STERLING MARLIN (No. 40 Coors Light Dodge Intrepid R/T) "I wore the Hutchens device at Richmond and Kansas City. You look at all the research NASCAR has done and the studies and it looks like the HANS is a little safer deal. My chest was so sore...
STERLING MARLIN (No. 40 Coors Light Dodge Intrepid R/T)
"I wore the Hutchens device at Richmond and Kansas City. You look at all the research NASCAR has done and the studies and it looks like the HANS is a little safer deal. My chest was so sore I couldn't wear it. Monday after Dover it felt like I'd wrecked again. I couldn't hardly get my breath. My back was hurting bad before the race last week at Kansas City. It didn't hurt after the wreck. My neck hurt then, but it didn't hurt bad. I didn't think anything about it. It surprised me after they did X-rays and saw it. If I hadn't gone and got the X-ray I would be driving right now with a cracked vertebrae. It doesn't hurt, but I couldn't get the chest well. It tore everything loose when I hit. There wasn't anything wrong with the HANS. It was just my chest was so sore from Richmond I wanted it to get healed up. I decided to use the Hutchens and go with the HANS next year.
"I'm disappointed. The guys put so much into it this year. They were really focused on winning the championship, and I was, too. It was a deal where I had to get out. Another lick and I could have been paralyzed or whatever. I think my health is more important than the championship. We've got a good team. We'll rebound and come back and get 'em next year. I told him we'd get some duct tape and just tape me to the seat and cut me loose when the race was over, but they wouldn't go for it.
"We had a really good car at Kansas once we got it straightened out, and I thought we had a chance to win the race. At these races last year, we really came on good and were strong at these last races. We scored the most points of anybody, and I thought we'd come back and get the lead. It'll be pretty wild. We missed a race at Atlanta when I first drove for Felix. They didn't have any owner points and it rained. That was pretty bad. We had to sit and watch the race. I've started I don't know how many straight races, but that's part of it. You get hurt, but life goes on. We'll patch it up and come back next year. I'll probably be a pretty bad spectator. I'll probably be out of here halfway through the race.
"I felt a whole lot better than I did after Richmond. I wasn't even sore (after race at Kansas) on Monday. It was a surprise to me they found it. I'm still shellshocked I guess We were going to do an MRI after Richmond, but we didn't have time. We put it off. After the wreck at Kansas, the doctor asked me to get an MRI. I went over and got the MRI on Monday about dinner I guess. They saw it then. They sent the X-rays to Charlotte and Felix calls in a panic. He tells them to put a towel around my neck and not to move my neck.
"Felix and Chip have put together a great race team and this has been the best two years since I've been in racing by far. We've got a great group of people working at the shop and a group of great sponsors. They'll be there next year, and we'll come back harder and stronger then we did this year.
"On Sunday after Richmond I went to a chiropractor and he took X-rays. It didn't show anything. I was just sore. The whole deal, my chest has been sore the whole time. I think the chest hit the steering wheel at Richmond more than my head did. My chest is still sore.
"You would want to race, but as quick as I talked to Felix and Chip I knew something was bad wrong. They'd seen the X-rays and stuff. Once I got to Charlotte Tuesday night and they did the CAT scan. We looked at the results and you could see it with your own eyes. You've got to get out of the car. You could get another lick and be paralyzed or lose your life or whatever. Four to six weeks, it'll heal up and it'll be fine. If your arm was cracked or something else, we'd go on and race, but you talk about your spine and that's a pretty delicate piece.
"I'll just hang around Sunday and check 'em out. The way these cars are right now, the chassis change so much on 'em from week to week. I'll just try to stay abreast of what they're doing and if Jamie has any questions I'll try to help him out. I know he'll do a fine job for us. I'll just try to be there to cheer him on.
"I thought we started last week at Kansas. We finally got the car fixed and had a great car. At times I think we were about a tenth quicker than the leader. I thought we were going to come out with a real good finish. We ran really good in the last 10 races last year. We won Charlotte and scored a lot of points. I was looking forward to it. I thought we could get right back on the top of the mountain. This happened and that's just part of it.
"We've got a great bunch of people at the shop. Two great owners, and a great sponsor with Coors Light. A lot of people didn't give us any credit last year. Some guy wrote before the beginning of the season that we'd be no better than a 25th-place car and w finished third last year. We've got great people and great equipment, so we'll just line up and go again.
"You start the season and you'd like to see the rules stay the same. The same car that won the championship last year won a lot of races. A lot of Dodge people thought we weren't getting what we needed, but next year everybody is going to have the same body I guess, so we'll be in square one. We'll see where everything shakes out.
"Everything is fine. The doctor said take it off at night and wear it (neck brace) as much as you can during the day. Paula (wife) is about to kill me. I had it off a good bit yesterday. We did a charity bit at home and Dale Jr., Michael and Steve Park came up. I had it off. I thought I was going to have to fight Paula there at the end. She showed up and I had it off. I've got it back on today. Get some pictures and I'll show her I've got it on and then I'll take it off again. It's aggravating. You've got to turn your whole body if somebody talks to you. I'm just not used to it.
"It's tough. I really hadn't been hurt in the car. I got burned at Bristol in '91. From then until now, I haven't really done anything. It's really tough. It's going to be tough watching the race, when they start 'em up and you're not in it. We'll be at the Daytona 500 next year and be battling for the win.
"I guess when Terry was driving Junior's car and broke his shoulder blade, and when I was driving Junior's car and got burnt, you had to come straight over from the hospital and make one lap of practice to make one lap on Sunday. It's a lot of pain to get in and out of the car, but I finished in the top 10 in the points that year. I think it's a deal NASCAR should look at down the road. You have two races a year where if a driver gets injured you can get him healed up and put somebody else in the car. That's my idea. It probably will never take off, but that's my idea any way.
