STERLING MARLIN (No. 40 Coors Light Dodge Intrepid R/T) "It was real exciting for us. We've been so close to winning one all year. I felt like if we kept chipping away at it we'd win. I'm happy for Dodge and Coors. Coors has been with us...
STERLING MARLIN (No. 40 Coors Light Dodge Intrepid R/T)
"It was real exciting for us. We've been so close to winning one all year. I felt like if we kept chipping away at it we'd win. I'm happy for Dodge and Coors. Coors has been with us through thick and thin. I'm glad for all them guys.
"I felt like with all the testing we did in preseason -- I knew what we had last year and then we got the Dodges. I thought we'd win one of the first six races. We were close at Daytona and close at Atlanta and blew up. Me and Harvick had been back and forth all day for third and fourth, and he wound up winning the race. We ran good the first six races. We just could never close the deal on it.
"It's aggravating knowing you can run up front and for some reason you can't, whether the body's not right, the chassis not right, the motor's not right, you just hadn't got the right people working on the cars. I love Felix to death, but he had like three businesses going. It's hard to keep your finger on everything. I don't think a lot of people thought Felix was really serious about racing. Then Chip buys in and people know that Chip is a racer. That's all he's ever done, and he's had a lot of success where he's been. I know when Dodge came to us and wanted Chip to run Dodges, Chevrolet was there kicking on the door, too. Where were they at when we were struggling? It's a deal if you run good, you get rewarded. We could run good a couple of times a year. If you run good every week, Chevrolet is going to come to you and Dodge or Pontiac or Dodge or whoever is going to come to you and want you to run their products. It's just a situation we were in.
"You don't know if their equipment is that good (if some drivers are not producing expected results). Maybe some people thought that about me, but since I was 10 or 12 years old, I've always been real competitive. If I played you in football or basketball or whatever, I was going to try to beat you. That's the way I am in a race car. You want to win. You do your best to win. Sometimes you do and sometimes you don't. But everytime you get out of the car you give 100 percent whether you end up 15th or 20th. When you get out of the car, you five all you have.
"If it gets like that (just riding around), I'll quit. When it's not fun anymore, I'll quit."
WHERE ELSE COULD YOU MAKE THAT KIND OF MONEY?
"Rob a bank, I guess. Maybe some guys' stuff is not as good as it needs to be. A few teams think they've got the best equipment and best people. I've seen them swap drivers and they've don't run any better. The finger gets pointed at the driver. Well, hell, he ain't driving no more. They switch drivers and it doesn't fix nothing. It's a two-way street I guess. Maybe some guys kind of lay down a little bit, but maybe the team's not as good as it needs to be. I drove as hard the past three or four years when we weren't winning. The stuff wasn't there to do it with, and you couldn't do it."
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO GET THE FIRST WIN FOR DODGE?
"When Chip and Andy and Tony put their heads together, they really put a bunch of good people together. Ernie Elliott and them guys doing the motors, they're the best motor builders or the best one or two in the business. We went in and got our own fab shop, where last year we farmed stuff out. If you wanted to change something on the car, it took two weeks to change it. Right now, they shoot one down to the fab shop and a day later they've got a new side on it or hood or nose or whatever. I guess about half the people quit last year when Chip bought it, and they just hired more people. It's just a good organization they put together."
DID YOU EVER DOUBT YOUR ABILITY?
"No, I never doubted it. You give it all every time you get in it, and if it ain't there, it ain't there. That's all I can say about it."
DO YOU READ MORE NOW ABOUT THE SAFETY ISSUES?
"You glance at it, but all this stuff that's gone on since Dale's deal is just ridiculous. Myself as a driver and the other drivers out here, we know these cars are safe. You're surely not going to turn your back on something. Some drivers are hard-headed enough. I use to say I'm not going to wear gloves. I got burned here at Bristol in '91. I had been hard-headed before that season and wouldn't wear gloves. Starting that season, I started wearing gloves. If I hadn't had gloves, I probably wouldn't have fingers now.
