Marlin makes presence felt in early going

By Marvin Birchfield

STAR CORRESPONDENT

   In the early 2002 Winston Cup season, drivers are finding it difficult to Dodge "The Silver Bullet," as it speeds past them on the way to the front of the field.
   Sterlin Marlin became a serious threat in competing for the championship last season by winning two races and finishing just 22 points behind Tony Stewart for third place.
   "We ran real well last year, and had a chance to win three or four races toward the end of the season," said Marlin. "Seems like the momentum has carried over this season, and I have to give all the credit to the guys working in the shop."
   Sterlin has already grabbed the early-season's point lead through the first four races, claiming one victory and finishing no lower than ninth so far.
   "I think we're getting a lot of respect from other teams who are normally up front, and hopefully we can continue to hold on to it for the rest of the year," said Marlin.
   One of the reasons that Marlin thinks he's been able to find success in the last two seasons is the fact of switching from Chevy to Dodge.
   "Dodge is really serious with racing and winning. They give us all kinds of wind tunnel time and technology that we never got," says Marlin.
   Another reason for Sterlin's top performance is team manager Tony Glover's focus on one car, instead of having to deal with the two car teams at Chip Ganassi Racing.
   "Tony is pretty much with us, and Andy Graves heads the other team. We've been together a long time now," says Marlin.
   Last season Sterlin came out of a five-year drought to score wins at Charlotte and Michigan.
   "Set-ups changes from race to race for the stuff we ran two years ago, we couldn't possibly run now," said Marlin.
   Marlin came up just shy of scoring his fourth career victory at Daytona Speedway this year, which would have been his third Daytona 500 win.
   In the final laps of the race, he tangled with points champion Jeff Gordon, which caused right-front fender damage to his car.
   With an effort of trying to pull the sheet metal away from the tire in a red flag stoppage, Marlin was penalized, and forced to restart at the back of the field.
   "They were going to get us for the tire smoking," Marlin said. "It was rubbing that bad, and if you got out and pulled it away, then you were taking a chance of them not saying nothing.
   "If the race had of finished under normal circumstances, then we would have still won the race. I still don't like the red-flag situation -- it's a recipe for disaster."
   Marlin's first career start came on May 8th, 1976 at Nashville, where he substituted for his father, who was Coo Coo.
   Sterlin has continued his career since then, and tied his best season's standings finish last year, which previously came in 1995 with the Morgan McClure team.
   The Tennessee native has never won at the Bristol Motor Speedway in Winston Cup, but he did score a victory in the Busch Series in 2000.
   "We never did drive the car that much, but just had the right stuff under it, and hopefully we can do the same with the Cup car," says Marlin.
   Sterlin says he has no intentions of competing in the Busch Series, for his main focus now has to do with Winston Cup.
   Marlin's best finish at BMS came in 1991, when he ended up second driving for Junior Johnson.
   This could be the year that Sterlin breaks into the record books at Bristol, as he has been in contention throughout the first part of the season.
   "We have brought two cars here," he said. "One we ran last year, and one we built this season. We just have to see which is better and go from there."
   With nine career victories and 11 poles, Sterlin broke 20 million dollar mark in career earnings this season, and holds a 74-point lead over rookie competitor Ryan Newman.
   This might possibly be the year that Marlin captures the Winston Cup crown, for so far he is shinning like "Sterlin" silver.