"We're still in a battle, too. The car is. I think we're 120 something points out in fifth, and it's not over until it's over. I'm not a good spotter. I'll just get on the toolbox and watch him go by.
"Stewart seems to come on strong at the end of the year. Jeff has been hot and cold. Jimmie Johnson has really surprised me this year. He's a great guy. They're leading now. Rusty is pretty close. Our team is pretty close. It's been a crazy season."
FELIX SABATES (Owner Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Dodge Intrepid R/Ts)
"The doctor called me up and asked me how soon I could get Sterling here. I told him about an hour and a half. They told me to immobilize his neck because I didn't know how bad the injury was. On the MRI it doesn't show as much as it does on the CT scan. The Carolina Medical Center has a new machine that within 20 seconds does your whole scan. They weren't sure if the break was all the way through or not. The MRI showed something, but they didn't know what it was. There was some blood in there on the spine, and that was from the trauma in Kansas City, but the doctor was afraid that if it was broken all the way through he could damage himself permanently.
"The fracture came in the Kansas City accident. If you have an MRI and it shows blood it means it's three or four days old at the most. The blood on the spine would dry up, so the break happened at Kansas City. It did not happen at Richmond.
"It was ironic that Chip and I were together when we got the phone call. We were having a meeting. Chip was real professional. Andy or someone called him from the shop. Chip asked how bad it was and they didn't know. Chip said to call Sterling and get him here. Chip's comment was if he's hurt he's oyyut of the car. It was tough for me to call Sterling. I thought he was dodging me at first. I called him and he didn't call me back. Next year we're going to put a light on the bush hog so when we call the light will flash. I explained what the situation was when he finally called me and I asked him if he could be at the airport in an hour and a half. He knew that it had to be done. I always wanted to choke him by the neck. Now, I've got him (said in jest).
"Sterling didn't have an option. We made the call. Of was medical decision really. The suggestion was made that Sterling would start every race and drive one lap and get out. That wouldn't be fair to the race team or Sterling. Not only that, you can have a blown engine going 90 mph and get oil on your tires and spin and hit the wall. It took about 13 seconds for us to make the decision to take Sterling out of the car. He said if he hadn't answered the phone call and stayed on the bush hog the other day, he still could be driving. It was the right decision, and we have no regrets about doing it.
"Al Shuford is a life saver. Sterling, like most of these veteran drivers, they just want to wait when it comes to injuries. Al kept bugging him. He finally told him to humor him. He knew there was something wrong with Sterling. I told Chip the best investment we made was to hire Al Shuford (as team trainer). He's done a great job with all the guys in the race shop. He's the one responsible. If we hadn't had Al Shuford, we probably wouldn't have known Sterling was hurt and he would have kept driving the racecar. You can't predict injuries. It would be a good idea for every race team to have an Al Shuford, but there's only one Al Shuford. He's not going anywhere, but I think it's a great idea to have a medically trained person on the staff. If it wasn't for Al, Sterling would have never gone to get an MRI. They took X-rays, and the X-rays don't show it.
"I'm been a fan of Jamie's for a long time, and I suggested Jamie to Andy Graves (team manager) and Tony Glover (team manager) a couple of times in the past. This situation arose and Andy told me they'd talked to Chip and Chip said for them to make the decision. Andy, Tony and myself recommended we put him in the car, and Chip went along with it. I watch a lot of races on TV. I'm a race junky. I like his style of driving. He's smart. He gets out of the way when he needs to get out of the way. He's aggressive when he needs to be aggressive. I felt if we were going to get a young driver, take a chance on somebody who has the potential, and Jamie has a huge amount of potential. We could have put a veteran in the car for the balance of the year, and it's not out of the question that the car could win the championship with another driver and NASCAR would have a hell of a problem trying to figure out who would sit at the head table in New York, but the car could win the championship in owner's points with somebody else as the driver. We could have put an experienced driver in the car. We decided if we had enough faith in Jamie for him to drive the 42 car next year, that we have enough faith in him to drive the 40 car next year. I'm going to drive at Martinsville. We have a plan, but we don't want to talk about it yet.
JAMIE McMURRAY (No. 40 Coors Light Dodge Intrepid R/T)
"I don't think anyone wants to get in a racecar under these circumstances. It's going to be a good opportunity for me to get some experience. Just being on the team the last few days at the shop and also this morning, I think they're as heartbroken as anyone about what's happened, but we're just going to go out and give 100 percent each week and do what we can. Sterling will get healed up this winter and come back next season and get to contend for the championship again.
"I don't know that this is the most challenging place because this is a place where the handling isn't all that important. You've got to start somewhere, and if this is where I'm chosen to start, that's fine. I'm a racer, and I think anyone will tell you all a racer wants to do is race cars and that's me. This is where I'm going to start and make my Winston Cup debut and that's fine. I'm happy about it.
"I think the cars are a lot safer now than they have been in the past with the HANS device and with what we've found in seat technology. I feel a lot safer now than I did two years ago in a racecar. You can get hurt doing a lot of things, and this is something like a lot of guys since I can remember is all they want to do. I almost feel like I'm getting to live my dream, to drive Winston Cup now. I think a lot of people do crazy things, but this is something I love. You guys might find it crazy, but I don't know what to tell you. I love doing it. This is what I'll always do."
JIM JULOW (Vice President, Dodge Global Brand Center)
"Our thoughts go out to Sterling and his family. He has had a great season and really generated a whole new level of excitement in the Dodge NASCAR Winston Cup program among fans, consumers and the 3,000 Dodge Dealers. We wish him a quick recovery and we're looking forward to seeing him back in the hunt for the Winston Cup championship in 2003."