NASCAR Race Weekend Central

2006 Driver Review: Sterling Marlin

Sterling Marlin
2006 Ride: No. 14 Waste Management Chevrolet
2006 Owners: MB2 Motorsports, now Ginn Racing
2006 Crew Chiefs: Doug Randolph (Feb.-June), Scott Eggleston (June-Labor Day), Richard “Slugger” Labbe (Labor Day-Nov.)

Stats: Zero wins, zero top fives, one top 10, 34th in points.

High Point: May 6th, I looked in my email inbox and discovered David Ferroni, the MB2 PR contact, sent out the report “Marlin Grabs Season High Ninth-Place Finish in Richmond” in what turned out to be one of the best predictions of 2006. Marlin piloted the Waste Management Chevrolet to its only top 10 of the season, showing why he’s been a staple in the Nextel Cup series for years after charging forward from his 32nd starting spot in this 400-lap event to claim ninth-place honors. Marlin lost a lap during a long green-flag run, even though he was running 16th at the time, but battled back to return to the lead lap, putting himself in position for what would inevitably become a top-10 finish.

Ironically, the good run came at a perfect time for Sterling; the weekend also marked the 30th anniversary of Marlin’s first Cup Series start on May 8, 1976 at Nashville Speedway after subbing for his injured father, Coo Coo Marlin.

Low Point: You could argue that there were two low points in the 2006 season for the No. 14 team.

The first was Homestead; even though Marlin finished 34th in driver points, thanks to a blown motor in the Ford 400 (along with seven other DNFs throughout the season), the No. 14 team finished 36th in the owner standings and will now have to race their way into at least the first five races of the 2007 season on speed. That’s a daunting proposition with several new teams attempting full-time schedules to start the year.

Earlier in the season, but just as low, was Scott Eggleston’s first race as Marlin’s crew chief. That came at Infineon in June, after Doug Randolph was replaced and Eggleston installed to hopefully lead to better results. Well, things couldn’t have gone worse; the No. 14 was collected in a wreck before the field could make just one complete circuit. As the 43-car Nextel Cup grid entered turn 8 on the 1.99-mile road course, the No. 21 car of Ken Schrader turned sideways, blocking the racetrack and leaving Marlin no choice but to t-bone the car in front of him. Marlin said after the race, “I was right behind Elliott [Sadler] and thought we were both clear. Then, Elliott took a sharp left turn and all I saw was a windshield full of the [No.] 21. I just had nowhere to go.” The incident relegated Marlin to a 42nd-place finish in the Dodge/Save Mart 350.

Ironically, while Eggleston was Marlin’s crew chief at SABCO Racing for 22 races in 1999 and for the full season in 2000, they had a best finish of second, which happened at… Infineon. This time around was far different; in their 10 races with MB2, a best of a 16th at New Hampshire was the best the pair could muster before Eggleston was replaced by “Slugger” Labbe in September.

Summary: When the list of disappointments from the 2006 season makes its rounds, have no doubt Marlin’s name is sure to be circled at the top of the list. Big things were expected of the veteran after being bounced from Chip Ganassi Racing after the 2005 season; instead, the team he associated with, MB2, took a major step backwards while Marlin was dealt an overwhelming dose of bad luck.

Crew chief changes, ownership changes, nothing seemed to solve the problems plaguing the No. 14 until “Slugger” Labbe came on board in September; even then, horrible racing luck haunted the team from ever truly getting their act together. With Marlin rumored to be driving full-time for only one more full season, there’s plenty of work to do here for the veteran’s hope of making the Chase a reality before he retires.

2007 Outlook: Despite a disappointing year, Marlin will again return to the No. 14 for a second season with Labbe supposedly back as crew chief. As of yet, a team sponsor has not been named.

Grade: F

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