Marlin Believes 2001 Is His Year

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Sterling Marlin knows in his heart that 2001 will be the year his Winston Cup career returns to form.

He thought it would happen this year, but things simply haven't clicked for his Coors Light entry. Marlin stands 21st in points heading to Bristol, one of his favorite tracks.

He's actually tied with Terry Labonte for the 20th spot, but Labonte is listed higher than Marlin. Still, he's just 138 points out of 13th place, so a solid stretch run could do wonders for the Team Sabco driver.

And if such a run is to start, Bristol is the perfect place for the Tennessee native. He won the Busch Series event in the spring and has completed 1,499 of the last 1,500 laps at the track. He's been in the top 10 the past two races there and simply knows his way around the .533-mile high-banked bullring.

Not that he claims there's any real secret to success at Bristol.

"Bristol is a 120-mph parking lot," he said. "Everybody is sitting right on top of each other, running as hard as they can run, hoping they don't make a mistake, really hoping the guy behind them or beside them or in front of them doesn't make a mistake.

"It's a game of survival more than anything else. Bristol is more than just keeping your fenders on. You're trying to run as hard as you can for as long as you can. Surviving doesn't always means a whole lot there, but being around when the race is over usually carries you a long way."

Marlin feels his team will go a long way next year, and not just by sticking around, either.

Chip Ganassi has bought the majority interest in the team from Felix Sabates and that excites Marlin. Andy Graves has taken over the running of the team, which will switch to Dodge in 2001. The addition of Ganassi -- who has won the last four CART championships -- has Marlin excited.

"I think he'll really get us what we need," Marlin said. "If we need more wind tunnel time, I know Dodge is going to let us have that. And if we feel we're a little off on the chassis, we'll go test. Whatever we need, I think he's going to try to give it to us to win.

"He's a really hard competitor. He wants to win, and that's the way I am. I think it will be good."

This year, though, just hasn't been good.

And Marlin finds it hard to believe.

"I would have said you were crazy," Marlin said if someone predicted how his team would fare thus far. "But you never know what's going to happen. My deal had run out with Felix and Chip comes in and buys the thing and we've gotten hooked up (for next year)."

Other teams contacted Marlin, but he decided to stay put.

"I like all these guys here, and I just hate switching teams a lot," Marlin said. "I know how everything works (here) and I hated to switch again. But if I saw we weren't going to make any changes, I was gonna have to do something.

"You want to be competitive, you want to win. You try to align yourself with the best team you can."

Graves said the team made it a priority to keep Marlin, whose contract was up at the end of the year.

"I think Sterling's definitely capable of winning some races," Graves said. "I look for us to get our stuff sorted out, and when he learns that new Dodge I see us winning some races next year."

Marlin expects to do more than just win races in 2001. He sees his team in contention for the Winston Cup title if everything breaks right.

"The technology Dodge is going to give us is going to make a good race car," he said. "We don't know about the motors right now, but I feel like they'll be pretty good. I feel like at this point in time next year we'll be sitting in the top five in points if the we have a little luck and the motors hold up.

"With the personnel we've got, I think we can do it. We just haven't hit on much. We've had a tough year, up-and-down, up-and-down."

That can also describe the action at Bristol, where the pace is somewhere beyond furious. Brakes play a key role at Martinsville, but aren't nearly as important at Bristol.

Marlin says the circumstances at Bristol simply provide another alternative.

"The deal at Bristol is you usually have somebody else's car to use to help you 'whoa' her down a little bit in the corners," he explained. "Everybody expects rubbing at Bristol, so you might end up using somebody instead of your brakes sometimes. Most everybody is OK with that. It's when you use them for your brakes and to bring out a caution too that they start getting upset."

Tempers will undoubtedly flare Saturday, but Marlin says it's no big deal.

"You can't spend a whole lot of time being mad at somebody because whoever you're mad at early in the race is usually your buddy by the end of the race, and you're mad at somebody totally different," said Marlin, who hopes to be much happier in 2001. "If you kept a list of who you were mad at during a Bristol race, you'd need a couple of notepad pages to get them all written down. Most of the time, whoever hits you didn't mean to hit you.

"At least that's what you tell them when you hit them back. Seriously, you can usually tell when somebody did it on purpose. The easiest way to tell is you can see a lot of smoke and you can feel your car going sideways."

Marlin has felt his career going sideways at times this year, but sees it heading straight into the future.

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