Daytona 500 - 2002 Daytona 500 - 2002


20/20 hindsight

Marlin's tale confirms weird ending of Great American Race

Posted: Sunday February 17, 2002 7:36 PM

Daytona 500 has seen
a few bizarre finishes
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- The penalty for trying to fix his car under a red flag that cost Sterling Marlin a chance for a Daytona 500 victory is just the latest bizarre ending in a race that has seen many.

"I think that's what makes the Daytona 500 such a special race," NASCAR vice president Jim Hunter said after Sunday's race, which was won by Ward Burton. "It's unpredictable, it's unbelievable and it's unforgettable."

Hunter has seen them all:

  • The first came after the inaugural in 1959. NASCAR gave the trophy to Johnny Beauchamp, then took it away a few days later when a photo proved Lee Petty got to the finish line first.

  • In 1976, Richard Petty and David Pearson crashed on the final lap and stopped in the grass not far from the line. Pearson managed to get his car going and took the flag at about 5 mph before the rest of the field caught up.

  • Three years later, Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison banged repeatedly on the backstretch, crashed and fought each other on the apron of the third turn. Richard Petty raced by to get the sixth of his seven victories in the race.

  • Dale Earnhardt, trying to win the race for the first time, dominated for 499 miles in 1990 but ran over debris in the third turn, blew a tire and gave the victory to Derrike Cope.

  • Although Earnhardt knew the cars he owned -- those driven by winner Michael Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- were headed for a 1-2 finish last year, he never saw the end. The Intimidator was killed when he crashed in the fourth turn seconds before Waltrip crossed the finish line.

    On Sunday, Marlin was taken out of the lead with six laps remaining because he tried to pull a dented fender away from a tire after spinning out Jeff Gordon. Marlin wound up eighth. NASCAR rules prohibit anyone from working on a car during a red-flag period.

    "This was sort of like a soap opera," Hunter said. "It was like every 30 minutes, we went from one episode to the next. The story line of the race changed about every 40 or 50 laps." 
    DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- Legend has it that the late Dale Earnhardt once got out of his car to clean his windshield during a race. Or maybe he just reached out of his window and wiped away some grime.

    Either way, Sterling Marlin swears he saw it happen and his memory -- right or wrong -- cost him the Daytona 500 on Sunday.

    Marlin got out of his car during a red-flag, walked around to the other side and tried to pull his damaged fender away from his tire.

    NASCAR said "No way."

    An official got out of the pace car and sent Marlin first back into his Dodge, then to the back of the field for breaking the rule prohibiting working on a car during a red-flag.

    He went from first to 12th and could only work his way back to eighth during the final three-lap shootout.

    "I saw Earnhardt do it at Richmond one time in 1987, he got out and cleaned his windshield, so I thought it was OK," Marlin said. "I don't guess it was. Never read the rule book, so maybe I should. But it's the Daytona 500 and you got to do everything you can to win it."

    NASCAR vice president Jim Hunter couldn't back up Marlin on the Earnhardt claim.

    "I have no memory of that happening in my lifetime and I was born in 1939," Hunter said. "Regardless of if it did happen, the rules are clear and Sterling should have known better.

    "But the sight of him getting out the car and running around the other side was one of the funniest things I've ever seen."

    That's Marlin, one of NASCAR's greatest jokers.

    The Tennessee native always has a laugh and a joke, delivered in a thick Southern drawl that has made him one of the most impersonated characters in the sport.

    So when he said he was disappointed at how the race ended, it was hard to believe him through his big grin and Earnhardt tale.

    Marlin wasn't even sure he could have won the race regardless if he tried to fix the damaged fender, which occurred when he bumped and spun out Jeff Gordon trying to take over the lead.

    "Hindsight is 20/20. I might not have gotten it done," he said. "But it was a good sunny day and it would have been nice if we could have won it."

    The comical ending was so much more different from the tragic one last year that involved Marlin.

    Marlin was involved in Earnhardt's fatal accident. He made contact with Earnhardt on the final turn, a tap that sent Earnhardt slamming into the wall, killing him instantly.

    Marlin received death threats in the days following from fans who accused him of causing the wreck.

    "Yeah, the endings are different," Marlin said. "Neither one got me a win, so that's the same."

    Related information
    Ward Burton wins 44th Daytona 500
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