EARNHARDT READY TO MAKE IROC HISTORY AT INDY INDIANAPOLIS, Aug. 3, 1999 -- Jeff Gordon has seen that little, mischievous smile in three International Race of Champions races this season and knows exactly what it means. "When...
EARNHARDT READY TO MAKE IROC HISTORY AT INDY
INDIANAPOLIS, Aug. 3, 1999 -- Jeff Gordon has seen that little, mischievous smile in three International Race of Champions races this season and knows exactly what it means.
"When we put those IROC uniforms on, he gets that little smirk," said Gordon. "But he's got something to smile about the way he's been running."
Dale Earnhardt has been winning and grinning his way through the 1999 IROC schedule and could become the first driver in series' history to sweep every round of the invitation-only, all-star tour.
"We have a chance to make history by going four-for-four, that would be something wouldn't it?" said Earnhardt, flashing his trademark grin. "As a driver to win not one, but all three races in equally-prepared cars, it can't help but give you confidence when you strap into the car, you've beat the best of the best with the same equipment. It brings it as close as you can get to testing each driver's talent and skill behind the wheel."
It all comes down to his performance Aug. 6 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the date and site of this year's IROC at Indy season finale -- a 40-lap romp over the famous, 2.5-mile rectangular track.
Earnhardt, 48, must work especially hard to make motorsports history since he's riding shotgun on the 12-car field. The starting grid is based on IROC's inverted point standings. Since Earnhardt leads in points, he starts last in the field.
"We're going to Indianapolis for the final race, and it is going to be tough to win," said Earnhardt, who boasts a record-tying seven NASCAR Winston Cup Series championships. "Most of the drivers have raced at the Brickyard, and half of them have been to the famous Winner's Circle and know what a special feeling that is."
Earnhardt's been there himself. In 1995, Earnhardt claimed the Brickyard 400 trophy, one of his 72 career Winston Cup victories since joining the tour in 1979 when he won Rookie of the Year honors.
But IROC is a completely different animal.
Each year IROC invites a dozen drivers from different racing series to run four sprint races in identically prepared sedans. So far in '99, the series has visited Daytona, Talladega and Michigan.
In each case, Earnhardt scored a heart-pounding victory, beating the runner-up by inches at the finish line.
He edged Mark Martin at Daytona then Rusty Wallace at Talladega. The round at Michigan Speedway was especially sweet for "The Intimidator," who beat his son Dale Jr. for the win.
"It has been a tremendous time for me and I think Dale Jr., too," said Earnhardt, who has two IROC championships. "The finish at Michigan will be a memory that I will cherish for a lifetime. To race against one another for an International Race of Champions victory just doesn't happen everyday. Now we're racing together at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a landmark in motorsports history. That will be special."
Only one other driver, Mark Martin, has a chance to knock the IROC championship from Earnhardt's hands. Still, Earnhardt needs only to finish eighth or better to score the title and pocket the $225,000 earmarked for the champion.
Martin has won a record four IROC titles in the last five years and came from the back row last year to win the IROC at Indy inaugural.
"I don't expect him to roll over and give it to me," said Earnhardt of Martin. "He's a tough competitor."
The season-ending purse of $760,000 will be distributed to competitors based on the final point standings.
The other drivers competing for IROC at Indy glory include Eddie Cheever Jr. and Kenny Brack, representing the Pep Boys Indy Racing League; Dale Jarrett, Bobby Labonte, Jeff Burton, Wallace, Martin and Gordon, from Winston Cup; Greg Moore and Adrian Fernandez, CART; and Dale Earnhardt Jr., from the NASCAR Busch Grand National Series.
They're all excellent drivers, but Earnhardt has a knack for these IROC cars. Just ask any of the other all-star competitors who have watched him pluck all the pearls from the IROC oyster.
"Earnhardt has been awesome in those things this year, and you can't say it's the car because they are pretty equal," said Gordon, the only two-time Brickyard 400 winner. "I've been running with him before when I felt we had pretty equal cars, and boom, all of a sudden he's winning. It shows he's still got it, and he's working hard to run well in the IROC races."
IROC AT INDY NOTEBOOK
Schedule: The IROC at Indy race starts at 4 p.m. (EST) Aug. 6. Practice will take place at 10 a.m. Aug. 4, and at 8 a.m. and 4:50 p.m. Aug. 5.
On TV: IROC at Indy will be televised at 4:30 p.m. (EDT) Aug. 7 on ABC. *** Tickets: Tickets are available for IROC at Indy. Call (317) 484-6700 for ticket information. General-admission tickets cost $25 and are available at the gate on Race Day.