Crash after a crash puts Marlin's team in gear
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- It wasn't the crash that messed up Sterling Marlin's car in the first of the Gatorade Duels on Thursday, it was the crash after the crash that will force the veteran to switch to his backup car for Sunday's Daytona 500.
Chad Chaffin's Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS triggered the series of events by hitting the wall and spewing debris on the track. The crash that caused extensive front-end damage to Marlin's Chevy occured after the caution flag came out.
Drivers began slowing down as they approached the debris, but as the cars bunched up, those drivers back five or more cars had to check up faster than the ones in front and Marlin plowed into the back of Dale Jarrett's Ford Fusion.
For his part, Marlin wasn't sure who was more surprised, he or Jarrett.
"I know he didn't know what hit him, but I couldn't believe it," Marlin said.
Marlin was asked to visit the NASCAR hauler after the race, but he said all the officials were interested in was his take on what happened.
Jarrett said his car wasn't quite right before the crash, but the damage to the rear end didn't concern him much.
"It doesn't look too bad," he said. "It's the rear bumper and probably the least critical place on the whole car. So it didn't really look like it did that much.
"I'm sure they'll get on it and fix it."
The manufacturer battle
A Ford won the first Duel, a Chevy won the second, but the finish by members of the Dodge parade point to there being no manufacturer with a competitive edge heading into the 500.
Particularly impressive, Bobby Labonte finishing fourth and Kyle Petty sixth in the second Duel, putting their cars at the front of the Dodge parade. The Petty Enterprises Dodges are slated to start on the fourth and sixth rows, respectively, Sunday.
"We started in the front, went to the back and came back to the front," Labonte said. "Now we've just got to figure out a way to get closer to the front. A top five finish in the 150 is a good start. It gives us something to build on for Sunday. Kyle had a good run today, too, so I'm optimistic about our chances in the 500."
Kurt Busch and Casey Mears will line up on the seventh row with Ryan Newman on Row 9.
"I'm not satisfied with the results, but I'm satisfied with the car," Newman said after finishing ninth in the second Duel. "It was really good. I have no complaints about that. We've got to work on a little balance and that's pretty much it."
Still, the first seven spots in the 500 are taken up by Chevrolets and Fords.
Daytona usually brings out the famous, sometimes even the infamous. Among the official invitees are a legendary actor, a future Hall of Fame baseball player and some newly-minted Olympic medalists.
James Caan was picked as Grand Marshall for the 48th Daytona 500. The Academy Award winner will ride in one of the pace cars. There is a NASCAR connection. Cup driver Jimmie Johnson had a guest starring role on Caan's show "Las Vegas" earlier this month. That's three straight years the Daytona 500 has leaned on Hollywood for a Grand Marshall. Matthew McConaughey drew 2005 honors. Ben Affleck shared duties with President George W. Bush in 2004.
Roger Clemens was named an Honorary Official for the race. Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas will sing the National Anthem, Bon Jovi will entertain at the pre-race Sprint Tribute to America. Snowboarders Hannah Teter and Gretchen Bleiler -- who finished 1-2 in the women's halfpipe at the Torino Games -- are Honorary Starters.
K. Lee Davis is the motorsports editor for ESPN.com