Marlin wins somber Quality 500 - Thoughts of drivers, fans on U.S. attack in Afghanistan; victor prevented from taking lap with flag
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.
DeFerran dominates Houston Grand Prix
Houston Gil de Ferran led all 100 laps and took the lead in the CART FedEx Series championship with his victory Sunday in the Texaco/Havoline Grand Prix of Houston.
Only 17 of the 26 cars that started the race on the tight 1.527-mile, 10-turn downtown street circuit were running at the end, but de Ferran was virtually flawless as he drove to his second straight victory.
The win, combined with a seventh-place finish by Kenny Brack, turned a five-point deficit heading into the racing into a 10-point de Ferran lead, with three races and a maximum of 66 points remaining this season.
Dario Franchitti wasn't even within sight of the leader's Honda-powered Reynard as he wound up second, 3.430 seconds behind. Memo Gidley, who started 23rd, used a perfect fuel strategy to finish third.
Rookie Tora Takagi was fourth, followed by Helio Castroneves, who vaulted past Michael Andretti into third in the title chase.
Force stops Bazemore
Mohnton, Pa. John Force inched closer to his 100th career win by beating Whit Bazemore at the Pep Boys NHRA Nationals on Sunday for his 98th NHRA Funny Car national event win. Force needed a run of 4.792 seconds at 312.06 mph in his Ford Mustang to outrun Bazemore's pass of 4.832 at 318.54. Gary Scelzi, Troy Coughlin and Angelle Savoie also won their respective categories.
Head restraints order coming
Concord, N.C. NASCAR is moving closer to ordering head-and-neck restraints for drivers, with the group's president saying the latest death has "everybody in motorsports on edge."
"I don't have a timetable and I don't think there is a timetable," NASCAR president Mike Helton said Sunday. "A lot of things still have to be addressed, but right now the process of doing that is more active than it has ever been."