Earnhardt Saves Best For Last To Win IROC
13 February 1999
Daytona Beach, FL-Picking up where he left off on Thursday, Dale Earnhardt won the opening race of the four race IROC (International Race of Champions) True Value series this afternoon. The 40-Lap invitation-only race with twelve stars from various forms of motorsport was a drafting extravaganza. Earnhardt, the wily veteran of Winston Cup racing waited until the last corner of the last lap to make a move on then leader Mark Martin. Earnhardt's drafting move also allowed Bobby Labonte to come in second nipping Martin by less than half the length of the hood on the car.
The thirty-three minute race had it's usual changes for the lead (6) and it's usual fight to end finish. Starting under sunny skies, Dale Jarrett led the 12 cars into turn one and the dash was on to find the right drafting partner.
Dale Jarrett held his lead for two laps before being swallowed up by a drafting freight train led by Bobby Labonte. The lead for Labonte lasted until the first and only accident of the day occurred that took out Rusty Wallace, Eddie Cheever, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Jeff Burton. The accident occurred when Eddie Cheever appeared to be making a move toward the lead. Earnhardt, Jr. following closely behind Cheever bumped his car lightly. Cheever commented "It got very light and there were a lot of us in a very small space. I don't know what happened. It's unfortunate and I'm sorry it happened." By the time the dust settled all four drivers were out of the race. The racing resumed after the clean-up. Jeff Gordon took the lead position and held it for 7 laps. Martin, dueling with Gordon found the right spot going into Turn 3 and ducked under Gordon taking Earnhardt, Labonte, Brack and Moore in the lead pack. Gordon finally ducked into the train with Fernandez and Jarrett following him.
Martin was holding off the charges of Earnhardt. However, one could tell that Earnhardt was setting up a classic charge. Just which line he would take was in doubt. Earnhardt ducked under Martin between turns three and four. Labonte, drafting on the bumper of Earnhardt was pulled even with Martin and just nudged past the four-time IROC champion at the finish line. IRL champion Kenny Brack come home a strong fourth after running a very clean race. Another open-wheel racer, CART-Star Greg Moore came home fifth. Both driver's were happy with their results.Brack commented, "The main thing is to get used to this type of driving. That wasn't too bad for the first time out, but I still have some tricks to learn." Greg Moore let everyone know that he had a blast. "We were having a ton of fun. The only thing, with five laps to go, I dropped a cylinder. I would liked to have finished higher but I'm pleased with the way things turned out today."
For the winner Dale Earnhardt, he was complimentary toward all of the competitors. He was given several chances, with questions from the assembled media, to bad-mouth the open-wheel drivers but refused to be drawn into a critical review of their driving style.
The next race of the IROC series will be April 24 at Talladega Superspeedway.
David Treffer -- The Auto Channel