DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Dale Earnhardt and Sterling Marlin could co-author a book on the importance of running up front at Daytona International Speedway, where restrictor plate racing makes passing problematic. Put the veteran pair in front of a pack, where they were in Thursday's Gatorade Twin 125 races, and winning is nearly automatic.
Marlin and Earnhardt chose separate paths to the front in their respective qualifying races, but followed the same route to Victory Lane. Sunday, they'll line up directly behind the Labonte brothers -- Bobby and Terry -- for the 40th Daytona 500.
Celebrating a reunion with Sabco team manager Tony Glover, Marlin grabbed the lead when Jeff Gordon elected to pit with 16 laps remaining in the 50-lap event, and held off Dale Jarrett and Bobby Labonte to win the first race.
Earnhardt's path to victory in the second race was more clear-cut. He rushed past pole-sitter Terry Labonte on the opening lap, securing a staggering ninth consecutive Twin win in wire-to-wire fashion. Michael Waltrip, teammate Mike Skinner and Ernie Irvan were in single-file pursuit at the finish as Earnhardt won for the 30th time at Daytona.
"We ended up here last year (after a Twin 125 win) and didn't win after that," said Earnhardt, who is in the midst of a pair of mind-numbing slumps. "It's about time we got back in the winner's circle again. We're going to start our winning streak here this year and go from there."
Not only is Earnhardt out to end his 0-for-19 streak in Daytona 500 starts, the seven-time Winston Cup champion is also winless in 59 consecutive Winston Cup starts. It's the longest drought in the career of the man with 70 Cup victories.
"In the last year, every race I've wanted to win worse than any other race," Earnhardt said. "The 500 is a unique race; it's a race that has eluded me. You could write a big book on everything that's happened to me the last 19 years in the Daytona 500. ... I'm sure we're going to write another chapter into it and hopefully it's a great chapter."
With a pair of Daytona 500 victories -- along with a Pepsi 400 win -- Marlin already has a book-full of Daytona memories. Now he hopes that his second Twin 125 victory follows the same story line as his first, which he backed up with his second consecutive Daytona 500 title in 1995.
"I hope it's a sign of things to come," Marlin said, after giving team owner Felix Sabates his first win of any kind since 1995. "Felix was tickled to death; it's a great feeling to come here and win a race for a new owner."
It certainly didn't hurt to hear Glover's voice on the radio early Thursday. The two combined for four Daytona victories in their racing days with the Morgan-McClure team, a relationship that ended when Glover split for Sabco after the 1996 season and left Marlin to ride out last year's winless season.
"He (Glover) come on the radio and said, `You hear me there, Chicken Snake?' That's what he nicknamed me," Marlin said. "It's great to be back with him."
As it worked out, Marlin was fortunate that he was unable to heed Glover's advice over the radio when an accident involving rookie Kenny Irwin, Todd Bodine and Dick Trickle brought out a caution flag.
"Glover told me if Gordon comes in (to pit), come with him," Marlin said. "(Gordon) faked me out; he came in and I couldn't get back down pit road, so it worked out."
Now if only they could assure things will work out as favorably on Sunday.
"It's tough to go a year and not win," Earnhardt said. "If you were a basketball, football or baseball team, you'd really be on the outs; everybody would be getting fired.
"Everybody saw that look in (Denver quarterback John) Elway's eyes. Well, look in my eyes. We're going to be after it."
Marlin would write that chapter the same way.