Sunday, June 09, 2002

Marlin shows speed at drying Pocono

AP Sports Writer

        LONG POND, Pa. — Sterling Marlin should have no reason to worry about his car not being fast at Pocono Raceway, where the track dried enough Saturday to permit the first NASCAR practice of the weekend.

        The Winston Cup points leader was awarded the pole Friday, when water seeping through seams and cracks on the 2 1/2-mile triangle prevented practice and qualifying. The starting grid for Sunday's Pocono 500 was set according to series points.

        Marlin, who hasn't driven to a pole and has been a poor qualifier this season, posted the fastest lap Saturday, going 166.636 mph in a Dodge. He said both his car and the track are ready to race.

        “The car runs good and drives good, and it's got a good feel to it,” Marlin said. “I didn't see any wet spots out there.”

        The problem with the track came after 3 inches of rain fell Thursday, bringing the total for the last week to 8.

        NASCAR spokeswoman Danielle Frye said trenches were dug near the second and third turns, and just off pit road. Also, some patch was applied to the asphalt off the racing surface near the end of pit road.

        Some minor seepage was visible after practice, but NASCAR president Mike Helton was confident that work performed over the preceding 24 hours would ensure that the race go on as scheduled.

        “There are a few wet spots out there that are not in the racing area,” Helton said. “All the effort was put into fixing the areas where the cars had to go through.”

        He said areas where seepage continued would be worked on further. But work could not begin immediately after the final practice because of the ARCA Series race Saturday afternoon.

        Earlier, Marlin's teammate, Jimmy Spencer, criticized track officials for not being prepared after rain over the last two weeks caused seepage during testing by Marlin, Rusty Wallace and Ryan Newman.

        “They should have listened to those guys and looked into the situation, and they didn't,” Spencer said.

        A track spokesman said Pocono had no plan to respond to Spencer.

        The track said there was little it could do. The water table in the area, where there have been some road closures, is reported to be about 17 inches above normal.

        “We have run 500-mile races for more than 30 years and have never encountered this problem,” the track said in a statement Friday.

        Rain has been a problem for some time in this area, which until last month was hit hard by the East Coast drought. Standing water has not drained from some puddles despite two days of bright sunshine.

        On Friday, there was no question from the start the cars could not take to the track.

        “It was like somebody turned on a hose,” Marlin said. “The water just kept seeping out.”

        Although he has been leading in points since the second week of the season, Marlin has not had a top-10 finish in month and a half. But he has lost only seven points from his lead.

        Still, Marlin is upset.

        “We're in a little slump, but if we go all year and 19th is the worst finish, then we've had a good year,” he said. “But I want to win.”

        Rookie Jimmie Johnson, who will start second in the $3.6 million race, was fourth-fastest. Johnson, who got around at 166.196 in his Chevrolet, is coming off a victory last Sunday at Dover International Speedway.

        Ricky Rudd, who got his first Pocono victory and ended an 88-race losing streak last June, went 166.512 in a Ford. Rookie Newman, also in a Ford, posted a fast lap of 166.396.

        Four-time series champion Jeff Gordon, a three-time winner on the mountaintop, will start on the inside of the second row, flanked by Matt Kenseth.

        Four-time Pocono winner Wallace will be fifth on the grid, followed by Mark Martin, Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch, four-time Pocono winner Bill Elliott and Rudd.


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