TALLADEGA, Ala. Five of Sterling Marlin's 10 career wins have come at the two race tracks that require the use of a restrictor plate to reduce speeds for safety reasons, including a pair of wins at the Talladega Superspeedway. Marlin talked about Talladega, NASCAR's rules and the future of the sport.
Question: Two years ago you were penalized at Daytona for driving below the yellow line to avoid a crash. Last year Dale Earnhardt Jr. drove below the yellow line to make the winning pass at Talladega and he wasn't penalized. Is it difficult to understand NASCAR's rules?
Marlin: I don't know. We'll just have to cross that bridge when we get there I guess. The deal that happened to me in Daytona a few years ago (I was) running fifth. Elliott Sadler's ignition goes out and it's either run into the back of him or jam the brakes on or split the line. I didn't go completely below it. I had the left sides below it and I get black flagged. Elliott's crew comes on the radio and tells NASCAR the ignition went out, but it didn't do any good. Black flag him and bring him in. It depends on who you're going to get I guess.
Question: Drivers on the Nextel Cup Series now seem to be coming from the Midwest and the West Coast. Where have all the good Southern drivers gone?
Marlin: I don't know. It's something that I looked at about a year ago. I looked around and all of a sudden there weren't any drivers from Alabama. Bill is the only one left from Georgia. At one time you had five Alabama drivers at Talladega. I don't know if it's the way local tracks (operate). It's hard to go to the local tracks anymore. Used to you could go all over the country and run the same car. You could go to Birmingham, come run at Nashville. Now they've got the rules so messed up all over the country you can't take your car from place to place. I think it kind of hurt. You've got ASA and they've always had a good series and they stayed together. Some great drivers came out of the ASA and they're still running. It's just a deal in the south where the local tracks want to have their own rules. You take your car and go run one place and on Saturday night go run somewhere else. Me and Bobby Hamilton were the only ones left from Tennessee, and I don't see any more coming from Tennessee or Alabama any time soon. I want to see drivers from all over the country, but it looks like more are drifting away from the south. Hopefully they'll come back.
Question: What does it take to run well at Talladega?
Marlin: You've got to have a fast car, a lot of motor and a good body on it. You've got to have the breaks. If somebody goes with you and pushes you through there you can go. Me, I used to really look forward to Talladega, but now it's just hurry up and get out of there. Everybody is on top of each other and it's really hard to break away. It looks like Daytona separated pretty good. You look out the front and you look out the back all day long. You just hope you're far enough up front that when the stuff breaks out you're ahead of it. We got caught in a wreck at Daytona that took out 12 of us. We were just in the wrong place at the wrong time and there was nowhere to go. Talladega is a little wider and it really doesn't matter. Your chassis setup is not as critical at Talladega as it is at Daytona, so hopefully everybody can stay in a straight line and get this thing over with.
Question: The packs of traffic at Talladega often are three-wide and 10-deep. That creates the very real possibility of a huge crash. How do you mentally prepare for "the big one?"
Marlin: It's just aggravating to me. If you could run faster and separate the cars more you wouldn't have to worry about it, but we haven't been to Talladega with these rules. Maybe the cars can separate a little bit. Before it's been everybody on top of each other. You try to drive between the yellow line and the other cars and it's just been a complete mess. Hopefully we can get down there and get some distance between the cars. I'd let 'em run about 205 and that would separate 'em right there. If you have a good car and get in the wrong lane and have to lift and you're running third or fourth and the next thing you know you're running 30th and somebody gets into somebody and away you go. The deal is you try to stay in front all day. If you're running first, second or third the odds are you're not going to get in one, but if you slip back around 15th or 20th sometimes somebody tags somebody and away you go. At Daytona a lot of guys were pushing. They were tight. You'd get three deep and the front end would just take off on the car. That might have been what happened to Sauter. He got into Vickers and he got into Michael and started the whole big wreck. You just try your best to stay out front and dodge it all. We got hung out at Talladega and got in the back. That's when they had the wickers on it, but they changed the rules at Daytona. It's hard to dodge a lot because you can't drive 'em in traffic. If you do, the back wheels come off the ground. We got caught in a couple of wrecks in that situation being in mid-pack. It's like danged if you do and danged if you don't. Hopefully everybody can keep their fenders on and we'll run 500 miles caution free.
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