"The Hutchens device, it took awhile, but Bobby Hutchens finally wore me out. I've been wearing it, and I think it would be a good idea if everybody wore it. The HANS or Hutchens or whatever, but you never know what's going to happen.
"Steadman (Marlin) is 20 and knows more than everybody I guess. I told him if I caught him running without gloves I was going to park the car. I didn't see him do it, but they said last week he didn't have his gloves on. I kinda put a foot in his butt this week and said, 'you're going to wear gloves.' You just don't take nothing for granted, that it's not going to happen to me."
WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED MOST FROM THE SAFETY REPORTS?
"You can learn about the seat belts. When you tighten them you've got to have them good and straight and not at an angle. It reduces the tension on it. One thing I brought to NASCAR from when I got burned. The car is on fire and you're disoriented and you're not looking for a fire extinguisher. I think we need something like the drag cars that's automatic and goes off at certain degrees. It's mounted in the trunk. It's inexpensive and it would help keep the risk of fire down. It's not mandatory. You can put it in if you want to. We don't run it, but I think it ought to be mandatory. You get on fire and want out of the car, you're not hunting a fire extinguisher."
DOES NASCAR NEED A SAFETY COMMITTEE?
"Well, you make suggestions. Sometimes they help and sometimes they don't. I think it wouldn't hurt to have five, eight guys on a safety committee. I think a couple of tracks need to be looked at, some places on some tracks. All-in-all, I think NASCAR does a good job on the safety stuff, but there's still some areas that need to be looked at.
"I'd say Formula One stuff is a lot more complicated than what we've got here. Go back and look at what we call the old Banjo seat. Back in the mid 70s and 80s, you thought that was the only seat to have. You look at it now and you don't know how we could have raced in them things. It's on and on. Go to some museums and look at some of those old cars in the 60s. You wouldn't have got out of an electric chair to get in 'em. They drove 'em. You just go on and stuff gets updated, safer and safer."
YOU TESTED EARNHARDT'S CAR ONCE. HOW WAS THE SEAT?
"He had an old type Banjo seat. New ones would come out, and I hadn't drove in one since I was a kid. It was weird getting in it, how much you could slide around in the seat. It didn't really support you. That was his seat, and that was the way he was going to do it. It ain't the mounting, it's the comfort part of it. Sometimes they build a new car and you get in the car to practice and your back hurts or your legs are bound up and they have to move the seat to get you comfortable in the car. NASCAR looks at the seat. I think the way Dale had his belt mounted. I didn't see how he had them mounted, but I've got a good idea how they were mounted. They say the shorter you can get the belts and closer you can get them to your hips, it's better instead of mounting them way back in the back. I didn't see how it was mounted."
DISCUSS CHAMPIONSHIP RACE
"We gained a little bit here the past two or three weeks, closing in on Ricky and Dale. Gordon has got a great race team, and he's a great driver. If he has a couple of bad races, everybody is back in the mix. If they continue to hammer out top fives and top 10s and a win now and then, he's going to be hard to beat."
TALK ABOUT TESTING AT TALLADEGA
"We raised the roof on the car and made it run faster. We made it a real ugly car. It's kind of weird. We sat on the pole at Daytona and ran 183 mph. We go to Chicago the next week, a mile and a half track, and run 183. Something is wrong with his picture. The speed for me at Chicago was OK, but for me we need to run 195-200 at Talladega and get out of these big packs and these aero packages and all this stuff and let us race like we used to. A pair of tin snips would fix it real quick. Get all the aero stuff off. Use to we'd qualify at 210. It'd take your breath. You'd just aim it and hope it went where you aimed it. The tires were not as good then and the aero stuff. During the race we ran 200 or 205 and it was comfortable. You could drive the car. You were spread out. It's my thinking. We used to run 195, 198 at Daytona and you didn't have these big old clumps of cars. Just like us this year (at Talladega). We had a good car, but you'd get boxed in and now you can't go below the yellow line. It's like riding through Atlanta in rush hour traffic. This lane goes and this lane goes. You can't go anywhere.
