STERLING MARLIN (No. 40 Coors Light Dodge Intrepid R/T) NOTE: Marlin leads the NASCAR Winston Cup Standings by 35 points over Jeff Gordon after the first three races. Marlin is the only driver who has recorded top 10 finishes in all ...
STERLING MARLIN (No. 40 Coors Light Dodge Intrepid R/T)
NOTE: Marlin leads the NASCAR Winston Cup Standings by 35 points over Jeff Gordon after the first three races. Marlin is the only driver who has recorded top 10 finishes in all three races this season. Marlin will run the same Dodge Intrepid R/T chassis he used last week at Las Vegas. He led 34 laps last week and finished third. The last time a Dodge driver led the NWCS was July 31, 1977 when Richard Petty held the No. 1 spot after Pocono. Marlin finished 12th last year in the Cracker Barrel 500 and eighth at AMS in the NAPA 500.
"We've hired a lot of good people. Andy Graves is doing a great job, and Ernie Elliott is doing our motors. We've got a good race team. We've got our own fab shop hanging the bodies, and we can change things quick if we have to. At the start of the season they put Tony Glover with Jason Leffler. I don't know what happened, but he got switched around to me. We acquired Lee McCall (crew chief) from Jeremy Mayfield's team last year. We got a couple of other key guys off teams over the winter.
"We crank the car every Sunday and just like at Vegas, Glover says, 'OK, this is round three.' This will be round fourth for the fourth race of the season. If we're still leading the points toward the end of the season we might go conservative on some stuff, but when they drop the flag we're going to try to win it and let the points take care of themselves.
"We've got a great bunch of guys on the Coors Light team. They've got fire in their eyes and they want to win. It's the same way in the shop now. The guys in the fab shop have sparks flying. They're getting after it. We went and tested at Daytona and felt like we were about a 25th place car. We went back home and talked to Andy and asked what we were going to do. He said we were going to build two new cars. They built two new cars in five and a half days. We went to the wind tunnel and went to Talladega and sure enough we'd picked up half a second. That's what it takes. It takes a lot of hard work. My hat's off to all of them.
"I love the short tracks. I think we've run second at Martinsville, but it seems like we always have a little trouble. At Martinsville the last couple of years, we thought we had a car that could have won the race, but we always seem to run into a little trouble. Me and Ricky Rudd had the class of the field and our alternator went bad and ran the battery down. We're going to Bristol on Tuesday and Wednesday to test, and we're looking forward to going to Bristol. We need to go to Bristol and get a win. That's really my home track love that place. We'll go up there and try to get us a win at Bristol.
"Lee McCall has been a big plus for us. He's brought some stuff over from Jeremy's team that we've tried. The one thing I've got with Tony and Lee, both of them have driven race cars. When you tell 'em something that you feel in the seat of your pants, they know what you're talking about. We all kind of go the same direction with the chassis, so I know that's been a big plus for us. I'm just tickled to death with the whole gang I've got.
"I haven't put one (HANS device) on yet, but I've talked to some guys and they say it really restricts your movement getting in and out of the cars. Until they figure it out, we'll just go with what we have. I run a strap behind my shoulder to the helmet. I guess about 70 or 80 percent of us do. We'll look at the HANS deal, but I just haven't tried it. It's hard to say it's a negative, but I talked to Jeff Burton and he says it's hard to get in and out of the race car.
"When we went to Daytona and tested, I guess we tested four times at speedways. A lot of people accused us of sandbagging, but we weren't. That's all we had when we left. The guys went and built a new car and it was a half second quicker. I felt a lot better after we left Talladega, right before we went to Daytona. I knew what some of the guys ran at Talladega. I figured here and Darlington and everywhere else we'd have a good race car because we tested so much over the winter. We went to Kentucky, Charlotte a short track in Lakeland, Fla., so I felt like we had a good package.
"We really tested before the season ended last year. We tested somewhere before the Atlanta race last November. We went to seven or eight tests over the winter. They all worked out good. We had a lot of things to work out on the car. We finally got what we needed.
"Andy had known Jason through the open wheel stuff. I guess he thought he'd put Tony and me back together. We'd done some stuff together, so I guess they decided to switch. It really didn't make any different which way they decided to go. We've got a good race team put together either way. It's fine with me. I get along with just about anybody.
