Daytona report

EARNHARDT WINS 26TH AT DAYTONA DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Dale Earnhardt continued what has been his norm during February in the 90's -- a domination of Speedweeks -- as he captured the opening round of the True Value Dodge International Race of ...


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Dale Earnhardt continued what has been his norm during February in the 90's -- a domination of Speedweeks -- as he captured the opening round of the True Value Dodge International Race of Champions XIX on Friday at Daytona International Speedway.

Earnhardt survived a last-lap fender-bender with defending CART IndyCar champion Al Unser Jr. that occurred as Unser tried to block the seven-time Winston Cup champion at the end of the backstretch.

Unser smashed the outside wall and collected Hurley Haywood, who was several laps down but running at the tail end of the lead pack. Earnhardt held off defending SCCA Trans-Am champion Scott Pruett by two car lengths to win his third Daytona IROC race and his second straight..

Earnhardt averaged 180.723 mph for 33 minutes and 12 seconds in the closely-matched field of Dodge Avengers. In a typically frantic event, there were 14 lead changes among five drivers in just 40 laps of the 2.5-mile Speedway.

Although Tommy Kendall and Ken Schrader each banged the wall coming off Turn Four, there were no cautions in the 100-mile event. Schrader rounded out the top three and Kendall finished sixth, behind Winston Cup drivers Ricky Rudd and Rusty Wallace.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The results of Round One of True Value Hardware Stores Presents the Dodge International Race of Champions XIX, held Saturday at the 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway, listing finishing position, driver and laps completed (reason out) (All cars are Dodge Avengers.):

1. Dale Earnhardt, 40 2. Scott Pruett, 40 3. Ken Schrader, 40 4. Ricky Rudd, 40 5. Rusty Wallace, 40 6. Tom Kendall, 40 7. Steve Kinser, 40 8. Mark Martin, 40 9. Steve Millen, 40 10. Al Unser Jr., 39 (accident) 11. Jeff Gordon, 28 (transmission) 12. Hurley Haywood, 24


DALE EARNHARDT (#2 Aqua) -- (On the last lap.) Little Al pulled out a little bit ahead of us. We got a good run on him and were drafting back to him. He moved down. I moved down. He moved up. I moved up. He moved down. I came back to the outside of him -- committed myself. We were on him. My front end was just about up into his right rear tire. He came on over and got into me. I backed out. He got sideways and I went back down to the bottom. I hate it had to happen. It was just one of them things. Little Al is a good racer and I hate to see anybody wreck.

The top was the fast way around the race track, but I could run fast around the bottom, too. But if you got out on the bottom, they would draft back to me on the straightaway. We knew somebody was going to try something on the last lap, but Little Al tried it first. Everybody got to racing close together and it just got into one of those tight battles. I just hate what happened there at the end. I'd rather run second to Little Al than to have something happen like that.

RUSTY WALLACE (#6 Powder Blue) -- It was a good race. I should've stayed up front, behind Mark (Martin). I tried to pass Al Jr. down there, just past the start/finish line, and I got shuffled clear to the back, and I never could get back to the front. The car handled good -- it was the best the IROC car's handled in a long time, I think. (On the last lap on the backstretch.) Yeah, I sure did get pushed all the way down to the flat part of the race track. It didn't upset the car at all, because we were going towards the checkered flag and everybody was out of the gas. It was just a tight deal.

SCOTT PRUETT (#5 Lime Green) -- Oh, yeah, it was as much fun as it looked. We were having a great time! It was a lot of fun. I had a bird's eye view of what was going on. They were both beating on each other, and the next thing I know, Al was sideways and there was a lot of smoke. I just went diving down to miss the melee. It was good -- fun racing! Martin and I were working real good together because we knew they were gonna split each other, and we were gonna shoot to whichever hole was left. Talk about playing it smart... I knew it was possible to win the race, but I just kept saying 'Wait 'til the end, wait 'til the end, wait 'til the end. Martin and I were hooked up and going back and forth on signals. Junior and he (Earnhardt) were going at it, going at it, going at it; and we didn't want to get in that mess until the last lap. I had a good car (on the last lap), but you never know until you pull out to do it. It always feels good in the draft. (On earlier incident with Schrader.) He got up on the outside of me and I had no air -- I literally couldn't steer my car. I was just hoping he'd back off. That says a lot for the caliber of the drivers out here. We ran together all day long, rubbing a little paint and never did get into it.

RICKY RUDD (#1 Orange) -- It was probably the best evenly-matched they've had these cars in a long time. The guys didn't seem to want to pass -- I just couldn't get a dancing partner. I'd get to about third in line on the inside, and then I'd go to the back. I couldn't get anybody to go with me. We wound up sliding to about fourth at the end. (On last lap.) It was going to be busy. Everyone was kind of bracing for it, everybody tightened down on their shoulder harness a little bit. All of us saw it coming, but I wasn't close enough to tell you what happened.

AL UNSER JR (#3 Green) -- I got too far ahead in turn one. I knew it was going to bite me in turn three. I was trying to block Dale. I ran into the same thing last year, except Dale blocked me. Last year, I lifted. This year, Dale didn't. It was one of those racing deals. I was trying too hard to win. It's another lesson at Daytona.

JEFF GORDON (#12 Pink) -- It was handling great until it went. I'm real happy anyhow. The car was strong. I actually moved from last to first faster than I wanted to, because it's tough to keep a gang like that behind you. I'm still amazed at how equally these cars are prepared. I learned a lot. I wanted to run in the IROC Series, I wanted to lead a race and wanted to win one. I'm already 2 of 3, so it's been good for me so far.

MARK MARTIN (#7 Dark Blue) -- (On last lap incident, after a long pause and shake of his head.) I don't know. The car was great for me all day, and we were 3rd with a lap to go.

KEN SCHRADER (#8 Cream) -- Early on, the only open place to try to pass was low, but it didn't take long to learn you had to protect the topside.

TOMMY KENDALL (#10 Yellow) -- I got bottled up on the start with Steve Millen. We pulled out of line, got stuck there and went to the back. I had to wait until things settled down. Later, I got squeezed into the turn four wall. I figured that was nothing compared to the ride John Andretti had in yesterday's race.

It was really a tactical battle out there. I made the mistake three times -- of going with guys and then being hung out to dry. The hardest thing is that these guys convince you that you should make the move with them and then, once they've made their move you're on your own. I'm learning every time I do this. I'm going to win one of these races someday. This is so much fun, it should be illegal.

HURLEY HAYWOOD (#9 Red) -- The car was running good at the start and I was just settling in, getting a feel for things. We had an electrical problem where they had to replace some items to cure it. I went back out and was running by myself on the final lap. I was running low, letting everyone by. I came up on a lot of smoke and decided to go high and try to miss everything. Unfortunately, up high was just where Little Al was. I didn't have anywhere to go.

STEVE KINSER (#11 White) -- It wouldn't go around the top. The car would just push. Maybe somebody with more experience could have made it work, but I couldn't. I had to run at the bottom and you couldn't get anybody to help you down there.

STEVE MILLEN (#4 Silver) -- Dale (Earnhardt) bobbled at the start, (Rusty) Wallace hit me and knocked it out of third gear. We went backwards from there.

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Series IROC
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , John Andretti , Jeff Gordon , Rusty Wallace , Ken Schrader , Al Unser Jr. , Scott Pruett , Hurley Haywood , Steve Kinser , Tom Kendall , Steve Millen , Mark Martin , Tommy Kendall