IRL: Indy Racing Stars Learn Tough IROC Lessons

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., Friday, Feb. 18, 2000 -- The three drivers representing the Northern Light Indy Racing Series in the True Value International Race of Champions kickoff Feb. 18 at Daytona International Speedway expected to have their hands...

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., Friday, Feb. 18, 2000 -- The three drivers representing the Northern Light Indy Racing Series in the True Value International Race of Champions kickoff Feb. 18 at Daytona International Speedway expected to have their hands full, but they got the full monty from their NASCAR Winston Cup hosts. Dale Earnhardt, the seven-time Winston Cup champion, captured the 40-lap IROC opener over the 2.5-mile, high-banked course by getting an aerodynamic push from Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the last lap of the sprint. Stewart won the Northern Light Indy Racing Series championship in the 1996-97 season and moved to Winston Cup in 1999. This year's IROC field consists of nine NASCAR drivers and the three Indy Racing pilots. Greg Ray, in his first IROC appearance, was "best in class," finishing ninth in the 12-car field of all-star racers who were driving identically prepared Pontiac Firebirds. Indy Racing standouts Eddie Cheever Jr. finished 11th and Mark Dismore 12th. "It was totally different from running open-wheel cars, and I only ran the car three times before the race, and that was only in a pack of three cars," said Ray, the 1999 Northern Light Indy Racing Series champion. "My car in the race was much more neutral than the practice cars. "The car was a lot looser than I thought it was going to be. I certainly had fun and thought I did an OK job. I got shuffled out there. I was running fourth with a couple of laps to go." Ray said he could have finished better, but his rearview mirror kept tilting down. At Daytona when a driver works the so-called "draft effect," the mirror is as important as the steering wheel. "I'm used to having two mirrors on each side of the car," said Ray, who drives for Team Menard. "They gave me a convex mirror. It was good but after five laps one of the set screws fell out, and the mirror fell down and I couldn't see behind me. "I could stay in the draft, I was doing all the right things, but I couldn't see what was setting up behind me. When they started to move around, they shuffled around me." At one point, Cheever was running second to Earnhardt. "Cheever got up behind me, and I thought we were going to go somewhere," said Earnhardt, who has six IROC victories at Daytona. "But he pulled up on the outside of me. Before I knew it, he was going backward, and I kept going to the front." Said 1998 Indianapolis 500 winner Cheever: "It was good, I just didn't do as well as I'd like to do. I was behind Earnhardt, and I got caught out of the middle and lost 40 yards, and they got away from me." Dismore, who drives for Kelley Racing, was hoping for a better finish but took the lesson and will go to the next event with more experience. "Early on, it was fantastic, I got up in the middle of everybody," said Dismore. "But I don't understand the aerodynamics of this kind of racing yet. The guys went by me and split me and it was like putting the brakes on my car. I backpedaled so fast; it killed all my momentum. I learned my lesson today." There were no cautions in this dash. Earnhardt averaged 181.178 mph and had nothing but compliments for the drivers representing the Northern Light Indy Racing Series. "They raced us pretty hard," said Earnhardt. "Greg Ray was a little exciting." Said Ray: "Dale Jarrett and Mark Martin and all those guys have been very helpful. Mark Martin came up and told me after the race that I did a great job. He said he'd run with me any day. To me, that was the ultimate compliment." ABC will broadcast this race at 5 p.m. (EDT) March 12. The next round of the four-race IROC series is April 15 at Talladega Superspeedway. The series ends at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Aug. 4, the day before the Brickyard 400 Winston Cup event.

-IMS/IRL-

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About this article
Series IndyCar , IROC
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Dale Jarrett , Tony Stewart , Greg Ray , Mark Dismore , Mark Martin