Sterling Marlin isn't exactly sure what to expect this weekend at Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania. Then again, he's quite familiar with dealing with uncertainty at the moment.
The one thing Marlin knows for sure is that something will have to change drastically for him to remain with Chip Ganassi Racing beyond this season. Marlin hasn't won since the spring of 2002 and doesn't expect to be offered a new contract.
"Well, I'm not 100 percent sure I won't be back next year with them," Marlin says. "I don't read all of the stuff on [the] Internet and don't turn the computer on really, but they put out a lot of things. But basically, [my] contract is up with Chip at the end of the year and with Coors and I feel certain, pretty certain [I won't be back]. [That] stuff is out of your hands, you can't control [it], so that's about it."
A fan favorite, the veteran believes he'll have options when it comes to 2006. Just don't ask him for any specifics.
"I've been approached by some teams," Marlin says. "I'm talking to some teams to try to get something lined up by the time I get to Daytona [next month]."
Laid-back Marlin jokes that legendary team owner Junior Johnson never told him he was being let go after the 1992 season so he guesses he's still driving for him.
Marlin simply saw the writing on the wall and went and found another team for the next year. Thirteen years later, he's doing the same thing.
Wherever he lands, the 48-year-old plans to run another three seasons in Cup. He just hopes they're ones that find his career heading back in the right direction.
Sitting 23rd in points is a far cry from 2002, when Marlin led the point standings much of the season. He lost the lead in September, and a few weeks later was done for the season after a vicious crash at Kansas Speedway, his second such blow in less than a month, left him with a neck injury.
Marlin returned to start the '03 campaign and has had his moments since then, but that past magic has largely been missing.
"Things change, and we tried some new chassis and [I] don't know if it's good or bad or any different, but [we] just haven't got the combination that we needed to get back to where we needed," Marlin says. "[In] 2003, we showed up and dominated Pocono and dominated Michigan, so should have won both race weekends and we didn't. Just have a lot of trouble, a lot of DNFs, and doing stupid things to knock yourself out of the races and about the same thing in 2004.
"Just got to, you know, get your car back. Talk to Jamie [McMurray] and Casey [Mears] and they say the same thing, the cars just don't drive like they used to. We don't know if it's the spoiler we've cut off or don't have the balance right on the cars or the chassis or what."
This weekend in Pocono, no car will drive exactly as it has in the past. With NASCAR's limiting the selection of gears teams can utilize, drivers won't have the option of shifting three or four times a lap as they have in the past.
Pocono's triangular layout is unique on the circuit, and drivers began shifting years ago in an attempt to find an advantage. It was to the point where almost every driver spent time shifting.
"I think it will be hard to pass a little bit at Pocono because [with] the shifting, you could really get up off turn three in third gear and get a run on somebody," Marlin says. "The handling is going to be a premium this time at Pocono because if you just get on the gas 20 feet before the guy in front of you, you're going to have a run on him coming off the corner passing. I think whoever has a good handling car is definitely going to win the race this time."
In 39 starts at Pocono, Marlin has six top-five and 16 top-10 finishes. With three corners and two long straightaways, Pocono is a challenge, but one to which he has readily adapted. He'll also compete in Saturday night's Busch Series race in Nashville, making for a busy weekend. In the grand scheme, although things at Pocono have changed, Marlin says there's no great secret to finding success there.
"If the car drives good and you drive it good, you can run good," Marlin says. "We've always seemed to have a pretty good setup at Pocono. Been on the pole there and come close to winning two or three races and [they] just got away from us. Hopefully this year we can get a win at Pocono. Led a whole lot of laps the past two or three years but had a little trouble."
With racing as competitive as it has been in years, Marlin says the cars are so close that accidents happen. That leads to bruised feelings, but he says retaliation doesn't benefit either party with the points race as tight as it is.
For now, though, Marlin's just worrying about his own team and his career.
"I just never give up. I mean, it's something that you always enjoy doing," Marlin says. " I've seen the highs and lows. Just got to work through it."
And Marlin plans on doing just that.
"I still have fun. I mean, it's a deal that since I've been 12 years old, every day you get up and I think about a race car, what you can do to make it better," he says. "Working on one when you was a kid and going to the races and still enjoy seeing the fans and racing. And [if] you wake up and you just say, 'I'm tired,' that's the day you need to quit."
Mark Ashenfelter is an associate editor at NASCAR Scene magazine and a contributor to ESPN.com.