Sears Point Kenny Irwin Preview

Road course another hurdle for rookie Irwin By Shawn A. Akers SONOMA, Calif. (June 23, 1998) The NASCAR Winston Cup Series has thrown a lot of obstacles in Kenny Irwin's way during his rookie campaign in 1998. Sears Point...

Road course another hurdle for rookie Irwin By Shawn A. Akers

SONOMA, Calif. (June 23, 1998)

The NASCAR Winston Cup Series has thrown a lot of obstacles in Kenny Irwin's way during his rookie campaign in 1998.

Sears Point Raceway, a 1.95-mile road course, is just one in a long line. With limited road racing experience during his career, Irwin and the No. 28 Texaco/Havoline Ford team will head west this weekend for Sunday's Save Mart/Kragen 350, and it will undoubtedly be another learning experience for the first-year driver. Irwin hopes it is also the last new wrinkle he will have to learn this year.

"I would like to think so, but I have a feeling there's gonna be more stuff to come up," said Irwin, who continues to lead the NASCAR Winston Cup Raybestos Rookie of the Year standings, with a comfortable margin over Kevin Lepage and Jerry Nadeau.

"After Charlotte (where he failed to qualify for the Coca-Cola 600), I feel like I'm dealing with everything a little better and getting through it. This Winston Cup racing, this is tough stuff. It ought to be. It's the best racing in the world right now, so it's by no means easy, but we're definitely learning how to do it."

And "learning how to do it" means having to race on road courses like Sears Point and Watkins Glen International, something he didn't do much of in the open-wheel ranks of USAC and the USAC Skoal Midget Series from 1991 to '96.

In 1997, Irwin got some road course experience in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, including a 31st-place showing at Sears Point in his No. 98 Raybestos Ford (engine failure). He also raced on road courses at Watkins Glen (engine failure led to a 28th-place run), and Heartland Park Topeka, where he finished 18th.

In order to prepare for Sears Point in his new car, Irwin tested there in May, and also "went back to school." Irwin's inexperience with road races cost him last season in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.

"First of all, we went out and tested at Sears Point right after Fontana, but the last couple of weeks I went to Phoenix and the Bondurant (Driving) School," Irwin said. "The main reason I went out there was to get refreshed with the heel-and-toe technique so you can use the clutch more.

"The biggest problem I had last year in the trucks was I would hurt the top of the motors just by not using the clutch and ramming it in gear. We ended up hurting motors that way, so my goal when we go back there is to run the whole race and not have any motor or transmission problems."

While at the Bondurant Driving School, Irwin had to make major changes in his driving style to get used to the road courses.

"For me, it's a major adjustment because I go from left-foot braking to right-foot braking," he said. "I have left-foot braked my whole racing career. In fact, I'm not convinced that I'm gonna be able to do it all next weekend, but that's what I'm working on and that's what really saves a car and the motor. Not that everybody uses that technique, but it's definitely a help if you can use it."

Irwin said he'll need all the help he can get during the 111-lap race around the 11-turn road course on Sunday.

Source: NASCAR Online

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Kevin Lepage , Jerry Nadeau