reason it works.
"Mark (Martin) has been in a lot of championship runs. I think he finished second two or three times. Jeff has won four championships. All of them guys are veterans. They've been there right in the middle of it. You've just got to come in with your best game week in and week out and see what happens. We've been pretty consistent all year. We just had one place where we stumped our toe at Sonoma. The fan belt came off and there was nothing anybody could do about it. We had a few runs where we should have finished better and a few runs like Pocono in the first race when we didn't have a fourth-place car. We made track position calls and got there where we needed to be. You make good calls in the pits and drive smart all day and you'll be where you need to be.
"Twenty years ago, I was racing in Nashville and doing some spot Winston Cup races on and off. Back then it was hard to get a good run. In the mid 80s you had seven or eight good teams. You had more drivers than you had good cars. It took a long time to finally find a good car and show what you could do. You didn't know. The popularity of NASCAR started taking off and that's what's weird, now it keeps going and going and going. You've got more sponsors and owners getting in, enabling more drivers like me to finally get with good teams and good cars and go. I had some thoughts back then about how it was going to go, whether you were ever going to get a good ride or not. You never know. Finally Hoss Ellington gave me a break to drive his car and we went to Daytona and qualified third. We were running third with two laps to go and ran out of gas. You've got to be in the right place at the right time and get a break.
"Back in '83 when we drove for rookie honors, we drove to every track. We drove twice to California and I think I flew to Richmond once, but I couldn't afford to fly. The team would come through Tennessee and I'd jump in the truck and go with 'em. I'd ride to Carolina and jump in the van with them and ride to Pocono, Dover or wherever. I'd get home Monday evening some time, but I was just glad to be there, to be running and get experience and run all of the races.
"It makes you appreciate it, seeing where you were and where you came from and where the sport was at that time and where it is now. Back then I never thought we'd be running here at Indy, but we've been here nine years. It just makes me appreciate it more.
"I've heard it. We'll try to win. We didn't come here to run 10th. We came here to win. We'll see what happens. There's nothing I can do about it. The Sonoma deal, there was nothing I could do about it. What's going to be is going to be I guess. There's no need to lose any sleep over it.
"I've got a lot more attention, going through the garages or wherever. That comes with it, the popularity that's going on now. Happy Hour is on TV. Everything we do is on TV. I'm fine with that.
"You've got a lot of new fans coming in, and you've got a lot of fans who have been here a long time. Back when Harry Gant was running, it was great to see him win those four races. I thought that was neat. I guess he was about 50 at the time. I still feel pretty young, 45. I hope to be doing this another five years. We've got a good race team put around us. As long as we all stay together, I think we'll be right in the hunt every year.
"Different people like different things. I'm a pretty relaxed guy. I could care less about doing some other stuff going southeast or New York or whatever goes on. I'm happy being at home or going over to Wrightsville Beach (N.C.) fishing or whatever. I'm pretty laid back.
"People at the race track or autograph sessions or whatever, as the season goes on, more and more people come up and say they're pulling for you to win this thing. I hope we do. Since he (father Coo Coo Marlin) quit racing, he doesn't' say much about it. When I drive off on Thursday evening, he just says drive it as hard as you can and get a good finish.
"That's what really impressed me when Chip took over. The work ethic those guys have got, nothing bothers 'em, they're up for any task. We've got a great race shop put together, a great bunch of people. We'll just hire some more people and start building up some more cars for next year.
"Last year with what you had, your car really had to drive good to get off the corners. This year you've got a little more grip, so everybody's got more grip. Last year everybody slid a little more, but if you could make your car drive better you could pass 'em. Until we get qualified and get in race trim tomorrow, we'll see what we've got.
"Like the call in Chicago, I don't know if I was over the line. I guess I was. It was a deal where it was a gas and go and you don't ever really stop. You get three seconds worth of gas and kinda roll through the pits and go. I've never seen the official. Maybe it was a rookie official, and he didn't know the situation. I've done it a million times, but they caught us on it and we had a top five car. There's nothing you can do about it. You just keep going.
"Everybody works on their stuff and tries to bring their best stuff here. We went and tested and found a lot of stuff that was missing on it. Ernie (Elliott) and them have found some stuff in the motors. It showed last week, so I'm looking forward to the race Sunday. I think we've got as good a shot to win as anybody.
"Jimmy (teammate Spencer) was here a week later than we were, and they found some stuff. At the time we didn't have it on our car. We found some stuff at Pocono last week, so we're pretty much going to go a little different than we were when we tested, so hopefully we'll make it a little better.
"It would mean a whole lot for all of us (to win Brickyard 400), for myself, Dodge, Coors Light and everybody. I've got a lot of races and a lot of laps around here, and we sure would like to win it."