"I haven't tried the HANS, but just from looking at it. Bill Elliott had one yesterday working with it, and it just looks like it restricts your movement. Driving these cars, you've got to turn your head a lot, seeing if somebody is up on your right rear or left rear or wherever, but it just looks like it really restricts your movement.
"If they mandate it, you've got to run it. Until they do... I might try one. I say I'm not, but with the strap you run it's got your helmet tied real tight. We've run 'em for years, so I'm going to stick with that right now.
"I do know that NASCAR is working on safety stuff every day. The fire I had at Bristol years ago, they need to put a fire extinguisher like they do with the drag cars in the trunk. It goes off with a heat sensor. With a fire, you don't have time to pull a pin. I thought they ought to have something automatic if a fire goes off. That's something I thought we ought to do, but we've never done it. I feel as safe in a car right now as I ever have. It's pretty much the same stuff we've had for three or four years.
"We're glad to be on top and be running good. I've never lost anything. We just got the right parts and people and we're right back on top. So far, so good. I sleep good. It's fun to come to the race track knowing you're going to run good. The past few years, you knew if everything went right you might have a chance to win one or two races a year. That's what we had to work with. We should have won at Martinsville and we had a good car at Bristol last year. We ran faster than Rusty on the long runs, but we were pitting on the back straightaway and we wound up eighth. Something like that always happened to us.
"I figured if we didn't fall out of any races in the first three or four races that we'd be in the top five in the points. If we got out of every place without skinning anything up or having any blown engines that we could be in the top five. Everything has worked out good for us. My hat's off to the crew. I'm the same guy. We've just got some good stuff to drive now.
"You do everything you can to make sure the inside of your car is safe, full face helmet, gloves. I used to not wear gloves. I was as hard headed as any of them. When I got burned that year, I decided I was going to wear gloves to save my hands. Some things come along that you're going to have to do. The HANS device you might have to start wearing it. I don't know. It might take a little while to get worked out. We'll just have to see.
"When Chip Ganassi bought the team and Andy Graves came over last year in July or August. He started hiring some people. The biggest plus I saw was we were going to start doing our own bodies. There were a lot of ifs to it, but if we had our bodies farmed out, and we had to make those changes for Daytona, we wouldn't have had time, but those guys want to win. They worked 24 hours a day and got them built. That's what it takes. You can't expect it to be an 8 to 5 job and go to the house. You've got to work.
"The engines are great. I'll put them up against anybody's. The whole package is there. Basically, we've built all new cars. Dodge has given us great support. We've been to the wind tunnel a bunch. They were at the wind tunnel yesterday. Chip wants to win. Just like Las Vegas last week, he set us all down and asked what he could do to make us better. He asked us what we needed, and that's the kind of guy he is. If you've got any suggestions, just tell him and he'll do what he can for us. Basically, you've got to get the people and equipment together and then just not do anything stupid. The basic stuff that's always worked on race cars will still work. You just try not to get out in left field.
"We want to be the first Dodge to win a race. We did win one (Twin 125 at Daytona), but it didn't count. With Dodge, the wind tunnel stuff and motor stuff is shared, but if we find something on our car, I'm not going to tell anybody. That's money out of my pocket. We do share chassis and motor and wind tunnel stuff.
"After the Daytona 500 that Sunday night, I didn't sleep much trying to think what we could do to make it better (at the restrictor plate races). We need to sit down with Helton and Nelson and see what we can do. We ran 168 laps at Daytona and it was going to pay $1.3 million to win. With 30 or 40 to go, you knew people were going to start taking chances. The problem I see, back in the 70s and 80s, you didn't have but eight to 12 cars to race. Now you've got 40 good cars. When you throw 'em all out there, everybody is on top of each other. You've got to separate the cars. I don't know if you speed them up where handling comes into play and the best handling cars will come from the top. You can take a car that's a second and a half slower now and in the right situation, you can be leading the Daytona 500. We need some fine tuning somewhere to make it better.
