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2002: Remain seated

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Everyone who has ever ridden an amusement park knows the standard pre-ride instructions: "Keep arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times."

However, curiousity got the better of Sterling Marlin during the 44th annual Daytona 500, and it cost him a chance at a third 500 victory.

On a day when it seemed being the leader was tantamount to wearing a big red bullseye, Ward Burton emerged the winner in a wild and wacky finish.


Five cautions in the last 61 laps spiced the outcome, but none figured more prominently than the final one that occurred on a restart with six laps remaining.

Marlin, who led five times for a race-high 78 laps, bogged down the field trying to set up a pass on leader Jeff Gordon in the single file line of lead lap cars. The field stacked up behind Marlin and ninth-place Mark Martin spun Michael Waltrip across the trioval grass, nearly into the pace car on pit road.

As Marlin accelerated to the beginning of the chute heading to Turn 1, he and Gordon tangled, with Gordon spinning into the infield grass as the caution flew. After Marlin out-ran Burton to the caution flag at lap 195 by inches, officials immediately red-flagged the pack on the backstretch.

"I tried to lay back and get a run on him," Marlin said. "(Gordon) kept cutting down and we got together. Hindsight is 20-20 and I might not have done it if I knew what the outcome would be, but I had a chance to win the Daytona 500."

While the field was stopped for nearly 20 minutes, Marlin climbed out of his car, inspected the right-front fender and yanked on it, which is forbidden under NASCAR rules while under a red flag.

"I saw Sterling smoking when we raced back to the flag that time," Burton said, "so I knew something was up, there. We both knew how important that last restart was."


Marlin was penalized to the end of the longest line for the restart. Gordon, Rusty Wallace, Jeff Green and Jeff Burton were instructed to start at the end of the longest line in the single file restart for pitting before pit road was opened. They were all involved in the restart melee.

"I just pulled the fender off the tire, 'cause it was rubbing," Marlin said. "I saw Dale (Earnhardt) do it at Richmond once and NASCAR let him get away with it, but I guess the rules have changed in the meantime."

Burton then assumed the lead, jumped ahead on the restart and appeared to be home free as the field fanned out behind him.

But Elliott Sadler and Geoffrey Bodine teamed up to catch Burton by the end of the backstretch. The accordion effect was in evidence all day as single-file lines of cars and two-wide packs never separated themselves to any great degree.

"My car ran better on restarts," Burton said. "You've got to be there at the end of the race. Elliott and I have worked together real good before and all I can say is it'll be quite a party tonight."

At the white flag, Burton was .191 seconds ahead of Sadler as three-time Daytona 500 winner Dale Jarrett, who had restarted fourth, was spun to the inside of the race track. Burton held on in the race back to the line and was .193 seconds ahead of Sadler at the finish.

"That was pretty awesome," Sadler said. "Our pit stops were unbelievable.

"I knew when we got the (last) restart we had a lot of big name guys behind us that had been in these situations before -- they got a lot more experience than me. I was meaning to push Geoffrey (but) I looked up, (saw) 88, 97 all going around the outside and I made a quick decision.

"I swerved hard right and they pushed me right by Geoffrey. I helped Ward down the back straightaway and then we kind of broke away from everybody."

A huge 18-car crash sidelined several top cars on lap 139 when second place Kevin Harvick and third place Gordon got into a dispute over the same piece of racetrack.

"That's the one downfall of this restrictor plate package -- you have to block," said Harvick, who led the first three laps of the race in his first Daytona 500 start. "It was just two of us trying to occupy the same piece of real estate. I blocked him (Gordon), we got together and all hell broke loose."

"That was very unfortunate," Gordon said. "I was getting knocked around from behind and pushed and shoved. Kevin got crossed up behind Marlin and came back down across the track. I was trying hard to get out of it and let him in but we touched and it spun him."

Rookie Ryan Newman was seventh while Jimmie Johnson finished 15th. Shawna Robinson, the first woman to start the 500 since Janet Guthrie in 1980, wound up 24th.

Dave Marcis, driving in his 33rd Daytona 500, blew an engine and finished 42nd.

NOTE: This is one in a series of articles counting down to the 2003 Daytona 500.

 



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