executive Jim Julow congratulates owner Chip Ganassi
after Sterling Marlin's victory in the Carolina Dodge
It doesn't matter where he starts; Sterling Marlin finds a way to win.
It was beginning to look like a familiar theme - Jeff Gordon dominating at Darlington, but at the checkered flag it was Marlin, going from worst to first after starting in the rear of the field, as he scored his 10th career victory in the Carolina Dodge Dealers 400 at Darlington Raceway on Sunday.
Today's win was Marlin's eighth consecutive top 10 dating back to last season. He maintains a 99-point lead over Ryan Newman in the Winston Cup standings.
Marlin took the lead from Dale Earnhardt, Jr. on lap 251, shortly after a 12-car melee on the backstretch, and held off a late charge from Elliott Sadler to pick up his second win of the year.
"We were patient. We knew we had a good car, and we just didn't take any chances." Marlin said. "You race the race track and know who you're racing and take your time and come up through there. We knew the guys would give us good pit stops. We kept clipping them off. Our car was really good on long runs. That was the key for us today."
Changing weather conditions and lapped traffic played a role in the outcome, with two of the five cautions of the day involving lapped cars tangling with the race leaders.
Marlin padded his points lead as he outlasted the field
to win the Carolina Dodge Dealers 400.
Marlin qualified 11th during Bud Pole qualifying on Friday, but had to start in the rear of the field after the team changed engines in the #40 Coors Light Dodge due to a bad lifter. Under NASCAR's new one-engine rule, teams may only use one engine per weekend. Any team making an engine change must start at the rear of the field.
"We knew we had a problem (with the engine) and couldn't take a chance with it," said Lee McCall, Marlin's crew chief. "We couldn't take a chance of putting a lifter in there and tearing something else up."
"We out our best motor in and started in the rear and watched Sterling drive that thing through traffic all day long."
Sadler came up through the pack following the final round of pit stops, passing Earnhardt for second place on lap 257.
"I just got a little bit loose there at the end and Sterling and those guys got their stuff together." Sadler said, "I tried him, but this Motorcraft Ford Taurus was very good. We had great pit stops all day and this is exactly what we needed."
Sadler's second place finish was his career best at Darlington. His second place finish in the Daytona 500 gives him two second place finishes on the year, going into next week's race at Bristol, where he won his first career race last season.
"This is stretch of good race tracks." Sadler said, "We love it here, we love Bristol and we love Texas, so this is a fortune of good things to come."
Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and rookie of the year contender Ryan Newman rounded out the top five.
"The GM Goodwrench crew got me out of the pits all day long," said third-place finisher Kevin Harvick. "We kept working on it and that's what you've got to do here is race the racetrack and keep the fenders on it."
"I wore my car out," said Earnhardt, who finished 4th. "We ran out of tires with about five laps to go. I tried to stay in front of Kevin (Harvick), but we couldn't do that."
Newman, who qualified third fastest on Friday, wrecked his primary car during the final practice session on Saturday. The team pulled out the back-up car and started in the rear of the field.
doesn't mater where he starts, Sterling Marlin finds a way to win.
"Finishing in the top five today with the Alltel Ford was a great feeling considering we had to go to the backup car after yesterday's accident." Newman said, "The pit stops were awesome all day. We got caught a lap down there, but they did an awesome job getting me out and getting track position so we could come back and finish in the top five."
The day began with overcast skies and a few early rain showers, and the changing temperatures made track conditions difficult to deal with at times.
The day turned out to be a bittersweet return for Steve Park, making his first start in six months since he was injured in a crash here last year. After a promising 4th place start, Park was attempting to pass the lapped car of Stacy Compton on lap 37 when the two cars made contact and sent Park into the outside wall, effectively ending his day. Park was able to return to the track and run some laps, eventually finishing 39th.
The crash also collected pole sitter Ricky Craven, who lead the first 18 laps before Park took the lead. Craven was running second at the time of the crash. He too was able to repair his car and return to the race, finishing 41st.
Early on, Gordon seemed the man to beat. After taking the lead following Park's crash, Gordon managed to find himself out in front after almost every pit stop, going on to lead five times for 176 laps. Tony Stewart came up through the field and challenged Gordon for the lead following a restart, overtaking him on lap 219.
But once again, lap traffic came into play.
Bodine signed on Hooters to a long term sponsorship, but
had an early exit today.
Buckshot Jones, already a lap down and about to go down a second time, got loose coming off turn two. Stewart, leading at the time, was unable to avoid Jones, running into the back of the #44 Georgia Pacific Dodge. Stewart caromed off the outside wall, and was hit several times as the field came by, eventually collecting 11 cars, including Ward Burton, Jimmy Spencer, Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon, who was running second at the time.
Stewart was awake and alert when removed from his car, and was airlifted to Carolinas Hospital System in Florence, SC for precautionary measures. He was to be kept overnight for observation.
Andy Hillenburg, Shawna Robinson and Dale Jarrett were also early retirees for the race, each suffering mechanical failures.
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