NASCAR MEDIA CONFERENCE
June 7, 2005
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everybody, and welcome to the NASCAR Nextel teleconference. First there's some little bit of housekeeping as we always do. This week's Nextel Wake-Up Call will begin at 11:00 Friday morning at Poconos in-field media center. Jeremy Mayfield will drop by about 11:00 to kick off, and Sterling Marlin is going to follow about 1:30 Friday morning, which brings us to today, because we are joined by Sterling Marlin, who usually competes very well at Pocono. In 39 race weekends there, he's got 16 top tens and six top five finishes. He's also seen the evolution of how racing has changed at Pocono over the years, and that, of course is a very unique triangular layout of a track. Sterling, there is just nothing quite like Pocono anywhere on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup schedule and I know it's a track that inspires a lot of loyalty among the drivers who have been there multiple times. Why is that? What's your take on that?
STERLING MARLIN: I don't know, like you said, it's a completely different track than we're normally used to. I've enjoyed racing there since the mid-80s when I went up there for the first time. Went really good the first time there and really good every time I've been there. It's just, you've got three different corners and two long straightaways, and this year is going to be a totally different field because we're not going to be able to shift this year, and it's going to be a lot different and take some getting used to again.
THE MODERATOR: You're already busy today. You've got a charity golf tournament today in Franklin, Tennessee that you're working on and participating with us today on the teleconference. And you're going to be busy this weekend while the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series is at Pocono, one of the NASCAR Busch series standalone events is going to be at Nashville this weekend. And you'll be doing double-duty driving the #40 Ferris Industries Dodge in that race, too, I hear.
STERLING MARLIN: Well, they called me Monday, and I guess Scott couldn't get okayed to run Nashville. And I told him fine, I'm just going to try to hook a ride with Carl Edmondson (ph) and going back and running both Nashville and Kentucky next week. So I'll be running a few more Busch Race weekends than initially thought this year.
THE MODERATOR: That's a big race weekend for the Busch Series, too, isn't it?
STERLING MARLIN: It is. We ran the first race, cut out some tires and had a lot of trouble. The Busch car's really been quick the last four race weekends, had a chance to win all four race weekends and led them all and want to Charlotte with it, carried same car we had at Charlotte, and it would be nice to get a win; it's your hometown.
THE MODERATOR: Sounds like fun. Let's take some questions for Sterling.
Q. With all the reports that are going around, I'm just going to straight out ask you: Is this your last season with Ganassi? And the other report that I saw yesterday is that you may not run the last seven race weekends with Ganassi. How much truth is there to this?
STERLING MARLIN: Well, I'm not 100% sure I'm won't be back next year with them. I don't read all of the stuff on Internet and don't turn the computer on really, but they put out a lot of things. But basically, contract is up with Chip at the end of the year and with Coors and I feel certain pretty certain -- inaudible -- of the deal. It's a full, complete year, so we'll have a tough six races, last six races. And it's stuff is out of your hands, you can't control, so that's about it.
Q. Are you at this point talking to other teams?
STERLING MARLIN: Yeah, I've been approached by some teams and I'm talking to some teams to try to get something lined up by the time I get to Daytona July 4 and get your sights set up for next year.
Q. Kasey Kahne was on this morning talking about the Dodges and how they have been inconsistent and how they are just having a hard time with the front end, getting them to steer; has that been your experience, too?
STERLING MARLIN: Well, we changed chassis last year, and we've been hot and cold with them, run cold and run bad, and kind of going back to old hat this year a little bit and back to what we did have, and we just haven't hit the right combination. Last six race weekends we had a really good car -- the last six races, we had a really good car. We had a shot to win the race both at Motor and Talladega, we were second and got caught in a big wreck. But the Dodge seems to me really hasn't been there, Casey run really, really good at Richmond, but, you know, to me, the car leading most laps at least two or three race weekends, we haven't had it this year.
Q. Why are developmental series like USAC, ARCA, etc., important to the industry of racing?
STERLING MARLIN: Well, I mean, the ARCA guys wanting to come in and run Winston Cup and they can go to the tracks -- or NEXTEL Cup, the tracks that we race on. The cars weigh the same. The motors are pretty close to the same. And the only difference, we've got Goodyear tires and they have Hoosiers, and they run with bigger spoilers. Just give the guys the opportunity to race where we race and get a feel of the track and how the car is feeling, what you need to do to adjust it.
Q. We mentioned Pocono up in the Pocono Mountains, and pretty soon you're going to be back in Florida in the heat of July. Tell me, are you a summer or a winter person, and why?