"It's more and more competitive than it was in '95. In '96, I think we finished eighth in the points. In '97 we lost eight engines and finished way back. In '95, Gordon and Earnhardt and myself were battling for points. It didn't seem like that big of a deal, but it was. We raced every week and ended up third. If you go back and look, I think we fell out of Richmond and burned a gear up. There were a lot of ifs, but you've got to have a couple of bad races a year. If you can go the whole year and hammer out those top fives and top 10s, and get an average finish of about sixth or seventh, you can win the championship.
"Getting Ernie Elliott to build our engines was a big plus. Ernie has always built great motors. They did run 'em on a chassis dyno, and Rusty had a little more than we did at Daytona, but when they first built them they weren't too impressed. Ernie is a never-say-die guy and he kept working until he got 'em where he wanted 'em. That's what it takes from everybody. Ernie seems tickled to death. They got some bonuses coming in, so hopefully after Sunday we'll get 'em a big bonus.
"If you know what your car is doing, you kind of play the race out before the race is run, the different situations. It's like a football coach getting a scouting report on the other team, knowing what you've got to do. The Daytona 500, I probably ran it 500 times before the race, what will you do in different situations. You're always thinking about it. I guess all drivers are probably daredevils anyway. I probably shouldn't have made it to 20 years old as wild as we were in school and doing crazy stuff. You look back and say it was pretty stupid, but we made it. The first time I ever drove a race car I thought it was fun. I guess it's something about taking a 3,400-pound car and making it do things it's not supposed to do. It's just fun doing it. The best thing that probably happened was me buying a race car. As wild as we were with street cars, at least you had some protection. You don't think about getting hurt in other sports. My football coach told us if you think about getting hurt you're going to get hurt. You've got to give it 100 percent. The ones lagging back are usually the ones that get popped.
"We need to get our car driving good for Sunday. We hear they're wearing left front tires out, so we need to get a good combination to be good on long runs. Last fall, we were decent for 10 laps, but then our car would come in and the longer we ran the better we got. We probably had a third-place car, and then they had a caution with a few laps to go and then they had the wreck and we wound up seventh. We've got our Vegas car here, and I think it's going to be just as good here. Hopefully we can be good on the long runs and it'll stay green."
BILL ELLIOTT (No. 9 Dodge Dealers Dodge Intrepid R/T)
"New tires, new car, new deal. We didn't test here, so right now it's just wait and see. The Busch race will probably tell us a lot today. I'm sure tire wear will be an issue. It's pretty typical for Atlanta. It's slowed down here some from what it was. I think the race pace will probably be 30.50 or 31 flats, depending on how the tire goes. It'll probably be warmer here tomorrow, and that'll probably slow the speeds down a little bit. How fast do you want to run? I guess that's NASCAR's question to answer. You've just got to do whatever the rules will let you do.
"Bobby Labonte had an exceptional year last year and didn't have any problems. Dale Jarrett had a pretty exceptional year the year before and didn't have many problems. If they get on a roll and get to running good, and whoever is the points leader has a little bit of problems, a 100 points or so is easily attainable, especially at this time.
"You can look at it both ways. Two extra races could give you two more opportunities to mess up, especially at race tracks that are new and you don't know what to expect going into them. You don't know about tire wear, you don't know about the race track.
"You better learn to not go off and do everything because you're going to wear yourself out. Between the testing and what we're going to run is going to be hard enough. If I had to go to Vegas every week, I'd quit. I like Vegas. It's OK, but to go through that ordeal every week, it's just not worth it. Atlanta is good. This is kind of like a vacation to come here. Usually the hard months are May, June, July and August, when you start traveling and going the long distances. That's what harder on the team. Usually by the time you get to August, the shop guys, truck drivers are killed by that time. It's a tough deal, a lot of work. The driver has got it easy, but all these other guys are the ones you're going to burn out.
"I think it's going to be the team that's able to keep their people freshest through that 20 race stretch at the end of the year. You're going to see the complexity of this stuff change dramatically the next couple of years. If they keep adding races and don't change something, I've seen it the last two or three years from owning my own deal and how bad it wears people out by that point in time. You don't have time to recoup. They keep adding races. NASCAR looks at it, if a driver isn't racing here he's off racing somewhere else, well, that's the driver.