Race Fans Forever
Sterling Marlin: What Might Have Been
Greetings, readers. I hope this brutal winter weather hasn't been too hard on you over the past few days. Anyway, grab a cup of hot chocolate, crank the fireplace up if you have one, sit back, and join me for this week's edition of What Might Have Been. This week, I'll be profiling a driver who actually enjoyed nearly a decade of success in the Sprint Cup Series before he fell victim to an injury that it appears he never truly recovered from: Sterling Marlin.
Affectionately known as The Last Good 'Ol Boy as well as the son of former Sprint Cup Series driver Coo Coo Marlin, Sterling brought his Central Tennessee charm to the world of NASCAR for the first time in 1976 by subbing for his injured father at Nashville. He would labor on throughout the 1980s and 1990s until he was finally able to secure his first Sprint Cup Series win by piloting the number 4 Kodak Chevrolet for Morgan-McClure to victory on NASCAR's biggest stage: the 1994 Daytona 500. The following season, Sterling became only the third driver to achieve back-to-back victories in The Great American Race.
Fast forward to 2002. Sterling was at the pinnacle of his career driving the number 40 Coors Light Dodge for Chip Ganassi. Following a second place finish at Rockingham and wins at Las Vegas and Darlington, Sterling would lead the Sprint Cup Series points standings for 24 straight weeks. However, a series of crashes would drop him to 4th in points as the Sprint Cup Series roared into Kansas Speedway. During that race, he crashed and suffered a cracked vertebra and was forced to miss the final seven races of the season. Sterling returned to the Cup Series the following season, but it appeared that he never fully recovered from his injury. He would eventually be released by Chip Ganassi and would toil on for a few different team owners before quietly hanging his helmet up for good following the 2009 fall race at Martinsville. He never visited Victory Lane again, forcing us all to wonder what might have been.
It's difficult to say how 2002 would have finished for Sterling Marlin had he not fallen victim to his injury. While most of us would have loved to see him battle for the championship, we all know that in sports momentum is hard to recover once it has been lost. Regardless, had Sterling not been injured, I think he still would have ended his career on a much more positive note, and The Last Good 'Ol Boy could have flashed that big Central Tennessee smile in Victory Lane a few more times. Unfortunately, it wasn't meant to be, and we're all forced to wonder what might have been.