STERLING MARLIN: I'm a summer guy. I like it 90, 95 degrees. I used to love racing at Daytona, July 4, the day races. The track hot and got slick and drivers got hot. So always liked it hot for the races.
Q. So you like the hot-weather racing?
STERLING MARLIN: Oh, yeah, you get past 40, I'm froze stiff.
THE MODERATOR: Take us through a lap at Pocono what makes it demanding from start to finish for you guys.
STERLING MARLIN: You get the long straightaway, and it's pretty sweeping corner, turn one, and the grooves right on the bottom, which it is all three corners. Like I said it's just a totally, totally different track, turn two, a pretty tricky corner. You've really got to get our bearings and you can make a lot of time up, and to me, one of the most important corners, turn three, because it's such a long straightaway. You've really got to get your car working good up off that corner and make your time up on that straightaway.
THE MODERATOR: What kind of drivers do well there as far as driving styles?
STERLING MARLIN: I don't know about driving styles. If the car drives good and you drive it good, you can run good. We've always seemed to have a pretty good setup at Pocono. Been on the pole there and come close to winning two or three races and just got away from us. Hopefully this year we can get a win at Pocono. Led a whole lot of laps the past two or three years but had a little trouble.
THE MODERATOR: Is this one of those places where you have to have both horsepower, you have to have handling, you have to have set up and everything has to work together? Because I know there's some places that put a premium on one or the other, but this is one of those places where you've got to have horsepower and that car has to handle perfect.
STERLING MARLIN: Yeah, I think a good-handling car, good tires, you can -- inaudible -- but when you get 30 laps, 40 laps on tires, I'd definitely take a good-handling car over power. But good motor -- worst you can do at Pocono, like I said, you've really got long straightaways and need all you can do get.
THE MODERATOR: Do you see a lot of passing there?
STERLING MARLIN: Do I see a lot of passing? Pocono is a good track to pass on. You can shoot somebody on the high side on turn one or low side, and get you get a good run up off the corner and you can get by them on that second straightaway. And a good place to pass is off the tunnel turn, each car working really good, get up under somebody when they are pushed and get loose, and same thing in turn three. So it's not a track -- that's one-groove track is definitely a track you can pass on.
THE MODERATOR: Tell me about that tunnel turn, because almost every conversation you hear going into Pocono, "the tunnel turn, the tunnel turn," that's what you hear. What makes that thing so tough?
STERLING MARLIN: Well, it's a pretty sharp corner where guess we're running about 200 when we get to it and it pretty much funnels down to a one-groove deal and you have got to be in line when you get there. It's hard to one through there side-to-side. If somebody does go side-to-side and you're behind them you can let off a real early and they are going to really slow down and pass them both before you get to turn three, but it's a pretty sharp, tricky corner.
THE MODERATOR: Your first time at Pocono, what was it like compared to now, do you drive the track any different?
STERLING MARLIN: No, I mean, back then, it's the same track. We probably ran it 30 miles an hour slower. I remember was running really good the first time there and, at the time they didn't have the turn two, the ripple strip (ph), and people race through, got through and got dirt ran through the radiator and knocked us out of the race.
THE MODERATOR: Has it changed? Has the track changed any, or is it pretty much the same surface that you saw the first time you came?
STERLING MARLIN: It's the same. I mean, they haven't moved the walls, moved nothing. They re-paved it, but like I said, it's a fun track. I enjoy racing there.
THE MODERATOR: What makes it fun?
STERLING MARLIN: You can pass. I mean, it's not one of them deals where you just, wide open, just throttle, wide back wide open and everybody nose to tails and you can't pass. It's a hatted (ph) track, comes with the place, and like I said, it's a pretty easy track to pass on if you have a good-working car.
THE MODERATOR: When a driver comes there for the first time they have never seen it, what's the most common -- what's the thing they have to battle the most, or what's the most common mistake you see?
STERLING MARLIN: Well, you know, I normally don't pay any attention to any of them until you guys come along. Like I said when we first started, we didn't shift, and decided about the mid 90s, started shifting one time. And this year, last year, they shifted three times a lap. So guys really busy shifting gears and you just look for all of the eggs (ph) you can get and Quigley y was one of first ones to figure out shifting part. It just involved back to the don't shift. So it's going to be real key to each car who gets off turn three because you won't be able to come off that third gear and do run-offs and be in fourth, the car is going to get really bogged down coming off to the corner.
