Originally created 09/01/02

Marlin still fighting



DARLINGTON, S.C. - Sterling Marlin has a lot of reasons to win the NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship.

It would solidify his position in the sport's history ... it would be worth at least $4.7 million in bonuses.

It might get him on the set of HBO's Sex in the City.

"I'd like to be on (Sex in the City)," Marlin said. "We never have done it, but we'll sure try. We're going to work hard to win the championship, and who knows."

Marlin has survived all kinds of obstacles to keep the lead he took after the second race of the season. He still has it going into today's Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, despite consecutive weeks of broken engines last month and problems last week at Bristol.

Fabled Darlington Raceway, the 53-year-old track shaped like an egg, offers an opportunity for disaster in every corner. The pavement is worn out and the walls are dangerously close to the racing groove.

Marlin knows if he can get through today's race with the points lead intact, it will go a long way toward helping his chances in the final three months.

"Bristol and Darlington are two tough tracks," he said. "You have to kind of dodge the bullets all night long and all day long. "

A week after Marlin recovered from an early crash and a pit road penalty that put him a lap down, he still leads a charmed life. Despite his problems at Bristol, he rallied to finish seventh to take a 95-point lead over Mark Martin into today's race.

His fortune continued at Darlington, when time trials were rained out on Friday. As the points leader, he inherited the pole position for today's race (1 p.m., TNT).

In March, Marlin started last at Darlington and methodically worked his way to a victory.

"We feel like if we can get the car like we had it here in the spring we should be a top five car," Marlin said. "We had a real good run in the spring."

Of course, the rain benefited Marlin's closest challengers in the standings, too. The entire starting lineup was based on the current car owner standings, andthe top 10 starters have combined to win 19 races at Darlington, including five wins each by Jeff Gordon and Bill Elliott.

The racetrack was dry enough early Saturday for a couple of 45-minute practice sessions. Marlin was the 17th-fastest driver in the final session at 161.630 mph, while Gordon (third at 162.807 mph) and Elliott (ninth at 162.094) were among the top-10 fastest.

Marlin has made himself vulnerable to his challengers for so long, even he's starting to wonder if there are forces greater than mechanical parts and human resolve working in his favor.

"You'd like to think that (the championship is meant to be)," Marlin said. "A couple of people at home have said the same thing. We'll just keep doing what we've been doing. We'd like to get a couple more wins before the year's over. If we can maintain what we've been doing I think we've got a pretty good shot."

Reach Don Coble at doncoble@bellsouth.net.