Sterling Marlin

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StarCom Racing bringing Sterling Marlin’s ‘Silver Bullet’ back at Darlington

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The “Silver Bullet” is back.

StarCom Racing has announced that for this weekend’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington (6 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN), Landon Cassill‘s No. 00 Chevrolet will be a throwback to Sterling Marlin’s early 2000s Coors Light Dodge.

The paint scheme is the one Marlin had when he earned his last Cup win in March 2002 at Darlington.

More: Retro Rundown 2019: Southern 500 paint schemes

Marlin, 62, suffers from Parkinson’s Disease, a debilitating neurological malady that slowly robs an individual of movement in various body parts, particularly use of the hands. Marlin recently returned to racing after recovering from a series of brain surgeries.

StarCom Racing has partnered with Michael J. Fox Foundation for the event. Fox, known for his role in the “Back to the Future” movies, also suffers from Parkinson’s. The team will be selling a t-shirt to commemorate the race, with $5 from each sale going to the foundation.

Friday 5: Anger building during NASCAR’s season of rage

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Call this NASCAR’s season of rage: Drivers sniping, fussing and even a few fighting.

The anger was evident last weekend at Watkins Glen International. A seven-time champion ridiculed a competitor in an interview on NBCSN. A young driver’s expletive-laced comments explained why he spun a former champion.

The confrontations and cross words are not surprising in a season that might best be described with an angry face emoji.

The Cup Series is going though a transition. A new rules package is meant to excite current fans, coax new fans and create tight racing that can lead to clashes on and off the track. While the new rules have enhanced racing at 1.5-mile tracks, drivers say that passing remains a challenge. Thus blocking, once a tactic found primarily at Daytona and Talladega, has become commonplace. So have the conflicts.

There’s also a battle between veteran drivers and the next generation. The last few years have seen many veterans leave, and several new drivers arrive. Seventeen of the 40 starters in the Daytona 500 three years ago are no longer full-time Cup drivers, a list that includes Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle. One driver who missed that race with an injury was Tony Stewart. He returned nine races into the year for what was his final Cup season.

Mix blocking with a generational gap in how to race, and one gets a mercurial situation. Add the pressure to make the playoffs and simply stand back because somebody is about to lose their cool.

So there was Jimmie Johnson, who holds the final playoff spot entering Sunday’s race at Michigan International Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN), confronting Ryan Blaney last weekend at Watkins Glen after Blaney’s contact spun Johnson. After their talk, Johnson told NBCSN that “I couldn’t hear what (Blaney) was saying, his lips were quivering so bad that he can’t even speak. I guess he was nervous or scared or both. I don’t know what the hell the problem is.”

Farther up pit road, Bubba Wallace said he wasn’t backing down. He turned Kyle Busch — Wallace’s former boss when Wallace ran in the Truck series — in retaliation for contact that sent Wallace into a tire barrier.

“I’m going to get my respect on the track, and I don’t care who it is,” Wallace said. “That’s for when guys fail to think about the young guys, I guess, or with me.

“I won’t put up with no shit. So I flat out wrecked his ass back.”

These disagreements have been going on throughout the season. It’s just that they’ve become more common lately.

Ryan Newman said he had a discussion with Blaney about blocking after a couple of incidents at Charlotte. Newman says blocking is not racing and he doesn’t do it.

“You don’t change the way that you enter a corner to choke somebody off knowing that it’s going to slow you down,” Newman said. “You, as a racer, are supposed to go out there and race as hard as you can to try to catch the guy in front of you, not let the guy behind you stay behind you.”

As for his discussion with Blaney, Newman said he told the fourth-year Cup driver: “The next time you do that, it’s not going to be good for you. That’s not the way I race. You want to block me, it’s not going to be good.’ I don’t mean it as a threat. I’m just telling him that’s the fact of it.”

Blocking was an issue Clint Bowyer had at the end of the Kansas race with Erik Jones in May. Jones, who is in his third full season, moved multiple lanes to block Bowyer’s charge and then drifted up to keep Bowyer behind.

“I had a huge run on both those guys but that kid, I guess he was willing to wreck himself to hold the position,” Bowyer said of Jones that night.

There have been other cases of veterans trying to lay down the law with a younger driver. After declaring last year he wasn’t going let off the gas when he was blocked because he had been wrecked from behind doing so, Brad Keselowski delivered “a message” at Daytona in July. He turned William Byron when Byron blocked him in practice.

“It would have been, I feel like, more professional to come talk to me about what was wrong instead of tearing up a race car and make my guys have to bring out a backup and have to work all the way through last night and show up early this morning and have to work even more,” Byron said the day after the incident. “I don’t think that’s the way to handle it. That’s kind of the unnecessary part for me that I don’t appreciate.”

It hasn’t just been veterans and young drivers having issues. Bowyer and Newman had contact after the All-Star Race that spun Bowyer. After exiting his car, Bowyer, ran to Newman’s and started punching Newman as he sat in his car.

