Michigan is Pivotal For Championship Contenders

Brooklyn, Michigan - The second half of the 2000 True Value IROC series kicks off at the 2.0-mile Michigan Speedway this Saturday, June 10 at 12:10 p.m. The 50-lap, 100-mile sprint will be round three of the four race series that matches 12...

Brooklyn, Michigan - The second half of the 2000 True Value IROC series kicks off at the 2.0-mile Michigan Speedway this Saturday, June 10 at 12:10 p.m. The 50-lap, 100-mile sprint will be round three of the four race series that matches 12 drivers in identically prepared Pontiac Firebird Trans Am race cars. ESPN will broadcast the race live at 12 noon, Eastern Time.

NASCAR Representative, and reigning True Value IROC Champion, Dale Earnhardt leads the points battle going into the Michigan race.

"This will be a pivotal race considering how close the points are. Half the field is still in contention to win the series this year," said IROC President Jay Signore.

NASCAR's Bobby Labonte trails Earnhardt by only six points after claiming his first IROC victory in Race Two at Talladega. Labonte starts 11th, next to last place starter Dale Earnhardt (Starting order is determined by reverse of points standings).

"I'm not sure if it's better to be chasing Earnhardt or having him chasing me," said Labonte. "He has so much experience in these (IROC) cars and I am still getting used to them, but I am having a great time. We had a good run last time out (Talladega), we just need to make sure we can come up through the field in Michigan from our starting position in the rear. I guess that's the price you pay for winning, but I'll take it. Maybe my plan should be to just follow Earnhardt to the front and then try to battle it out with him if I'm in contention."

Four-time IROC Champion, Mark Martin is third in points and starts 10th. Martin said, "I'm in better shape going into the second half of races this year than I was last year. The best news is that Michigan and Indy are two of my best tracks. To come out of Daytona and Talladega and still be in the running for the championship is all I could hope for. I've had a lot of success at Michigan in both the Winston Cup and IROC cars, and I've won the last two IROC races at Indy, so I'm really looking forward to it. The (IROC) cars have driven great so far and they should be awesome at the next two races."

Fourth in Points is Mark Martin's Winston Cup team mate, Jeff Burton who knows his way to victory lane at Michigan.

Burton said, "We're only 11 points out of the lead and I'm excited about going to Michigan. I was able to win the IROC race at Michigan two years ago and finished second in the final Championship standings to Mark Martin. It would be nice to do that again. Last year we finished 11th in the final points and we were disappointed. This year, we've got a couple of decent finishes and have put ourselves into a position to win the championship. That's what we are looking for. What a great honor it would be."

Tony Stewart won the Winston Cup race at Dover last Sunday and is looking forward to another good result at Michigan. He is currently 5th in the True Value IROC point standings and recalls his last bid for a win. "Randy LaJoie and I flew in from Pikes Peak (Colo.) in '98 to run the IROC race. They let us each have about five laps of practice before we lined up for the race where I ran second to Jeff Burton. I was third on the last lap and almost won the thing. There's some sling-shotting there, but it's more of a tire conservation track. You've got to keep the tires underneath you for the whole race. If you can do that and have some tires left for the end of the race, you can mount a good charge."

Reigning NASCAR Busch Grand National Champion, Dale Earnhardt Jr. gave his-all last year at Michigan when he and his Dad battled to the stripe, setting an all-time margin of victory record for IROC. Dale Earnhardt won over his Son by only seven-thousandths of a second. As a full-time Winston Cup regular with a couple of wins under his belt, if he had the chance to run that last lap again now, what would he do differently?

"I'd probably hit my Dad before he hit me!" Said Earnhardt Jr. "He and I argue about this one all the time. I'd have turned left a little sooner and a little harder if I'd have known he was gonna win the race. I thought I had it, but then Rusty (Wallace) came up and helped push Dad at the very end. They act like big rivals and all, but then they worked together on that deal and ganged up on a kid!" Earnhardt, Jr., is currently sixth in True Value IROC points.

Seventh in points is NASCAR's Jeff Gordon, followed by Rusty Wallace (8th), Indy Racing Northern Light Series Champion Greg Ray (9th), reigning Winston Cup Champion Dale Jarrett (10th), Northern Light's Eddie Cheever Jr. (11th), and fellow Indy driver Mark Dismore (12th).

Jeff Gordon said, "I love Michigan. It's the perfect place for an IROC race. The IROC race at Michigan is always full of a lot of passing and a lot of action. I think Michigan is a favorite track of all the drivers and that should make for a great race. We've always finished well at Michigan in Winston Cup and hopefully we'll have some success in the IROC race this weekend."

Saturday is a double-duty day for Indy Racing Northern Light Series drivers, Greg Ray, Mark Dismore, and Eddie Cheever, Jr. All three attended IROC practice sessions earlier this week before having to leave in preparation for their Texas race, also on Saturday.

Immediately following the IROC race Ray, Dismore and Cheever, Jr., will be flown to Texas for the 7:00 p.m. start of the Indy Racing Northern Light Series race.

"It's going to be a busy weekend, " said Eddie Cheever, Jr. "I'll leave Texas right after the final practice on Friday night, race in the IROC event in Michigan at noon on Saturday, and be back in the Lone Star state for the race that night." Cheever continued, "I joke that IROC is my 'bi-monthly butt-kicking,' but I enjoy rubbing fenders with the stock car guys. It's not something you want to try in an Indy car, that's for sure. I have found my way to the front in the last two races - now I have to figure out how to stay there."

Dale Jarrett is fond of Michigan, having won his first Winston Cup race there in 1991. "Michigan is always fun and it is always so competitive because the (IROC) cars are so close. You can be running first one lap and 12th the next. It's not like Daytona and Talladega. The driver really has to get in and make a difference here. There are different lines you can take and different things that you can do with the race car. Michigan has probably been my favorite place to run the IROC cars. Even though I haven't won, I've finished in the top five a couple of times at Michigan, and it seems like it is the most competitive race that we have."

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Series IROC
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Dale Jarrett , Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Rusty Wallace , Greg Ray , Eddie Cheever , Mark Dismore , Mark Martin