Dodge's big weekend at Pocono

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR Staff

   Dodge had their biggest racing success this past weekend since their much hyped return to NASCAR at the beginning of the 2001 season. The Mopar brand swept all four major stock car races over the weekend, winning in Winston Cup, the Busch Series, the Craftsman Truck Series and ARCA.
   The weekend started out with a bang on Friday when Bill Elliott scored his second consecutive NASCAR WC pole position turning a lap over 170 miles per hour in his No. 9 Intrepid. The good days continued on Saturday when his Evernham Motorsports team mate Casey Atwood passed Jason Jarrett with 9 laps to go and ran off to a 7.49 second win in the ARCA Series event.
   Also on Saturday, Hank Parker, Jr. scored his second career Busch Series win at Pikes Peak playing the fuel mileage game. Parker made only two pit stops in the 200-mile race and finished well ahead of runner-up Greg Biffle.
   At Michigan, Robert Pressley edged fellow Dodge driver Jason Leffler to give the brand a 1-2 finish. After both were expelled from the Winston Cup Series last season, they have made the most of their time in the trucks. Pressley has two wins, including the season-opener at Daytona, while Leffler leads the series with seven poles.
   Finally, the weekend was capped off on Sunday, a race where Elliott was the fastest car in the early and late stages and points leader Sterling Marlin dominated in the middle portions.
   At the end of the day, Elliott had scored a 42nd career Winston Cup win and Marlin through finishing third had increased his lead in the NASCAR point standings to 106 points over second place Mark Martin. Marlin, driver of the No. 40 Intrepid, has now led the points since week two.
   Elliott's win was one week after Ward Burton drove his Dodge to victory at New Hampshire. For history buffs, it marked the first back-to-back winning weekends for the maunfacturer since Richard Petty and Neil Bonnett scored consecutive wins 25 years ago.
   Mika Hakkinen, the two-time Formula One champion, announced his retirement from the sport on Friday as teams competed at the German Grand Prix officially ending his 11-year F1 career.
   Hakkinen retired at the age of 33, an age when many NASCAR racers are just getting established. He was looked at by most F1 observers as the nearest rival to current F1 champ Michael Schumacher.
   Born in Vantaa, Finland, Hakkinen started go-kart racing at age 5. He won his first race two years later and was hooked. After capturing the Nordic Formula 1600 title in 1987, the Flying Finn moved to Britain where his career began to flourish with a championship in the Opel Lotus Racing Series.
   He made his F1 debut at the U.S. Grand Prix in Phoenix in 1991. Mika moved over to the McLaren team in 1993 where he served as a test driver for Ayrton Senna and Michael Andretti. When Andretti returned to America to race in CART, Hakkinen became the second team driver.
   In 1995, he nearly lost his life when a tire deflated at high speed and he went head on into a tire barrier. He recovered from a coma and the injuries suffered to win his first Grand Prix in 1997.
   In 1998 and 1999, Hakkinen captured the Formula One World Championship. The '98 season was spectacular with a series leading eight wins. McLaren struggled as a team last season, but Hakinnen still managed wins in the British and U.S. Grand Prixs.
   His 20 career wins are good enough for 10th place on the all-time win list and he is one of only 13 drivers to score multiple F1 titles. Hakkinen first expressed his desire to retire at the end of last season, but at the urging of the McLaren-Mercedes camp decided instead to call it a sabbatical.
   After a few months, Hakkinen made this final decision stating a desire to spend time with his son Hugo and to watch him grow up. To one of the great drivers, here's wishing a happy retirement.
   Sunday, one driver will place his name in history as a winner of the Brickyard 400 and among some of the great names in recent stock car racing history.
   The past list of winners are Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, Dale Jarrett, Ricky Rudd and Bobby Labonte. For the past four seasons, the winner of this race -- Gordon, Jarrett, Labonte and Gordon again last season has went on to capture the Winston Cup title.
   With so much prestige riding on this single event and with the history linking it to the NASCAR championship, this week's pick for a winner has to be Sterling Marlin.
   Marlin is the favorite based on his great performance last weekend at Pocono, a similar track in banking and size, and for the way his team has recovered from their mid-season slide to once again have a grip on the NASCAR lead. Also factor in, he was a close second to Gordon in last year's 400.
   Before you put too much stock in my predictions, you might want to take a second look. I'm riding a little bit of a slump myself, going with Dale Earnhardt, Jr. to win at Daytona and picking Gordon to take last weekend's event.