Marlin Nets Career Year

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Sterling Marlin had just finished second in the NAPA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway Sunday, when, during Marlin’s post-race press conference, a reporter asked him if this performance would “help get him back on track” after a tough year.

“I didn’t know we had been off-track,” a puzzled Marlin said, shaking his head.

Indeed, Marlin has been far from “off track” during the 2001 NASCAR Winston Cup Series season. In fact, he’s enjoyed one of the better years of his lengthy Winston Cup career.

With his runner-up finish on Sunday, Marlin has posted 11 top-five and 19 top-10 finishes. He’s won two races and a pole, and he’s currently fourth in the Winston Cup standings, a mere 16 points behind third-place Ricky Rudd.

A tough year? It would be interesting to see what would constitute a “good year,” by those standards.

Perhaps 10 victories and a Winston Cup championship?

“It’s been a good year for us,” said Marlin, who’s been racing full-time in the Winston Cup Series since 1987. “Our statistics really speak for themselves. It’s been a great year and it’s something to build on for next year.

“We’ve got a great group of guys at the shop and a great sponsor (Coors Light), so we’ll just gear up for next year. After New Hampshire (on Friday), we’ll start testing the short tracks and get ready.”

The 2001 season has been somewhat of a surprise campaign for the No. 40 Coors Light Dodge team at Chip Ganassi Racing, considering its recent history. The past two years, Marlin has finished 16th and 19th in the Winston Cup points standings, respectively. The 2000 season was a particularly frustrating one for Marlin, who managed only one top-five finish all year.

Prior to the beginning of this season, however, Ganassi took over the majority ownership of the team from Felix Sabates, and the team made the switch to Dodge from Chevrolet, a move many questioned at the time.

That decision stayed under scrutiny as the majority of the Dodge teams struggled early on this season, but Marlin’s team came out of the gate well and stayed steady throughout the season.

Marlin won his Gatorade 125-mile qualifying race at Daytona, then finished seventh in the Daytona 500. A third-place finish at Las Vegas quieted some of the critics, but it wasn’t until August that Marlin got his just due. He won the rain-shortened Pepsi 400 at Michigan International Speedway, giving Dodge its first victory in its return season to the Winston Cup Series.

He followed that up with a victory in the UAW-GM Quality 500 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway in October. He’s been the only driver that has stayed in the Top 10 in the Winston Cup points standings all season long, for which Marlin contributes a great deal of that to his Ganassi and Sabates.

“Chip and Felix are great owners,” Marlin said. “They put the money to it and the guys put it to good use. I’m having the time of my life. We’ve got a great bunch of people on this team.

“It’s all about being in the right equipment and having the right people around you. Look at Jeff (Gordon, who won his fourth Winston Cup title Sunday). He’s a great driver, but he stepped right into one of the top rides when he came in. He had Ray Evernham with him. When you surround yourself with good people, you’re going to do well. Look at us the past couple of years. We had a 15th or 20th-place car. If you get good equipment, you can go.”

“What a fantastic season,” said Bob Wildberger, Senior Manager of NASCAR Operations for Dodge Motorsports. “We’ve had the one-team approach, and it takes basically two things to have a winning team. We’d like to refer to that as the big team – resources and chemistry. The Chip Ganassi team has really found the ticket to the chemistry.

“You just watch those guys work, and they’re smooth. They know how to build their stuff and get on the track. They’ve proven it again and again. The cream rises to the top, and they’ve done a phenomenal job for Dodge. They’re electric.”

Speaking of electric, Marlin will have another bit of electricity working with him in 2002. Jimmy Spencer will drive Ganassi’s No. 41 Target Dodge next year as a teammate to Marlin.

“Jimmy’s won in Winston Cup before, and with the equipment this team will give him, I don’t think there’s any doubt that he’ll win more races next year and beyond,” Marlin said. “It’s going to be fun out there next year, that’s for sure.”

“They (Chip Ganassi Racing) came out of the box as the No. 1 Dodge team this year, and I like that,” Spencer said. “With Sterling, all you have to do is look at what he’s done this year. I’m looking forward to being able to come over here and be a teammate to Sterling. We’re not going to worry about beating the No. 40 car (Marlin’s Dodge). We’ll worry about beating all the other cars and then share that information. It’s going to be great.”

Maybe Marlin can have a “not-so-tough” year in 2002.

Related Topics:

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, 2001

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