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Ganassi plans to drop Marlin

DARLINGTON, S.C. -- Sterling Marlin made the 650th start of his
career Saturday night, but had nothing to celebrate after
mechanical problems caused him to finish 41st.

"Something happened to the motor, it started skipping at about
the 100 lap mark,'' Marlin said. "This is one of my favorite
tracks, but something happened to the motor.''

But no one is talking about Marlin's past or present. The buzz
around him is his future.

Marlin said last month that he didn't think he'd be back at Chip
Ganassi Racing next year because the car owner had been reluctant
to discuss a new contract with him.

Ganassi said Marlin can change that via on-track performance.

"Right now, we don't have a plan for Sterling for next year,''
Ganassi said. "But if he wins a couple of races, it's not like we
can't change our plans.''

Marlin has three top 10 finishes this season.

Assuming he needs a new job next season, garage speculation has
him moving over to Richard Childress Racing to drive the No. 07
Chevrolet that Dave Blaney currently pilots. The car is sponsored
by Jack Daniels, a Tennessee-based company that would love to be
represented by a homestate driver.

Busch series driver David Stremme, who is part of Ganassi's
development program, is most commonly mentioned to replace Marlin
in the No. 40 Dodge.

Trouble for Johnson
Series points leader Jimmie Johnson was a
serious contender for the victory until a tire problem with just
over 100 laps to go ruined his bid.

Johnson, who swept both Darlington races last year, was running
in second place when loose lug nuts caused his left rear wheel to
wobble. He had to pit for repairs and had fallen to 23rd by the
time he got back on the track.

He ended up seventh, but still maintained his lead in the points
standings. Johnson now has a 127-point advantage over teammate Jeff
Gordon.

It's been a long week for Johnson, who has been widely
criticized by many of his competitors for aggressive driving
tactics. Dale Earnhardt Jr. called him an idiot and joined Greg
Biffle in blaming Johnson for starting a 25-car accident at
Talladega last week.

Honoring two old-timers
NASCAR president Mike Helton
saluted Rusty Wallace and Mark Martin before the two veteran
drivers made their final starts at Darlington Raceway.

Helton typically introduces special guests during the pre-race
driver meeting, but with no dignitaries in attendance, he used his
time at the microphone to honor Wallace and Martin.

"I think since this being the oldest superspeedway we race at,
and this being the last Darlington race for Mark Martin and Rusty
Wallace, we give them a round of applause,'' Helton said.

The two drivers received a warm applause from their rivals,
although both seemed a bit uncomfortable.

Both are retiring at the end of this season.

Martin was fourth on Saturday night -- he was challenging for
third place with four laps to go when he spun out -- and will end
his career with one Darlington win, in 1993.

Wallace was 12th in his final start. His highest finish was a
second in 1988.

Mother's Day specials
Dale Jarrett and Kyle Petty celebrated Mother's
Day a little early with special paint schemes honoring the mom's in
their life.

For Jarrett, it was the least he could do for his mother, who
had discouraged him from following his father, Ned, into racing.

"I think she thought she had gotten through that part of her
life and she wasn't really going to have to be concerned [about
me] because I didn't show that much interest that I wanted to
become a race car driver,'' Jarrett said. "I think she thought it
was probably something that would just pass, but I think she's
pretty happy with the way things turned out.''

Jarrett said his mother took him to various sporting events and
had him participate in all kinds of sports as a kid in an effort to
discourage him from being a driver.

Asked Saturday what she would prefer him to do over racing,
Martha Jarrett said, "Playing golf.''