Concord, N.C. The event was somber and Sterling Marlin's victory was muted. On a day in which the U.S. attacked Afghanistan, few thought much about racing at the UAW-GM Quality 500.
The start of Sunday's race was briefly delayed as word of the attacks first broke, with coverage shown on the big-screen television in the infield that was propped just above the waiting drivers on pit road.
When the green flag finally dropped, Marlin and Tony Stewart waged an uneventful battle in which Marlin's Dodge eventually pulled away and crossed the finish line at Lowe's Motor Speedway about a quarter of the track ahead of Stewart.
His crew then ran to him with an American flag, but NASCAR refused to let Marlin take the customary victory lap. He instead drove straight to the winner's circle, carrying the flag out his window.
"I was going to make a lap around the track with the flag, from what went on this morning we just wanted to show support overseas and for the armed forces," Marlin said. "But the NASCAR posse got us."
NASCAR said it prohibited Marlin from taking the lap because it was unsafe due the amount of people who had raced out to the finish line. The decision disappointed the crew, which sent partial team owner Felix Sabates to express that to NASCAR.
"Today was a special day for the U.S.," said team manager Tony Glover. "To win a Winston Cup race is a total team effort, so I thought it would have been very neat if Sterling could have jumped up and have our entire team let the U.S. know we supported them."
It was the second victory of the season for Marlin and the third for a Dodge, which made its return to NASCAR this season after a 15-year absence. Ward Burton was the other Dodge driver to win.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was fourth in a Chevrolet and Jeff Burton finished fifth in a Ford.