Marlin wins in somber race

Monday, October 8th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CONCORD, N.C. (AP) _ Some drivers do burnouts to celebrate a win, others dive into the arms of their crew members. Sterling Marlin just wanted to salute America.

Marlin won the UAW-GM Quality 500, a race that began just as the field learned the U.S. had attacked Afghanistan on Sunday. After easily beating Tony Stewart to the line, Marlin was stopped by NASCAR from taking a victory lap with the American flag.

``I was going to make a lap around the track with the flag, from what went on this morning we just wanted to show support overseas and for the armed forces,'' Marlin said. ``But the NASCAR posse got us.''

NASCAR said it stopped Marlin from taking the lap because his crew had run out to the finish line to bring him the flag and the amount of people out there made it unsafe. It disappointed the crew, which sent partial team owner Felix Sabates to express that to NASCAR.

``Today was a special day for the U.S.,'' said team manager Tony Glover. ``To win a Winston Cup race is a total team effort, so I thought it would have been very neat if Sterling could have jumped up and have our entire team let the U.S. know we supported them.''

Marlin instead carried the flag out the window as he drove his Dodge straight to the winners circle, where he celebrated his second victory of the season.

Dodge, which made its return to NASCAR this season after a 15-year absence, has now won three times this year. Ward Burton, who finished third Sunday, was the other Dodge driver to win this season.

There was little excitement at Lowe's Motor Speedway once word of the attacks spread. The start of the race was briefly delayed as new coverage was shown on the big-screen television in the infield.

Many drivers said they heard the news before they got into their cars, but some didn't find out until they saw it on the TV screen while waiting to start the race.

Instead of the usual pre-race activities, news anchor Tom Brokaw was broadcasting over the TV. The crowd cheered when the screen showed explosions in Afghanistan, and again when Lee Greenwood sang the words ``bombs bursting in air'' during a stirring rendition of the national anthem.

When it was time to hit the track, and the TV switched to race coverage, two fighter jets made a flyover as many in the crowd saluted them.

Burton said he was only temporarily able to forget about the events for the 500 miles of racing.

``I started thinking about the men over there fighting for our freedom and their families,'' he said. ``I really wasn't thinking about the race until, `Gentlemen start your engines.' After that, I think we've all conditioned ourselves to black out everything else. That's our job.

``But now I'm looking forward to getting on the networks and see exactly what's taking place.''

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was fourth in a Chevrolet and Jeff Burton finished fifth in a Ford. Dale Jarrett was sixth and was followed by Rusty Wallace and Kevin Harvick. Mark Martin and Bobby Labonte rounded out the top 10.

Series leader Jeff Gordon finished 16th and Ricky Rudd, his closest competition in the standings, finished 21st. That enabled Gordon to extend his advantage by 12 points to 237.

``It wasn't a good day for Ricky, so points-wise it was a good day for us,'' Gordon said. ``But that's not the way we want to do it.''

From the start, it was obvious Marlin and Stewart were the only cars in contention. The two battled on the track and in the pits, combining to lead 265 of the 334 laps around the 1 1/2-mile track.

Stewart kept beating Marlin out of the pits on the stops and was superior on the short runs, but he couldn't fend off Marlin when the racing extended more than 30 or so laps.

Marlin first took the lead away from Stewart on lap 196, gave it up after pit stops under yellow, and ran him down on a 34-lap stretch to retake the lead for good on lap 265. He then steadily pulled away, leading 103 of the final 139 laps, and Stewart was never able to challenge again.

Marlin, who gave Dodge its first win this year in August, won for the eighth time in his career and for the first time at the suburban Charlotte track.

It was the first time he cracked the top 10 on this track since October 1996. It also was the first win for a Dodge at the track since Richard Petty won in 1977.