Marlin fastest finisher in Vegas

Posted: Monday, March 04, 2002

LAS VEGAS -- It's already been a strange season for Sterling Marlin after just three races.

''We could be 3-0, but we could be 0-3. It's good to be here,'' Marlin said Sunday after pulling away to victory in the UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 after NASCAR rescinded a 15-second penalty for speeding in the pits because officials did not notify the team in time.

''We communicated to the pit official that there be a 15-second penalty and the pit official didn't hear it,'' explained NASCAR spokesman Jim Hunter. ''He was told three times and the official said he didn't hear it and neither did the officials on either side of him.

''In these situations, we always rule in favor of the competitor and that's what we did today.''

Hunter said officials chose not to enforce the penalty on Marlin after that because bringing him back in or meting out another penalty would have been ''too severe'' an infraction.

Marlin was the hard-luck driver of the season until the race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

He lost a shot at victory in the Daytona 500, when he collided with Jeff Gordon late in the race.

, then was penalized for leaving his car and trying to make a repair during a red flag.

A week later, at Rockingham, N.C., he was forced to follow Matt Kenseth across the finish line under a yellow flag after NASCAR chose not to throw a red flag, which would have allowed him at least a shot at the eventual winner.

NASCAR had been heavily criticized for not being consistent in its decisions on when to use the red flag to insure a competitive finish.

This time, Marlin was leading after 120 of 267 laps on the 1 1/2-mile oval when he slowed to make a scheduled pit stop under the green flag.

As he drove his Chip Ganassi Racing Dodge toward the pit entrance, Jerry Nadeau banged into the rear of the No. 40 and sent it skidding sideways. Marlin was able to recover and drive it into the pits, but NASCAR said he had exceeded the 45 mph pit road limit and announced he would be held for 15 seconds.

Marlin finished a routine stop and immediately sped from the pits, retaining the lead after all the lead lap cars had made their stops.

''I said, ''No, not again,'' Marlin said, referring to getting spun out. ''Daytona was a heartbreaker. At Rockingham, Matt had the best car.''

As for Sunday's on-again, off-again penalty, the driver said he didn't know about it until after the race.

''The tach broke in the car and I really couldn't tell how fast I was going down pit road,'' he said. ''I thought we were going in right and, when we left the pits, somebody came out in front of us and I gauged off them going out.''

Asked if he could have overcome the 15-second penalty, Marlin grinned and said, ''It was early in the race. We could have probably been almost a lap down. I don't know; it wouldn't have helped.''

Tony Stewart, driving a Pontiac, had what appeared to be the strongest car in the 43-car field throughout Sunday's race and was leading Marlin late in the race.

When Shawna Robinson, the only woman in the lineup, bounced off the wall on lap 231, bringing out the fifth of six yellow flags, all the leaders made their final pit stops. Jeremy Mayfield and Rusty Wallace both took only two new tires and beat Marlin out of the pits.

Stewart, who led four times for a race-high 76 laps, also took four tires. He came out of the pits in sixth and wasn't able to mount another challenge.

After the green flag came out again on lap 237, Marlin steadily reeled in Mayfield, taking second place from Wallace on lap 244 and finally passing Mayfield's Dodge to regain the lead on lap 251.

Kyle Petty got hit from behind and spun on lap 255, bringing out the final caution, but nothing was going to stop Marlin this time. The green waved for the final time on lap 260 and the silver and red Dodge pulled steadily away, beating Mayfield to the finish line by 1.163-seconds -- about 10 car-lengths.

''It was a short run deal on two tires ahead of a car that was good on short runs with four tires on,'' Mayfield said. ''I felt like the best thing to do was to let him go and not waste anybody's time.''

Marlin wound up leading four times for 37 laps, including the final 17.

It was the ninth victory for the second-generation NASCAR star and the third straight top-10 finish this season, solidifying his hold on first place in the standings. He now leads rookie Ryan Newman by 75 points.

Mark Martin's Ford was third, followed by the Ford of Newman, Stewart and the Chevrolet of rookie Jimmie Johnson.

Gordon, whose victory here a year ago was the catalyst for his run to a fourth Winston Cup championship, had a frustrating day, never leading and winding up 17th in an ill-handling Chevrolet.

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