Even young guys have been upset with one another. Alex Bowman was not happy with Joey Logano‘s driving at Charlotte, saying Logano “about crashed us in practice and then he drove into Turn 1 and tried to turn us (in the 600). I like Joey a lot. It is what it is. We’re all racing hard. I’m not super mad about it, I just thought it was dumb, that’s all.”

Asked about how drivers are racing each other, Bowman said: “Everybody has to race everybody hard with this package. There’s not a lot of room for give and take. I thought the situation was, there was a good chunk of the race left, it was pretty unnecessary. Probably wouldn’t have been as mad as I was about it if (Logano) didn’t about crash us in practice, which I thought was really unnecessary.

“It’s all good, and he’ll get his for sure.”

Bowman, who has a victory this season, doesn’t face the pressure to make the playoffs that Johnson does. Johnson, who has never failed to qualify for NASCAR’s postseason since it debuted in 2004, holds the final playoff spot by only a tiebreaker on Newman with four races left in the regular season. Earlier this month, Johnson’s team changed crew chiefs in the middle of the season for the first time in his career.

Johnson and Newman trail Bowyer by 12 points. Bowyer is trying to make the playoffs while he doesn’t have a contract for next season. Daniel Suarez, who has had run-ins with Michael McDowell (ISM Raceway) and Wallace (Pocono), is 23 points behind Johnson and Newman.

The tension is only going to increase in the Cup garage.

2. Life on the playoff bubble

Alex Bowman understands the pressure of trying to make the playoffs. A year ago, he held the final playoff spot with four races to go. He made the playoffs, but he admits to the anxiety he felt, something he doesn’t have to worry about with his win at Chicagoland Speedway qualifying him for a chance at the title this year.

“It’s definitely tough,” Bowman said of the pressure last year. “It’s not a lot of fun. It’s a lot of stress and a lot of pressure. It really wasn’t that bad last year until we got to Indy (for the regular-season finale), and we crashed pretty early, and we were kind of riding around just trying to finish. And I could see that Jamie McMurray was pretty close to the front, and, I’m like trying to look past 30 cars on restarts and see where everybody’s at. So, that was really stressful.”

3. Quest for tires that wear

NASCAR and drivers have made it clear that they seek a tire that wears more and that’s something Goodyear is looking to deliver.

When it comes to tires, no secret that we want more wear, especially on the short tracks, and that’s the goal,” Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, said earlier this week on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “We’re going to work closely with Goodyear to get that. We think that’s a huge component of what goes into a race. The more we can deliver on that, that’s where the drivers want to see us go, and we’re going to push hard to do that.”

Case in point was a recent tire test at Martinsville Speedway.

“I think the main deal for that tire test was finding a left rear (tire) that fell off,” said Ryan Blaney, who took part in the test. “We ran through a bunch of different sets and combinations and things like that. Some were better than others. I don’t know what we’re coming back there with.”

Paul Menard, who also participated in the test, likes the idea of a tire that wears more.

“I think that Goodyear kind of sees that and is making a push to maybe be more aggressive to give us a softer compound that wears out more,” he said.

4. Winning again

Chase Elliott‘s win last weekend at Watkins Glen International gave Chevrolet four wins in the last six races: Alex Bowman (Chicagoland Speedway), Justin Haley (Daytona), Kurt Busch (Kentucky) and Elliott.

Chevrolet drivers had won only four of the previous 51 races before this recent streak.

5. Racing is in their blood

While Sterling Marlin looks to return to racing Saturday night at Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville after brain surgery, another former Cup driver will be racing Saturday night for the first time at Bowman Gray Stadium.

Bobby Labonte will get his first taste of “The Madhouse” in his first career modified race.

“The modified races there are really competitive, and the teams and drivers are serious and talented,” Labonte said in a media release. ” I am sure they will make it tough on me, but I am looking forward to strapping on my helmet and giving them a run.”

Sterling Marlin won’t let Parkinson’s Disease keep him from racing

Photos: Aaron Farrier of Paradigm Racing
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Racing has been Sterling Marlin’s life for more than a half century. Over the last six months, faced with serious health issues, the hope of racing has been the one constant that has helped keep the 62-year-old’s spirit alive and motivated.

Since 2012, Marlin has battled Parkinson’s Disease, a debilitating neurological malady that slowly robs an individual of movement in various body parts, particularly use of the hands.

Earlier this year, the 1994 and ’95 Daytona 500 champion underwent several surgeries – including a four-stage deep brain stimulation procedure that delivers electric pulses to brain cells – to slow or reduce some of the disease’s progression.

However, Marlin suffered serious side effects, including excess fluid on the brain that required another procedure.

While the surgeries sidelined Marlin longer than he anticipated, they have paid off as the Columbia, Tennessee native hopes to be back behind the wheel of his No. 14 Late Model on Saturday at his home track of Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville for the first time since last fall.

“I feel really good, I just want to race the car, I’m ready to go,” Marlin told NBC Sports in a phone interview Tuesday. “I’m having more good days now.

Sterling Marlin shown during racing action last year at Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville. Photo: Aaron Farrier of Paradigm Racing

“(Racing at Nashville will) mean a whole lot. I’ve been through a lot over the past six months. I thought we were going to be ready by the first race in April, but we were far off from it.