THE MODERATOR: Jimmie Johnson is going for three straight, won both races last year, what have you guys got for him? Who is going to catch the 48 this year at Pocono?
STERLING MARLIN: I don't know, Biffle's team is looking pretty stout and Ryan, he's run really good up there. I think James Jeremy has won up there, and we've run awful good. I think we led, look at last spring, and like I said, we've dominated up there a couple of years ago and lost the thing at the end, got by us with six to eight laps to go on the outside and got real loose at the end. You know, you can have a dominant car all day and not win the thing.
THE MODERATOR: You've seen some deer peeking at you through the fence a couple teams, haven't you?
STERLING MARLIN: I've never seen any deer, but you see them coming to the racetrack, you see the bears last year on the trace for the first time. Always heard about bears at Pocono, just came out in the middle of nowhere.
THE MODERATOR: That part about being out in the rural part of the state there in the Poconos in Pennsylvania is a lot of fun, too, because that's a place that you guys can go and get away a little bit, too. There's a lots of fishing holes, quiet and a lot of guys enjoy that, don't they?
STERLING MARLIN: Yeah, I mean, the place where we stay, they have got some skiing, no snow when we are there, but they have the deals you can ride I guess a grass sack or something, they about killed two or three of my team last year. They fell off and just come back and skinned up. There's a lot to do outside the racetrack at Pocono.
THE MODERATOR: What's your favorite thing, do you grab a fishing pole and try to fish?
STERLING MARLIN: No, I ain't got that much patience for fish. We have the lake at the hotel, some of the crew guys bring poles, but I'd rather sit at the pool than fish out of it.
THE MODERATOR: The fan base that comes to see you guys up there twice a year at Pocono, they are definitely one of the more rabid crowds that you guys play to, aren't they?
STERLING MARLIN: These people, you leave Saturday night and you come in Sunday morning and the whole infield is covered up, and pretty rowdy bunch, they have a good time.
THE MODERATOR: Let's go to Nashville for just a minute, what makes that place such a good place for racing? I know you're a Tennessee native and you have a soft spot for it anyway, but that place, they love their Busch Series there, don't they?
STERLING MARLIN: They do. They pack a good crowd in. Kind of -- the old fairgrounds, it was a good track and they built, the state law -- inaudible -- it's a concrete track and just you couldn't ask for any better stuff at the racetrack. So they got a good site.
Q. You're on such a high at the end of the 2001 season and you led through the first half of the 2002 season. What impact has that had on your career from there?
STERLING MARLIN: It hasn't had any. We come back 2003 and it was pretty good in 2002 and we got a little slack and kind of got the car back toward the end of the year, but by the time we got it back was when I got hurt. Things change and we tried some new chassis and don't know if it's good or bad or any different, but just haven't got the combination that we needed to get back to where we needed. 2003 showed up and dominated Pocono and dominated Michigan, so should have won both race weekends and we didn't. Just have a lot of trouble, a lot of D&S, and doing stupid things to knock yourself out of the races and about the same thing in 2004. Just got to, you know, get your car back, motor has done a great job, had great motors and just getting the car to drive. Talk to Jaime and Casey, the same thing, the cars just don't drive like they used to. We don't know if it's the spoiler we've cut off or don't have the balance right on the cars or the chassis or what.
Q. Somebody was asking me the other day how in the world Sterling Marlin keeps his spirits up and such a positive attitude with all of the aggravation you've gone through. What's your secret? Do you think you ought to write a book, or sometimes would you like to go by the barn and just kick something?
STERLING MARLIN: I just never give up. I mean, it's something that you always enjoy doing. And just like Sunday, we had a terrible car to start. We got it fixed and come from 31st to 17th and the wheels come loose. We pitted, let of the wheels loose on the pit stop, get on the green and lose two laps and then you get going good again and I think somebody ran into 22 and tore the back end off the car. So there it is again, just get caught up in somebody else's mess. But just have to -- I've seen the highs and lows. Just got to work through it.
Q. Some of your stuff, we saw you at Talladega, you come in third, come out 17th, but for whatever reason you just don't criticize people. You don't shift the blame to the pit crew. Why not when sometimes other people are to blame, why don't you stand up and say something like, "I drove my tail off and I got beat somebody because somebody else made a mistake." Why don't you do that once in awhile?
STERLING MARLIN: Well, I think at the end of the day, when you get out of the car, you give 100%. You've done all you can do. And whatever whoever is doing what has got to get up tomorrow and look in the mirror, too, so we've just go to get better at what we're doing and try to fix it. Usually with those things, you get a lot more sugar than you can, whatever. So you just kind of learn and just roll with the flow and try not to complain so much. You hear a lot of teams, you hear all the drivers complaining all the time. I don't think I've ever complained.