"Me and Tony Glover were talking. We spent a ton of money on Daytona and Talladega stuff. We got us a pole, but when the race starts it doesn't matter if your car is two seconds slower. At Talladega, we got real loose leading the race. I told them I had to get out of here and we went to the back. I could sit there and run half throttle and keep up. That's not racing. You start the race, and I think you ought to try to lead every lap. Some of the guys are looking for that big wreck, so they go to the back and wait to the last 20 laps to run. That's not racing.
"There's no safe place, but you just take a gamble. Sometimes it works and sometimes it don't. To me, racing is when they drop the flag and you go as hard as you can go for 500 miles. It's a lot safer if you're running two deep instead of four deep and you've got some guys who haven't been in Winston Cup racing much. You look up and here they come. Daytona, early in the race, we should have wrecked three or four times. Guys were bouncing off the side of you. After 10 laps, guys that started 38th, you look up and here they are running in the top five and 'look at me, I'm going to lead the Daytona 500.' They liked to took us all out. That's what they've got to fix. The good teams bust their butts to have good cars. Once you start the race, it don't make any difference how good your car is. You try to work on your chassis and get your cars driving good, build real good motors, it just don't make any difference because everybody is on top of each other. You ain't going to get away from 'em."
WHAT ARE YOU EXPECTING TOMORROW NIGHT AT BRISTOL?
"I've always enjoyed this place. It's a real neat track. When they first concreted it, I didn't like it much. It was really a one-groove. The more they've run, the more it's got worked in. I like it here."
WHAT WILL IT BE LIKE WITHOUT EARNHARDT IN A NIGHT RACE AT BMS?
"I don't know. You might have to ask Terry Labonte. Dale definitely made excitement. We were right in the middle of that wreck he had with Terry here that time. We had run all night and didn't have a scratch on the car. We wound up all piled up off turn two. People were screaming and hollering and throwing stuff. It was pretty wild."
IS RACING AT BRISTOL UNDER THE LIGHTS 'RACING'?
"Yeah, this is racing. I think it is (some of the best racing on the circuit). Here and Richmond you can put on a good show for the fans. Martinsville is flat, but you can pass and run side by side. Go to New Hampshire and you can't run nowhere, but this is racing here. I was raised on racing under the lights. It's pretty neat, seeing all these people when you get ready to start the race. You know you're not in a 25-lapper. Here, you've got to be pretty patient. Lots of things can happen real quick. You've got to give a guy a break. You turn him around, he's apt to come down and clip you and then all of a sudden five or eight cars are piled up. You have 15 or 18 cautions, so you've got to be on your toes all night."
HOW HAS RACING CHANGED?
"The biggest thing is competition. You look at a race here 15 years ago, and you might have two cars on the lead lap. Third and fourth place might be their lap, and the fifth-place guy might be their lap and the 10th-place guy might be six or eight laps down. If you finish a lap down here now, you're going to finish about 15th. That goes for everywhere. Back in the 60s, Petty came from 14 laps down to win a race in Nashville. The competition every year increases more and more and more. Back then you drove as hard as you could. Now, there's a premium on qualifying good, where you don't have to go through all the traffic. You qualify good and get a good pit stall on the front. You've got to drive hard and drive smart, too. I think qualifying is a lot more important now than it used to be. The influx of sponsors coming in have enabled owners to get good equipment and good people, motors, parts and everything. It's really closed the gap."
WHO WILL YOU BE LOOKING OUT FOR TOMORROW NIGHT?
"All 42 of them I guess. We led early in the spring here and broke a suspension piece. One thing I did ask NASCAR, if you're running fifth here on lap 300 and have a restart, by the time you clear traffic, you're actually starting 10th. By the time you get clear, the leader is already gone. He's in turn three when you're coming off turn two. I asked them to let the fast cars start on the inside. Let us race. Here and Martinsville, it's just so hard to pass and you've got to be so careful on the outside groove not to make any mistakes or you'll get taken out."
DO YOU THINK THE SAFETY ISSUE IS FINALLY CLOSED?
"I hope so, but people still will be asking about it. A year from now, they'll still be asking about it."