“It’ll be good to come back and have a race. The last time I won a race in Nashville (last August), I led every lap, won the race. Then we were leading the next race (in November) before it started raining.”

But instead of worrying about tires and fuel mileage and car setups, Marlin spent much of the first half of the year with his surgeries and several follow-up exams.

“It’s been a long process, really,” he said. “(The deep brain stimulation) was a little scary. They had to go into my brain or I could have died. I dodged that bullet, but it was pretty touch-and-go there for a while.

“My family has been there through thick-and-thin. I was lucky I had the surgery. I lost a lot of weight but I’ve been able to put 17-18 pounds back on.”

Marlin tried to make his racing return at Nashville nearly a month ago. He was ready to go physically and emotionally, but his race car developed clutch problems that prompted him to withdraw rather than run the risk of costly repairs if the clutch suffered even greater damage during competition.

The clutch has been repaired and once again, Marlin is ready to put the pedal to the metal. If all goes well, he hopes to do another two more races at Nashville before the season ends and, if additional sponsorship comes about, won’t rule out one-off races at other tracks.

“Racing is all I’ve ever done since I was 10-12 years old,” Marlin said. “I enjoy doing it and see how fast we can go. Hopefully, we can get back to where we were last fall and see what happens.

Sterling Marlin is ready to get back in his race car this Saturday at Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville. He needs just two more race wins there to become the Speedway’s winningest driver. Photo: Aaron Farrier of Paradigm Racing

“We’ve got a good car, a good sponsor and we’ll give ‘er hell.”

If all goes well both health-wise and racing-wise, Marlin hopes to continue racing as long as he can.

“I was still winning last year and we were fast every race and led a lot of laps,” Marlin said. “If I can still do it and enjoy doing it, I’ll keep doing it.

“But if all I can do is run 20th, then I won’t do it anymore.”

According to The Tennessean newspaper, Marlin needs two more wins to become the winningest driver in Fairgrounds history.

And if he wins his comeback race on Saturday? He already has a plan, he said with a laugh:

“If I win, I’ll climb the fence like John Force,” Marlin said, referencing Force’s fence climb into the grandstands after winning his 150th career race last weekend.

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Clutch issues delay Sterling Marlin’s racing return

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Four months after undergoing a third brain surgery in his battle with Parkinson’s Disease, former NASCAR Cup star Sterling Marlin’s return to racing was postponed last weekend due to mechanical issues with his car.

According to The Tennessean newspaper, Marlin, 62, was slated to compete in a pro late model race at his home track, Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville. However, issues with his No. 14 race car’s clutch prompted Marlin to withdraw from the event.

The two-time Daytona 500 champion took to social media to tell his fans what happened, as well as promising to be back “soon”

The news was disappointing for Marlin and his team, particularly since earlier Saturday he tweeted a photo of his race car to Dale Earnhardt Jr. as Marlin prepared for that evening’s event.

According to The Tennessean, Marlin “needs two more victories to become the winningest driver at the Fairgrounds.”

Also, according to the Fairgrounds’ web site, the next race there is August 10.

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Monster Energy All-Star Race by the numbers

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When NASCAR holds its annual All-Star Race this weekend, it will mark the 35th edition of the exhibition race that’s called Charlotte Motor Speedway home for all but one year.

In that time, the race has had a lot of different titles, many different formats and a lot of memorable paint schemes (say “Chromalusion” three times fast.)

The race has seen 23 different winners since its inception in 1985 and seven of them will be in Saturday night’s 85 lap main event as drivers compete for $1 million.

Here’s a look at other interesting numbers from the event’s three-and-a-half decades of history.

24 – Times Mark Martin competed in the All-Star Race, the most all-time. He did not miss the race from 1988 – 2013.

14 – Number of top 10s Dale Earnhardt Jr. earned in the All-Star Race, the most all-time. Jimmie Johnson is the active leader with 11.

12 – Number of laps Kyle Busch needs to lead to pass Bill Elliott (267 laps) for most laps led in the All-Star Race.

12 – Cars competed in the first All-Star Race on May 25, 1985. There will be 19 cars in this year’s race.

7 – Drivers who have multiple wins in the All-Star Race (Johnson, 4; Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon, 3; Martin, Davey Allison, Terry Labonte and Kevin Harvick, 2)

5 – Poles Bill Elliott earned in the All-Star Race, the most all-time. Kyle Busch is the active leader with three.

4 – Times Sterling Marlin won the Monster Energy Open, the most all-time.

3 – Times Ken Schrader and Marlin finished runner-up in the All-Star Race, tied for the most all-time, without winning. Schrader competed in the race eight times and finished in the top five in six of them.

2 – Runner-up finishes by Brad Keselowski in the All-Star Race. He’s the active leader among drivers in top fives without an ASR win.

1 – Times that Jeff Gordon was sponsored by a dinosaur themed amusement park ride (1997). After winning the race, crew chief Ray Evernham was told not to bring that car back to the track.