Q. With Bill Elliot coming out of the series, full-time basis and then next year Mark Martin and Terry and Rusty will be absent from the Nextel Cup Series, how do you feel about that? You've been racing with these guys for a long time.
STERLING MARLIN: Yeah, I think they are still as good racers as they ever was. Mark is having a good year. Rusty is having a good year. We started off good, we just had a terrible six races. I think Mark's son is coming along and he's wanting to help him get racing. You know, Rusty is, I guess, just, I don't know why he's quitting, but he's still going to do it. I think a lot of it, you get tired of all the travel, all the testing, all the PR stuff you've got to do and it just gets old. I think down the road, you're going to see drivers not last past 40. Guys they make a ton of money now coming in, and they can make a pretty good living and just drag (ph) up the wheel by 40.
Q. Is it still worth it for you?
STERLING MARLIN: I still have fun. I mean, it's a deal that since I've been 12 years old, every day you get up and I think about a race car, what you can do to make it better. Working on one when you was a kid and going to the races and still enjoy seeing the fans and racing. And you wake up and you just say, "I'm tired," that's the day you need to quit.
Q. Is that a big distraction for you, having people talking about your future job prospects and all that kind of junk?
STERLING MARLIN: No, it not a distraction. I've been through it before, not a whole lot, but no, I don't think about it. Just try to do the best we can with Coors Light Dodge and try to get us a win before the year is out and give my guys 100%. We just have to work hard. We just haven't had -- in six races here, there's nothing that can't do, get took out in some wrecks, and then lost the engine and crashed and had two races we just didn't run good in. So we just have to work through it and try to get better.
Q. Can you give me sort of a behind-the-scenes peak at like what happens when your contract is up and you're looking at, you know, re-signing? Do you talk to Ganassi about this kind of stuff or what's going on?
STERLING MARLIN: I mean, it's pretty much known last year I wasn't going to be back. My contract was up. I mean, it was up in 2002 or sometime in there, 2001, 2002. We just sat down in April, May and signed a new three-year deal, wasn't nothing to it and figured out what he wanted to do and I said that's fine and got the lawyers and got it done. Some guys contracts up this year, I think Chip's got options on Casey and Jaime if he wants to renew them, so who knows what's going to happen.
Q. So right now don't really know what you're going to be doing next year?
STERLING MARLIN: No, I don't know right now. I mean, just can't tell you that, but definitely going to be in the Nextel Cup and run a couple three years.
Q. When you were with Junior, in terms of just -- did he never even talk to you in that last year; he just never even looked at you or talked to you?
STERLING MARLIN: No, I never got a pink slip from him. So I guess I'm still driving for him. Never told me nothing. So got to read between the lines, went and got another job.
Q. You kind of hit on what I was going to ask you about earlier, but can you go through a little more kind of how the racing is going to be different this year with the lack of shifting and maybe how that's going to affect the passing you were talking about earlier?
STERLING MARLIN: I think it will be hard to pass a little bit at Pocono because the shifting, you could really get up off turn three in third gear and get a run on somebody. The handling is going to be a premium this time at Pocono because if you just get the gas, you know, twenty foot before the guy in front of you, you're going to have a run on him coming off the corner passing. I think the ratio, you think you've got them and they shield and pull you a little bit. So I think the motor is going to have to be real, real torquey on the bottom end to get up off the corners. Like I said, I think whoever has a good-handling car is definitely going to win the race this time.
Q. I've seen Chip on TV say that he hopes that you have a great season and pick it up and win races, etc., etc. Is that just blowing smoke on his part, do you really feel you're -- inaudible?
STERLING MARLIN: Yeah, I do, you've got to read between the lines and what's going on, and I'm definitely still trying to do everything I can do to win a race for him. You do all you can do. Just you know, talk to Chip Monday and just try to figure out what all three teams are going to do. So just got to back up and see what you've changed the last couple of years and get back to basics and plan on stuff that's worked and go from there.
Q. Would you consider a ride in a Truck Series full-time if nothing else opened?
STERLING MARLIN: No, I kind of doubt it. I have a blue steel laid out and I was going to run some those races next year anyway. One reason I did the Busch thing this year was because the car is more closer now than it ever was and just try to run it. And if you learn something on Saturday with springs or shocks or sway bars or air pressure, adjustments you make during the race, it can help you on the Cup side. So that's the only reason I done it.
