TALLADEGA, Ala., Saturday, April 15, 2000 - Too many NASCAR Winston Cup Series drivers and not enough time. Nine of NASCAR's finest made it a tough day for the three Indy Racing Northern Light Series drivers competing in Saturday's True ...
TALLADEGA, Ala., Saturday, April 15, 2000 - Too many NASCAR Winston Cup Series drivers and not enough time.
Nine of NASCAR's finest made it a tough day for the three Indy Racing Northern Light Series drivers competing in Saturday's True Value International Race of Champions at Talladega Superspeedway.
The end result was not good for the Northern Light Series trio. Winston Cup veteran Bobby Labonte captured round two of the 2000 True Value IROC series. He was followed by NASCAR competitors Mark Martin, Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Burton, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart.
The True Value IROC concept is simple: Put the best drivers in the world in identically- prepared Pontiac Firebird stock cars and see who can emerge as the leader of the pack.
True Value IROC rookie Mark Dismore finished last while Eddie Cheever Jr. finished 10th. Greg Ray, the defending Northern Light Series champion, was best in class coming home with a seventh-place finish among the 12-car field.
Cheever, the 1998 Indianapolis 500 champion making his second True Value IROC appearance, scored something of a morale victory by leading the first two laps on Talladega's extremely quick 2.66-mile tri-oval course. Cheever dropped back then fought his way through traffic to lead Laps 17-22, earning several bonus points before the NASCAR competitors lined up and blew past using classic "drafting" techniques.
In NASCAR-type stock car racing, two or three cars lined up in a row go much faster than a car racing by itself. It usually takes years of experience to master this drafting technique. Cheever had no complaints when all was said and done.
"It was fun," he said. "Something happened, I don't know what it was, but at a certain point I could not hold anybody off. I went from first to last very quickly. I tried working with Earnhardt on the outside for about 10 laps, but we couldn't get anywhere so I went back on the inside and went to the front, but then fell back."
In other words, he yo-yo-ed through the field - up to the front and back down, up to the front, back down again.
Ray held his own but was making only his second True Value IROC start. Running a Pontiac Firebird stock car in heavy traffic is much different from wheeling a much lighter Northern Light Series car in competition.
"I'm sure these guys (Winston Cup drivers) would have trouble racing us in our type cars, too," said Ray. "I didn't set any goals. I just want to learn and maybe we can do something with these guys at Michigan or Indianapolis." And to Dismore's credit he battled the whole time but the rear end of his Firebird came apart with two laps remaining in the 38-lap, 100-mile sprint. Labonte said the last few laps of competition were like sitting on a powder keg - he just didn't know what would happen. As the field raced to the checkered flag, he got a bump from Martin.
"It was pretty nerve wracking just knowing that you've got 11 of the best guys out there all waiting to see what you are going to do," said Labonte, whose margin of victory over Martin was a scant .073 of a second. Labonte averaged 182.583 mph in the race. He was among seven drivers who swapped the lead 11 times.
Earnhardt, the 1999 True Value IROC champion, leads the point standings followed by Labonte and Martin, the series' only four-time champion. Ray is 10th in points followed by Cheever and Dismore. Dismore and Cheever will start on the front row of True Value IROC Round 3 based on the inverted point standings.
The Talladega round will be televised by ABC Sports at 5 p.m. (EDT) Sunday, April 16.
The next round of the True Value IROC is scheduled June 10 at Michigan Speedway while the season-finale is set for Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Aug. 4, the day before the Brickyard 400.
The all-star series' prize fund of $760,000 will be distributed at Indy, with the series champion collecting $225,000.