DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., June 29, 2006 -- Tony Stewart took another big step towards capturing his first Crown Royal International Race of Champions (IROC) Series championship by dominating Race Three -- a road-course event -- at Daytona International Speedway (DIS) Thursday night.
Starting the night in the final row, Stewart wasted no time working his way to the front of the pack, taking the lead from road-racing specialist Max Papis for good on lap 4 to claim his second consecutive Crown Royal IROC race. The reigning NASCAR Cup champion's victory here coupled with his win at Texas in April allowed Stewart (63 points) to take a 15-point lead in the series' points standings heading into the series finale at Atlanta Motor Speedway on October 28 -- the Crown Royal IROC champion earns $1 million.
Papis, who earned the name "Mad Max" for his on-track prowess en route to winning the 24 Hours of Daytona race in 2002, finished an IROC career-best second place, followed by NASCAR Cup driver Ryan Newman, IRL IndyCar Series drivers Scott Sharp and Indianapolis 500 winner Sam Hornish.
IROC's last road-course event was held 14-years ago when Rusty Wallace won at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) in 1991. The series' first-ever road-course race took place during IROC's inaugural season in February 1974 (won by Mark Donohue).
"To me it's a huge honor to win this race with guys like Max Papis, Max Angelelli, Scott Sharp, Sam Hornish and the guys who are really good on the road courses," said Stewart. "This is probably one of the biggest wins I've had because of that."
"We still have a long way to go with Atlanta, obviously, and a lot can happen there, but it's a great opportunity. It's like (five-time IROC champion) Mark Martin said, 'it's one of those championships that really means a lot to you because of who you are racing with."
Papis, who started fourth, led three laps and was Stewart's biggest threat through the final five laps, but ran out of time. "I don't think I had enough speed for him (Stewart)," explained the Italian. "I tried to give it a good go at the end, but he was faster. I improved my personal-best (in IROC), but second place is the first loser."
The race was plagued by four full-course cautions due to numerous drivers going off track during the heated competition.
The bottom half of the field included: Martin Truex, Jr. (sixth), Angelelli (seventh), Frank Kimmel (eighth), Martin (ninth), Matt Kenseth (10th), Steve Kinser (11th) and Ted Musgrave (12th), whose day ended on lap 8 due to bad brakes.
Kenseth, a winner on DIS's superspeedway in February, remains in the hunt for a second series title with 48 points, followed by Newman and Papis (39 each) and Truex, Jr. (33).