Q. Does it seem like a series you would like, the truck series, where everything is so close and less aero and all that?
STERLING MARLIN: I never drove a truck. I drove a street truck all my life, just about, but as far as the Truck Series, they definitely put on a good show. Not saying I wouldn't drive one, but if I was running the whole circuit on one, I don't think I would.
Q. The question I have for you really gears around, you've been around racing a long time and you've seen a lot of the feuds and you've seen a lot of the in-fighting, do you think this year, whether it's Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart or Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon or Michael Waltrip and Green, do you think there's a little more of that, I want to say, angry racing this season than any season you've ever seen in your history?
STERLING MARLIN: Well, you've always had feuds on and off, and I think Tony and Jeff got into it at Watkins Glen three or four years ago. I don't know, the cars are really equal now and everybody's just real competitive. Everybody is real close to each other, and sometimes, you know, Gordon turns to Kurt Busch at Marksville, I don't know if he meant to, but they got together in a wreck and I guess Jim got wrecked Sunday. I ain't seen how it happened, but like I said, it's just real tight racing. And sometimes guys will give you a hood (ph) and you don't, it gets turned around. The points are so important and emotions get involved and everybody gets pissed off and they good to next week.
Q. As you've gotten older, have you kind of learned that while you might get heated on the track over something, that the overall goal is the points and you need to stay focused on that and forget something, at least while you're on the track, that somebody might have done?
STERLING MARLIN: Yeah, if you come back next week for two weeks and retaliate there's a good possibility this will retaliate against you. So that would be two strikes for them and one for you and them two strikes will cost but 200 points. So you have to look at the big picture and look at it like that.
Q. Talking about the Busch race this weekend, the Easter weekend race was your first race at Nashville Super Speedway; correct?
STERLING MARLIN: Yeah.
Q. And what did you learn during that weekend that might help you win this weekend?
STERLING MARLIN: Learned not to cut right front tires down. We made a chassis change right before qualifying, and each car was impounded. And we had a sway bar that was rubbing the right front tire and kept cutting the right front tire down. I think we learned from that and just didn't get a good balance on the car. We had a good car, almost got it fixed and was, almost, 15 laps down by the time we got all the stuff fixed. You know, we've been running really good the past four races with the Busch car and had a chance to win all four and hopefully that can continue and gives us a good run.
Q. What are Steadman's plans, is there any chance we might see him taking over your ride next year?
STERLING MARLIN: Well, we don't know. Talking to Mondo (ph) , may run some more Busch races next year and may run some races and just have a father son team and see how it shakes out. I guess right now we just talked about it, but hopefully that's what we can do.
Q. And are you participating in any of the Fan Fest events this week, or will you have to be on a plane to Pocono?
STERLING MARLIN: I'll probably be on a plane to Pocono back to Nashville.
Q. A couple years ago, or not that long ago, Kansas had a couple of cars that can run and none of the guys shops' full, do you think the abundance of equipment is leading to some of the drive rough changes because people are not afraid to crash a car anymore?
STERLING MARLIN: Well, I don't know about that. Like I said, it's there, the competition is so close. You know, to me, Dover Sunday wasn't, once you got, the race starts spread out, the race wasn't as good, cut the spoiler off, and a lot of guys really loose Sunday and you couldn't run side to side at the back end following it around and get under somebody. Like I said, the competition is so close. You go to Bristol, Tennessee and the final practice can be, you know, 15 guys to the 20s or 20s to 30s and that close, it's going to be some ruffled feathers sometimes. Just goes with the territory.
Q. I want to follow-up, this situation with Chip, have you guys discussed this, and is this a mutual agreement that it will end at the end of this season?
STERLING MARLIN: Yeah, I mean, it pretty much is, yeah. I mean, I pretty much know what's going on and you know. Like I said, just appreciate the opportunity that Chip has given me. Back in 2001 they didn't have to sign me up to drive the car, and I got an opportunity to get a good race car and good stuff and won races. Had a good chance to win the championship for two years and things kind of went south on us and we ain't got the cars back to where they need to be. My contract is up and they want to do some different things and I guess I'll go do some different things and we'll still be friends.
Q. Would you rather it have stayed the way it was?
STERLING MARLIN: Yeah, we need to look at what we're doing if I stayed there. You know, we're just, like I said, just get cars back to where they was, and you know I'd like to retire driving for the Coors car, but that's not going to happen.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, Sterling, for joining us this week. We appreciate that and good luck this weekend in all of your travels.
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