Despite Martin's win, Earnhardt tops IROC

Each driver ends streak by opponent

August 07, 1999|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

INDIANAPOLIS -- The rainbow-colored cars streaked around Indianapolis Motor Speedway on the final lap of Race Four in the International Race of Champions yesterday, with Mark Martin in the lead and Dale Earnhardt eighth.

Though far apart as the race ended, Martin and Earnhardt -- nose-to-tail in the race for the IROC XXIII championship -- finished the day both as winners and streak-breakers.

Martin won the race, preventing Earnhardt from completing a record four-race sweep.

But yesterday's eighth was good enough to let Earnhardt win this IROC season's honors by a point, 75-74, ending Martin's three-year hold on the title.

"I was pretty sure when this race started that I wasn't going to win the championship," said Martin. "That thought kind of took the drive out of it for me. But once I got strapped in the car, it felt good again. The race was on, as always."

To win the title, Martin needed to win the race and collect bonus points for most laps led -- he led the final 32 of 40 yesterday -- and see Earnhardt finish no better than ninth.

"I had the opportunity to sweep the series," said Earnhardt, but with Mark here, it's tough to do. It was great to see him win without beating me for the title."

Martin averaged 154.374 mph in his royal blue race car and gained the front on lap nine, when he took the air off leading Eddie Cheever and made the pass while the Indy Racing League driver struggled to control his car.

After that, Martin, coping with the weekend anniversary of the death of his father, Julian, last year in a private plane crash as well as healing from multiple injuries incurred at Daytona last month, was never seriously challenged.

Jeff Gordon was second, about one-third of a second behind, and Cheever, having his finest day in a stock car, finished third before at least 80,000 fans.

Earnhardt's series win was worth $225,000; Martin won $100,000.

"When I first started racing IROC, Earnhardt was the guy setting the standard," said Martin, "So finishing second to him in the points, well, we're not talking about somebody who's easy to beat."

In fact, neither is easy to beat. In the last six years, Martin has won the title four times and finished second to Earnhardt the other two.

"I like keeping this series between us two," said the newly cleanshaven Earnhardt, 48. "I'm a little disappointed I didn't sweep. But what really would have been hard to take would have been to lose the championship after winning three straight races."

Yesterday didn't look like Earnhardt's day from the beginning, as his bright yellow Pontiac stalled and sputtered on pit road before getting up to speed. And when Martin made his move toward the front on laps three and four, Earnhardt tried to follow but couldn't keep up.

"My car was so loose that it was just a matter of surviving till the end of the day," said Earnhardt, who wasn't the only driver with handling problems. A number of drivers complained of vibrations.

Had Earnhardt finished ninth, he and Martin would have been tied in points, and, under a tie-breaker system, Martin would have won because he had led more laps in the series.

Results

At Indianapolis

1. (11) Mark Martin, NASCAR Winston Cup, 40 laps, 26

2. (8) Jeff Gordon, NASCAR Winston Cup, 40 laps, 17

3. (1) Eddie Cheever, IRL, 40 laps, 17

4. (9) Bobby Labonte, NASCAR Winston Cup, 40 laps, 14

5. (10) Rusty Wallace, NASCAR Winston Cup, 40 laps, 10

6. (3) Dale Jarrett, NASCAR Winston Cup, 40 laps, 9

7. (2) Jeff Burton, NASCAR Winston Cup, 40 laps, 8

8. (12) Dale Earnhardt, NASCAR Winston Cup, 40 laps, 7

9. (4) x-Dave Marcis, NASCAR Winston Cup, 40 laps, 6

10. (7) Kenny Brack, IRL, 40 laps, 5

11. (6) Dale Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR Busch Series, 40 laps, 4

12. (5) Greg Moore, CART, 2 laps, crash, 3

x-Marcis started in place of Adrian Fernandez, who was injured in practice Friday morning for a CART race in Detroit; points credited to Fernandez.

Time of race: 38 minutes, 52 seconds.

Margin of victory: 0.395 second.

Winner's average speed: 154.374 mph.

Caution flags: 1 (caution laps not counted).

Lead changes: 2 among 3 drivers.

Lap leaders: Cheever 1-4, Labonte 5-8, Martin 9-40.

Bonus points for top lap leaders: Martin 5, Cheever 3, Labonte 2.

Final series points and prize money from $760,000 purse: Earnhardt 75, $225,000; Martin 74, $100,000; Labonte 53, $60,000; Wallace 50, $50,000; Gordon 49, $45,000; Brack 34, $40,000; Cheever 31, $40,000; Jarrett 30, $40,000; Earnhardt Jr. 29, $40,000; Fernandez 28, $40,000; Burton 26, $40,000; Moore 25, $40,000.

Pub Date: 8/07/99

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