Irwin looks to rekindle success with Steele in NBS By Dave Rodman
INDIANAPOLIS (Dec. 23, 1999) Former NASCAR Winston Cup Series Raybestos Rookie of the Year Kenny Irwin is kicked back at home for the holidays, but it's not hard to get him excited when he talks about the upcoming NASCAR 2000 stock car season. In an era when seat time is everything Irwin, who burst onto the NASCAR stock car scene in 1997 by winning the Cintas Rookie of the Year Award in Liberty Racing's Raybestos/Ford Credit Fords in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, plans to get plenty in NASCAR 2000.
He will drive a full 34-race plus special events program in Team SABCO's No. 42 BellSouth Chevrolets in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. In addition, Irwin is an integral part of owner Felix Sabates' multi-faceted program in the NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division in which, Irwin says, no less than six drivers may compete in the "junior" series.
While all the aspects of Sabates' NASCAR 2000 NBS program haven't been announced, Irwin knows his team, running No. 42 BellSouth Mobility Chevrolets, will compete in as many as 16 events. Irwin will drive the bulk, and he said that teammate Sterling Marlin's 19-year-old son Steadman would substitute for him in at least one conflicting race, the April 8 NASCAR Busch Series 320 at Nashville Speedway USA. Irwin has a NASCAR Winston Cup Series commitment that day at Martinsville Speedway in Virginia.
Irwin, a 30-year-old Indianapolis native, is eager to begin his third NASCAR Winston Cup Series season. But he is just as anxious to get going with what will be his second year of experience in the NASCAR Busch Series. Irwin made his first five NBS starts in 1999 running for Robert Yates Racing teammate Dale Jarrett in his Rayovac-sponsored cars. He scored two top-5 finishes.
Irwin, a USAC open wheel racing veteran, said the reasons for that include the opportunity to maximize his stock car seat time, but more than that it'll be the company he'll get to keep.
"The seat time is great but the nicest part of the deal is Tony is gonna work on the Busch side with me," Irwin said of his veteran crew chief Tony Glover. "That will be nice. I don't know how much set-up information we'll be able to use from one garage to the next, but it's nice working with him as much as I can. The more you work with someone the more you know what they're thinking and what I need to know from his perspective."
While Irwin is craving the knowledge he can soak up from Glover, the highly-respected pit boss who engineered three different drivers to their career first NASCAR Winston Cup victories in the 1990s, he has a bonus in SABCO's Busch stable - former USAC teammate Dave Steele of Tampa, Fla.
"I think it's neat that he (Sabates) got Steele to drive for him," Irwin said. "I ran with him as teammates with Johnny Vance out of Ohio in a lot of different USAC stuff, so that's cool."
While Irwin said the information transfer might initially favor Steele gaining knowledge from his more stock car savvy teammate, he didn't anticipate it being long before Steele caught up.
"Dave catches on pretty quick," Irwin said of his experiences with Steele, who made a couple attempts to qualify for NBS races at the end of 1999 but will go into NASCAR 2000 with a clean slate. "He's an excellent mechanic. He also worked on the open wheel cars and he helped my deal a lot when we were working with Johnny. Steele would kind of get my car ready for me. It will take him a while to figure out what he needs in the (Busch) car, but it coincides with getting a feel for it and because he's worked on the cars he'll understand why it works like it does."
Irwin said the SABCO NBS team might be in the same boat together. He said his outfit would probably not get to test for the season opening NAPA Auto Parts 300, at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 19. He added that Sabates' two full-time NBS programs, including Steele's Channellock Chevrolet, would probably be at the 2.5-mile Daytona trioval at the end of January for the open NBS test session.
"We haven't been able to do any tests yet - we've got so much going on," Irwin said. "We're still trying to get our cars finished so we're not going to be able to make the first Busch test - although my teammates will be down there. Their information will help to get our program jumpstarted. We have no plans at this point to test anywhere but we'll probably go to Talladega once before we go to Daytona."