IROC: Road to Indy Heads through Michigan for IROC Drivers
12 June 1998INDIANAPOLIS, June 12, 1998 -- The road to the 1998 International Race of Champions series title goes through Michigan International Speedway on June 13 before heading south to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for what promises to be a dramatic finale.
Mark Martin, who's won three IROC championships since 1994, heads into Saturday's race with just a seven-point lead on Jeff Gordon. Martin, from Daytona Beach, Fla., hopes to use Round 3 of 4 at the two-mile oval as a springboard to another IROC crown.
"There's a lot of good drivers," Martin said in the days leading up to Saturday's 50-lap race. "I've had a world of good luck already. I couldn't tell you what's going to happen. I don't know when my luck is going to run out."
The IROC pits 12 of the world's top drivers, representing different types of motorsports, in identically prepared Pontiac Firebird Trans Ams. The series, which carries prize money of $760,000, makes four stops a year.
This season, the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway was added to the race track lineup. The championship will be decided over Indy's spectacular, 2.5-mile course July 31.
As a prelude to the finale at Indy, the final IROC test session this year at the Speedway will take place June 15-17. Test drivers Dave Marcis, Jim Sauter and Dick Trickle will help the IROC team determine race setups for its fleet of Pontiacs.
IROC's "Dazzling Dozen" hope to improve their standing at Michigan to make a run for the title at Indy.
Gordon won the 1998 opener at Daytona International Speedway, while Martin won Round 2 at in May at California Speedway. Gordon and Martin placed third in their other start. Martin leads the points because he earned the five-point bonus for leading the most laps in both races.
It's no surprise Martin and Gordon are tied for most wins (three) and hold solid top-five point positions in NASCAR Winston Cup Series competition this season.
If Martin has an advantage Saturday, it's because of the track. Last year he won the IROC championship at MIS, located in Brooklyn, Mich.
"That's the best track we could be going to for me," said Martin, who wheels a Roush Racing Ford in Winston Cup. "I'm starting last like always, and we'll see what we can do. I've been real fortunate. With all those great drivers, there's no way of knowing how it's going to turn out."
The field is inverted based on the point standings. Martin leads in points, and will start shotgun, with Gordon next to him.
"I found new motivation to do well in IROC this year," said Gordon, a two-time Winston Cup champion. "When we won the race at Daytona, we took a step toward winning the championship. We led a few laps in California, and finished third and got some more points to be second behind Mark."
Row 1 shows Tom Kendall and Jimmy Vasser. They're followed by Randy LaJoie, Arie Luyendyk, Tony Stewart, Dale Jarrett, Dale Earnhardt, Terry Labonte, Al Unser Jr. and Jeff Burton.
Luyendyk and Stewart represent the Pep Boys Indy Racing League this year. Luyendyk captured the 1997 Indianapolis 500, while Stewart earned last year's IRL championship. Luyendyk finished fifth and 11th, respectively, in the first two races; Stewart ninth and seventh. Both are tied with 14 points, but Stewart earns eighth place ahead of Luyendyk because he had the better finish at California, the most recent event.
LaJoie became the first NASCAR Busch Grand National driver to win an IROC round when he captured this Michigan round last year. He's the two-time defending champion of NASCAR's Busch Series.
"When we get back there I'll be thinking, 'Hey, this is where I won in IROC last year,' said LaJoie. "We got the lead on the third lap and never looked back. It was a great race for myself and a great confidence booster. I need to go back and win another."
But he'll likely have to battle the likes of Martin and Gordon to do it.
"I can't believe how lucky I've been in the IROC series," said Martin. "For a long time it was a goal of mine just be in it because that's an honor in itself. The success I've had in IROC means a lot to me, and I hope we can keep it going at Michigan."
The Michigan IROC round will be televised by ABC Sports at 5 p.m. (EDT) July 5.