Irwin enjoyed successful rise to Cup By Marty Smith LOUDON, N.H. (July 7, 2000) In less than three full seasons in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, Kenny Irwin established himself as a star on the rise. Irwin, fatally injured in a crash Friday...
Irwin enjoyed successful rise to Cup
By Marty Smith
LOUDON, N.H. (July 7, 2000) In less than three full seasons in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, Kenny Irwin established himself as a star on the rise.
Irwin, fatally injured in a crash Friday at New Hampshire International Speedway, was 30 years old and working to make his mark on stock car racing's No. 1 circuit.
Irwin's racing career began in the wheat fields of Indiana, where he quickly ascended through the open-wheel ranks. During five seasons in the USAC National Midget Series, Irwin was utterly dominant, notching eight victories, 20 second-place finishes, 59 top-5s and 87 top-10s in 123 starts. He won the 1996 Midget Series championship.
In 1993, Irwin claimed the Stoops Freightliner USAC Sprint Car Series Rookie of the Year Award after nabbing seven victories. A year later, he won the same award in the USAC Silver Crown Series, winning six races along the way. Over the next four seasons, he competed in the USAC Silver Crown Series against the likes of Tony Stewart. His best finish came in 1996, when he finished second.
That same year, Irwin made his NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series debut, earning the Bud Pole in just his second series start at Richmond International Raceway. That propelled him into a full-time series ride in '97 with Jim Herrick's Liberty Racing Team, with whom he won two races -- at Homestead-Miami Speedway and again the following month at Texas Motor Speedway. He was eventually named the circuit's Rookie of the Year.
In September 1997, he made his NASCAR Winston Cup Series debut at Richmond in a car fielded by David Blair with help from Robert Yates. Irwin qualified second, led briefly and wound up eighth, making him the only driver in the modern era of the circuit to start on the front row and finish in the top-10 in his inaugural race.
From there, the shooting star kept rising.
Irwin's success in the Tough Trucks landed him one of the most coveted ride in the sport -- Robert Yates Racing's No. 28 Texaco/Havoline Ford. During his rookie campaign, he achieved success, posting a top-5 and four top-10 finishes. He sat on his first career pole in the season finale at Atlanta Motor Speedway and became the first rookie to ever surpass $1 million in winnings in his first season.
In 1999, Irwin set out to improve on his 28th-place finish in the points as a rookie. He did so, finishing 19th in the final standings with two top-5s and four top-10s, including a career-best third-place run in the season-opening Daytona 500.
He followed that up by finishing sixth at Rockingham the following week. However, his relationship with Yates became strained, and the two opted to part ways at the conclusion of the season.
This past November, he joined forces with Felix Sabates to drive the No. 42 BellSouth Chevrolet, a seemingly perfect union of money and guts. Irwin posted one top-5 and one top-10 finish in NASCAR 2000, a fourth-place run at Talladega Superspeedway.