STERLING MARLIN (No. 40 Coors Light Dodge Intrepid R/T) NOTE: Last year Sterling Marlin and the Chip Ganassi with Felix Sabates Racing Team finished third at Las Vegas and left with the series points lead. This time around, Marlin and company ...
STERLING MARLIN (No. 40 Coors Light Dodge Intrepid R/T)
NOTE: Last year Sterling Marlin and the Chip Ganassi with Felix Sabates Racing Team finished third at Las Vegas and left with the series points lead. This time around, Marlin and company enter the UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 ranked No. 1 in the NASCAR Winston Cup Standings. Marlin finished eighth in the Daytona 500 and second last week at Rockingham. He takes an 18-point advantage over fellow Dodge driver, Daytona 500 champion Ward Burton, into Sunday's race in Las Vegas. Dating back to the final three races in 2001, Marlin has recorded five straight top 10 finishes. He's got four top fives in that stretch, including three runner-up finishes.
"If we kept doing that we could damn sure win the championship, but it's a long season and we've got a long way to go," Marlin said. "It's way, way too early to start talking about the championship, but we've got a good start out of the gates. We got close last year, but we had some bad luck along the way. We're going to keep working hard and try to stay focused and see what hap pens.
"We had a good run last year at Las Vegas. It's a handling track, and it always helps to start up front. We're taking a brand new car. It's No. 203. We did a tire test with it at Texas, and it ran real good. We had thought about bringing chassis No. 115. (Marlin's miracle chassis No. 115, finished third at Michigan in its first start in June. On the return trip to Michigan on Aug. 19, 2001, Marlin became a part of Dodge's racing heritage by winning the rain-shortened Pepsi 400 with chassis 115. The same Intrepid finished second in the Brickyard 400 and the NAPA 500 at Atlanta, fifth at Kansas and Homestead and won the fall race at Lowe's Motor Speedway. It'll return next week at Atlanta).
"I think 203 will be as good as 115. We just wouldn't have had enough turnaround time to get 115 ready for Atlanta. Vegas might be a better test for the one engine rule than Rockingham, but it's really going to show up at Atlanta and Texas. You run wide open at those tracks for 500 miles, and you're going to see some engines blow.
"I keep getting asked about that red flag deal last week at Rockingham. It would have been hard to throw it because they were running out of time. Kenseth kept going, and I would have done the same thing when Robby Gordon spun out. We split him down the backstretch, and then Schrader blew an engine. That's when they threw the caution. They should have thrown it when Gordon spun.
"NASCAR keeps talking about saving money. If they want to drop a red flag, then just close pit road. Then no one could gamble and come in and take fresh tires like they did last year at Darlington. That tore up a bunch of cars when they restarted that race. You're out there busting your butt all day and you're leading the race. You can't come in to pit and give up track position, but if you stay out there you're a sitting duck. If you'd close pit road and a guy came in and pitted anyway, then fine him a lap.
"They used to never stop the races for a late caution. It worked good that way for 30 years. The only time they'd red flag a race was if someone tore down a wall or something and they'd have to stop to make repairs. The first time I ever remember them stopping the race was for Dale Jarrett at Richmond. It cost Jeff Green a win in the Busch race last fall at Rockingham, and it cost us the Daytona 500 this year. I'd say about three out of four times when there's a red flag, the leader doesn't end up winning. That's just not right.
"Everybody races under the same rules, so whatever they decide to do is fine with me as long as it's consistent. We'll just keep working hard no matter what the rules are, and try to run up front every week. We've been doing a pretty good job of that lately. I wish one of those three second-place finishes (Atlanta and New Hampshire in 2001 and last week at Rockingham) could have been a win, but we'll keep plugging away at it. You know you can't go through the entire season without having some bad luck. The top teams are so equal now, it really boils down to who has the least bad luck.
"Maybe we can get lucky at Vegas and win the race. I know Spencer (teammate Jimmy Spencer, driver of the No. 41 Target Dodge Intrepid R/T) had a good race out there last year (10th). Bill Elliott runs good out there, so maybe we can keep this momentum going for Dodge. DaimlerChrysler sponsors the race, so it would really be great if a Dodge driver could win it. It'd be even greater if that Dodge driver was in the No. 40 Coors Light Intrepid."
TONY GLOVER (Team Manager Chip Ganassi with Felix Sabates Racing Team Dodge Intrepid R/Ts)
"I'd rather be ahead in the points than behind any time, but it's way too early to start talking about points. We're just going to take it one race at a time and try to win all we can. We thought we had one at Vegas last year, but we got real loose after the last pit stop and we're not sure why. Sterling did a good job bringing it home third, and we left there with the points lead.
"You need a good motor at Las Vegas, and I think that'll be a bigger test for the one-engine rule than Rockingham. You've got a longer straightaway at Vegas. We didn't have any problems at Rockingham with the new engine rule. We only had two 45-minute practice sessions on Saturday, so there's only so much you can do in 90 minutes.
"I guess it would help a lot if we had something written in stone about this red flag deal. It would help everybody if we knew if they were or weren't going to throw the red flag. I'd like to see a permanent rule and not just a judgment rule. It might be better for the fans, but it can cost the owners a lot of money and put a car that's been dominant all day in a bad position at the end of the race.
"We're looking for Jimmy Spencer to have a good race at Vegas. He finished 10th out there last year. Last week at Rockingham was the 41 team's first race and they got a lot better in the second half of the race. I think they had a top 10 car in the second half of the race.
"You know the Roush cars are going to be good at Vegas. They always are, but Kenseth was pretty good last week at Rockingham. I just heard they got fined $30,000. I'd give an extra $30,000 to win any race.
"We'll go to Vegas and have a little fun. I play a little Black Jack, but I've never been very successful at it. We're really going to Vegas for one reason and one reason only and that's to win the race. Anything beyond that is just killing time. We've got our priorities in order. We'd rather be lucky on the race track than in the casinos."