STERLING MARLIN (No. 40 Coors Light Dodge Intrepid R/T) NOTE: Marlin has scored top 10 finishes in the past six races and top fives in five of the last six. He has an average start of 13.666 and an average finish of 3.333 during that stretch.
STERLING MARLIN (No. 40 Coors Light Dodge Intrepid R/T)
NOTE: Marlin has scored top 10 finishes in the past six races and top fives in five of the last six. He has an average start of 13.666 and an average finish of 3.333 during that stretch. Marlin will race chassis No. 115 at Atlanta. The chassis debuted last season with a third-place finish at Michigan 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. In six starts, chassis No. 115 has an average finish of 2.33 with two victories, two runner-up finishes, a third and a fifth. Marlin is the only driver to have top 10 finishes in all three races this season, and he's the only driver to rank in the top 10 in NASCAR Winston Cup Points since the 2001 Daytona 500 (39 races). Marlin's victory last week in Las Vegas gave Dodge a 24-21 lead over Ford in the season-long manufacturers standings. Pontiac is third with 11 points, followed by Chevrolet with 10. After three races in 2001, Dodge had 10 points and Chevrolet led the way with 27 and three victories. Dodge has two wins and a second-place finish among manufacturers to its credit this season.
"When the season started last year we had great chemistry. Everybody worked well together. They kind of got the same ideas. It's worked out good. I've been with Tony Glover (Team Manager) a long time, and it was a good plus for us getting Lee McCall (crew chief) and all the guys on the team. We've got one guy who's been on there since 1998. We didn't lose anybody from last year. That's helped us some, too.
"Lee and I think a lot alike. On Sunday morning at Las Vegas, I told him we had to work on the car. We had a fifth or 10th-place car. I knew if we were going to win we had to change some stuff. We put our heads together and four or five of us came up with some ideas to change the car and it was perfect all day.
"I thought we'd be pretty consistent this year. The last three races last year we had a fifth and a second. I felt like going into this year we'd be pretty close again.
"I don't know if there'll be any controversy this week or not. We've about run out of things to do I guess. At least we've got one win out of three, but we've had a good car all year. We'll keep hammering at it and try to win every week.
"I've been in this business a long time, so I kind of know how it works. That's all I'm going to say. Sometimes it's a little different, things are explained a little different. I've been doing it a long time, and I kind of know what to expect. If you had a chance to win and it's snatched away from you, it's pretty heart-breaking, but we've led all three races and had a chance to win all three. We can't ask for much more than that. We could be 3-0, but we could also be 0-3. It feels good to come in week in and week out and be competitive and have a chance to win every week.
"We've got to go work on that road course stuff. For some reason I run better at Sonoma than I do at Watkins Glen. We've got a test scheduled at Watkins Glen and try to get our road course stuff down. Going into last year when the season was over, I didn't realize it, but we had five finishes of 32nd on back. If we could have taken just three of those away, we were running in the top five in all five of those races when something happened. We would have been right on Jeff's heels. Going into this year, we were thinking championship, thinking winning races and the championship. If we weren't, we need to be doing something else.
"I think we're getting close week in and week out. We're not here. We've got to change some stuff on the car to get it better. Qualifying at Atlanta, it really doesn't matter where you start. It's a wide track and the groove changes. We come from way back last year. Nadeau came from way back and almost won the race. You've just got to get the right handling package in for the race.
"I like it (Atlanta) a lot. When they built it, it was a one groove deal. The more races run, the more the groove kept working up. Now you can run the bottom, the middle and the high side. It's a fun track to run.
"All I've ever done is drive race cars. It's always been fun, but when you come to the track week in and week out and know you've got a real good chance to win the race, it makes coming a lot of fun. I've done a lot. You had to build your own cars and drive 'em up and down the highway. Worked on your daddy's stuff and pitted and changed tires. I've kind of done a little of everything, so it's fun.
"Back in '98 and '99, we probably had a 15th-place car. We'd pop in every now and then and get a top five. It was really hard to get a top five. When you get all the right people and all the right parts and pieces, and Dodge came in and helped us. It was a big turnaround. It's nothing I'm doing different. We've just got good stuff. I knew before the season started we had a good team put together. We did a lot of tests over the winter and went to some tracks that we hadn't had a good car before and were a good three tenths to half a second quicker than before. Ernie Elliott and his guys do the motors, and that's been a big plus for us. We have our own fab shop, and we used to farm stuff out. We couldn't get bodies done or what we wanted done. Right now, the boys can put a body on and change the whole car in four or five days.
"We've got some more work to do on the car. We just haven't hit the right combination yet. We're not going to give up. This track changes so much from qualifying to the race. During the race you can run right up around the top. Now you're on the bottom. We just haven't hit the right combination yet.
"I didn't know anything about it until after the race (possible penalty last week at Las Vegas). It just surprised me we got turned around on pit road. It was a normal deal. I waved him off that we were going to pit, and he still ran into me, so I don't know what was going on there. We had a good chance to win two weeks before, so maybe it all played out. At Vegas, the tach had broke in the car. You couldn't tell how fast you were going. It wasn't a deal that I meant to speed down pit road. You didn't know how fast you were going, so it's hard to judge it.
"We ran good the last half of last year, so we've kind of picked up where we left off. I hope we can keep it up. Somewhere, something is going to happen. You won't hit the right chassis setup or something and run 12th. We're going to try every week. Last week in Vegas, I didn't think we had a real good shot with the way the car was driving on Saturday. We came in Sunday morning and changed three or four things on it and we were flawless. You just never give up until it's over. (Atlanta car has never finished worst than fifth). I hope it's that way again.
"At one time, Felix (Sabates) was talking about selling the whole thing out and being gone. Chip approached him about buying it and bought 80 percent of it and came in and turned things around.
"It doesn't look tough on 'em. The thing at Atlanta, you never get out of the gas all the way, and it's a 500-mile race, so it's going to be the first big test here on the motors. Texas is going to be real big because you pretty much run wide open at Texas the whole run. Our car wasn't driving good this morning. It's supposed to rain tomorrow. We'll practice until we can drive the car. You run three or four laps, and you pretty much know the feel you're looking for in a car. If it's not there, you have to shoot back in. That's what we did in Las Vegas. Instead of keeping on running and hoping the car would come to you, you come in and fix it and don't waste 15 laps.
"Spencer and his team came and tested back here. It's a deal that flips back and forth. They tested down here, and they'll get some ideas from us. We'll get some ideas from him. Spencer drives hard and runs hard. The only difference between us at Vegas was the shock package. They were a little more aggressive on the shocks. Other than that we were pretty close."