Marlin's tale confirms weird ending of Great American RacePosted: Sunday February 17, 2002 7:36 PM
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."