IROC Round 1: Daytona
Earnhardt and Eddie Cheever lead the field through the
tri-oval during the pace lap.
Earnhardt sent into infield grass, Jarrett
scores IROC win By Jim Utter
Daytona Beach, Fla. (February 16, 2001)
There was something for everyone in the International
Race of Champions series opener Friday at Daytona International Speedway.
There was a first-time winner in the series, as Dale Jarrett held off
Winston Cup teammate Ricky Rudd by .014 seconds to win the 40-lap season-opener.
There was vintage Dale Earnhardt, who led much of the race,
and then was bumped aside and sent into the infield grass by Indy Racing League driver
Eddie Cheever on the next-to-last lap.
And finally, after Jarrett had secured his win, there was
Earnhardt drove his green-colored Pontiac Firebird up behind
Cheever's on the backstretch on the cool-down lap and sent it for a spin. Once the two
returned to pit road, Earnhardt climbed from his car, walked over to Cheever's and the two
ended up in an embrace.
"Incredible," Jarrett called it.
"(Cheever's) an idiot," said Rudd.
In any case, Jarrett said he took advantage of Earnhardt's
misfortune. "Earnhardt made a great save. If that had been anyone else they would
have wrecked and probably be outside of this race track, but he held that car down. That
(incident) allowed me to catch up, and when the others got side-by-side, I had a really
good run and got by Kenny Brack," Jarrett said.
"Down the backstretch, I kept close to the inside and
then going into (Turns) 3 and 4, it was a battle with my teammate Ricky Rudd. We bumped a
couple times, but it was great to get this first IROC win."
Rudd was far less forgiving of the raucous final laps,
especially the driving ability of Cheever.
"When Cheever and Earnhardt got into it, that's what set
the stage, really," Rudd said. "I guess Cheever whupped up on Earnhardt and spun
him through the dirt and then he came looking for me, I think. He really cost us the race.
He kept beating the side of my car in so bad, he allowed (Jarrett) to come up there.
"Cheever was more worried about me than the guys behind
him and allowed Dale to win the race."
Only seven of the 12 cars were running up to speed at the end
of the race. Tony Stewart, substituting for Gil de Ferran, developed engine problems and
was forced to pit early. Jeff Green blew an engine, ending his day early as well.
The only accident of the race took out the cars of Jeff
Burton, Buddy Lazier and Mark Dismore. Burton appeared to lose control of his car entering
the frontstretch, barely missed clipping Earnhardt, and instead slammed into the wall and
collected the cars of Dismore and Lazier.
The race was halted at Lap 26 while debris was cleaned from
the track and the remaining cars were checked by IROC officials. Caution laps don't count
toward the total, so the race resumed about 10 minutes later on Lap 27.
The remaining drivers ran close together until Cheever's
contact with Earnhardt, which helped Jarrett to move up into position for the win. After
the race, Cheever apologized for his move, but grew agitated when peppered continuously
with questions from the media about the incident.
"I can't say anything more than I'm sorry," Cheever
said. "When we get to Talladega (the series' next race in April), I'll owe Earnhardt.
If he gets hung out (in the draft), which he rarely does, I guess I'll get in there and
Earnhardt gets back at Cheever
after IROC incident
By Mike Fish
Daytona Beach, Fla. (February
Leaning against a golf cart outside his motor home, Dale
Earnhardt laughed and played nice. Just a few minutes earlier he was the feisty
"Intimidator" as he tapped the back of Eddie Cheever's silver Pontiac Firebird
and launched him into a wild spin.
It was a not-so-subtle payback after the checkered flag for the International Race of
Champions (IROC). The NASCAR crowd roared its approval as Earnhardt went after the
outsider, offering a hero's welcome as he walked through the garage area following the
race won by Dale Jarrett.
Cheever, a veteran Indy car racer, steamed Earnhardt when he slammed the side of his car
twice, forcing him dangerously down to the grass infield two laps from the finish. Instead
of chasing victory, Earnhardt pulled his car back on the track and settled for a
"I wanted to let him know I was still around," said
Earnhardt, smiling. "That he didn't knock me all the way out."
The swift retaliation seemed to surprise only Cheever.
"I was still ticked off because I just lost a race I thought I was going to
win," said Cheever, third behind Jarrett and Ricky Rudd. "He still owes me one,
I guess -- and he's old enough to remember."
The first chance will be when the IROC series stops April 21 at Talladega Speedway, where
all eyes will be on the two drivers. The series pits the best of NASCAR's Winston Cup and
Busch Series against the IRL and CART's best.
After the opening race, the NASCAR drivers sang Earnhardt's praise for his ability to
prevent what could have been a serious wreck. Ricky Rudd took Cheever to task for his
rough driving. "The guy's an idiot," he said. "They ought to sit down and
talk to him."
Along pit row after Friday's race, Earnhardt hopped out of car and sought out Cheever to
rehash the incidents. It wasn't too heated, though Earnhardt took exception to being
slammed a second time. They exchanged a friendly hug and headed off in their separate
Cheever probably diffused the situation by taking blame for the incident.
"I was sitting in the car and this six-foot guy with a mustache that we've all come
to know as 'The Intimidator' came up and I thought, 'I'm not even going to get to throw a
punch here,'" said Cheever, later. "I made a mistake and apologized for it. It
was totally, absolutely my fault. How many times do you want me to say I'm sorry?"
Once was enough for Earnhardt, sort of.
"He said he didn't mean to do it," Earnhardt said. "I'll watch the replay
and then decide ... I just hate to lose. It's bragging rights and all."
A limited edition 1/24-scale diecast of Dale Earnhardt's 2001
IROC car was produced by Action Racing Collectibles. Click
here for more information.
Earnhardt's IROC ride on pit road before the green flag.
Earnhardt with Eddie Cheever and Jeff Burton before the race.
The IROC drivers salute Earnhardt at Talladega with the missing man formation on the pace
Copyright © 2003 The Earnhardt Connection
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