LAS VEGAS (AP) _ Thanks to miscommunication by NASCAR, a malfunctioning tachometer didn't bring down Sterling Marlin.
Instead, Marlin raced to victory in the UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400 on Sunday.
``It was weird,'' Marlin said. ``Sometimes the tach worked and sometimes it didn't. That's my story and I'm stickin' to it.''
The Winston Cup points leader had reason to be happy after winning a race in which NASCAR announced he would be held in the pits for 15 seconds as a penalty for speeding on pit road, then rescinded it.
``We communicated to the pit official that there be a 15-second penalty, and the pit official didn't hear it,'' NASCAR spokesman Jim Hunter explained. ``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'' a penalty.
Marlin, NASCAR's hard-luck guy in the first two races of 2002, said, ``We could be 3-0, but we could be 0-3. It's good to be here.''
He lost a chance 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 was heavily criticized for not being consistent in its decisions on when to use the red flag to insure a competitive finish _ and Marlin was lamenting the loss of two possible victories.
``Daytona was a heartbreaker,'' He said. ``At Rockingham, Matt had the best car, but you never know.''
This time, Marlin was leading after 120 of 267 laps on the 1 1/2-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway 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 hit the rear of the No. 40 and sent it skidding sideways.
``I said, 'No, not again,''' Marlin said.
Marlin was able to recover and drive into the pits, but NASCAR said he had exceeded the 45 mph pit road limit and announced he would be held for 15 seconds.
The cars have no speedometers, so the tachometer, which measures engine revolutions, is the way the drivers read their speed.
``I really couldn't tell how fast I was going down pit road,'' Marlin 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.''
Marlin finished the routine stop and immediately sped from the pits, retaining the lead after all the lead lap cars made their stops. He remained in or near the lead the rest of the way.
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 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 reeled in the leaders, taking second place from Wallace's Ford on lap 244 and 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.
``We just didn't have enough laps left,'' Mayfield said. ``It was a short-run deal on two tires ahead of a car that was good on short runs with four tires on.
``I felt like the best thing to do was to let him go and not waste anybody's time,'' he added
Marlin led four times for 37 laps, including the final 17, on the way to his ninth victory. The second-generation NASCAR star now has three straight top-10 finishes this season and solidified his hold on first place in the standings, leading rookie Ryan Newman by 75 points.
Mark Martin's Ford was third, followed by Newman's Ford, Stewart's Pontiac 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.