Amoco Ultimate Team Starts 14Th

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Sterling Marlin caught a lot of heat – perhaps unfairly – for his role in the accident that claimed the life of Dale Earnhardt in the Daytona 500.

Friday, Marlin beat the heat – and the Winston Cup field – to claim the pole for Saturday’s Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Raceway.

Marlin’s Dodge turned a lap of 183.778 mph to lead an all-Dodge front row. Ward Burton qualified second at 183.072. Dodge – which swept the front row of the Daytona 500 – took the top four spots.

Rounding out the Top 10 in qualifying are Stacy Compton, Casey Atwood, Jeff Gordon, Andy Houston, John Andretti, Joe Nemechek, Mark Martin and Kevin Harvick.

Dave Blaney and the Amoco Ultimate team had an impressive qualifying session, turning in a speed of 181.6787 mph to earn the 14th starting position.

Marlin had to wait a long time to secure his pole. It started raining at 2 p.m. (ET) with 11 cars remaining to qualify. About two and a half hours later, the track was dry, and qualifying was completed.

The pole was the first of the season for Marlin, who has come close to securing Dodge’s first victory in the manufacturer’s return to Winston Cup racing. Marlin, who has four poles at Daytona, finished third at Las Vegas and Michigan.

He’s qualified strong, too, starting second at Bristol, Talladega and Pocono. But a victory has escaped him.

“Sterling was running up front at Talladega with a handful of laps to go, but like usual, nobody wanted to run with him,” said Lee McCall, Marlin’s crew chief. “That says a lot about the strength of this car. He just got bottled up at Talladega and shuffled to the back.

“We’re not going to approach the Pepsi 400 any different. We’re up there in the points now, and you always look at the points, but we’re racing every race to win. We know we’re going to be competitive at Daytona. Sterling is always in the hunt at these restrictor-plate tracks. Sterling is one advantage we’ve got in our pocket. Sterling is doing a heck of a job. We’ve got great cars and great motors. We just need to find out how to run a little stronger at the end of the race. If we can do that, I think we’ll get a win soon.”

Marlin had a strong run going in the Daytona 500, running in fourth behind Earnhardt on the last lap. The two made contact, and Earnhardt’s car shot into the outside wall. Some irate Earnhardt fans blamed Marlin, even going so far as to threaten him. The controversy simmered down, and Marlin has gone on to a successful season.

“I’m happy with our program,” Marlin said. “We’ve got a lot of good people working on the car. Dodge is giving us a lot of help, too. We kind of went through a little slump the past couple of years. We’re really concentrating on our speedway efforts.”

He stands fourth in the Winston Cup points standings, 243 behind leader Jeff Gordon – who qualified fifth Friday. Marlin has five top-five and nine top-10 finishes in 2001.

Burton’s season hasn’t gone as well. He’s 19th in points with only three top-10 finishes.

“The Caterpillar team really worked hard on this car, just like they do every week,” Burton said. “Anybody could drive the car around the track. It’s a credit to them and all the hard dedication they’ve been doing.

“These guys have been to the wind tunnel. They’ve done their homework, and hopefully, we’ll stay out of trouble tomorrow night and have a shot at it.”

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Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2001

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