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News The Earnhardt Connection

Earnhardt wins IROC at Daytona
SportsLine wire - '99 News

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 12, 1999) -- Dale Earnhardt made another one of his famous moves, pulling outside of race leader Mark Martin out of the final turn of the final lap to win today's opening round of the International Race of Champions (IROC) at Daytona International Speedway.

The defending winner of the Daytona 500 increased his all-time career victory mark at Daytona to 33, posting his fifth IROC win at Daytona and the eighth IROC victory of his career.

Martin was the leader for 23 laps, but when Earnhardt was able to drop low off the fourth turn, he used the slingshot move to perfection to steal the victory.

It was the only lap Earnhardt led in the race.

"I have to thank Bobby Labonte and a lot of guys behind me," Earnhardt said. "There was no use passing before that, the cars were equal. I tried Mark off turn 2, but Mark was smarter than that. Off the fourth turn, he pinched me down, I gave him a little bump, he moved over and that was all it took.

Earnhardt averaged 181.178 miles per hour and finished .107-seconds ahead of Bobby Labonte, who was followed by Mark Martin, Kenny Brack and Greg Moore.

"He had to move down. That was the only place I could go," Earnhardt said. "It has been a while since you've seen anyone make the pass coming off turn 4. I did win a race here once moving through the tri-oval, but this move worked great today."

EARNHARDT'S SON, DALE EARNHARDT JR., also was in the race but was involved in a crash on the fourth lap which involved Eddie Cheever, Rusty Wallace and Jeff Burton. The elder Earnhardt needled his son when Dale Jr. congratulated his father in victory lane.

"I was able to get up the lead on that lap before they ganged up on me and crashed me out," the younger Earnhardt told his father.

To that, the elder Earnhardt snapped, "It didn't pay to get to the front on that lap, just the last one."

There were six lead changes among seven drivers. Dale Jarrett, Bobby Labonte, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Rusty Wallace, Jeff Gordon, Martin and Earnhardt all led laps.

The multi-car crash which ended the day for the drivers involved was triggered when Wallace and Earnhardt Jr. started banging into each other at the head of the field. Earnhardt drifted up the track in front of Cheever, who hit him in the rear. What followed was tire smoke and crumpled sheet metal.

"I passed Dale Jr. for the lead and everything was going good," Wallace said. "When Dale Jr. and Eddie Cheever got into it, he slid across the race track and hit me. I don't know if it is anybody's fault, to tell you the truth. That was it. I started eighth, got the lead and thought I was looking good.

"We were racing the hell out of each other and bumping everybody."

CHEEVER, THE DEFENDING WINNER OF the Indianapolis 500, was participating in his first stock car race.

"Dale Jr. and Wallace were having a ding-dong and I was looking for a draft," Cheever said. "Jr. looked like the best guy to go for a draft. I got that close to him and then all of a sudden, I wasn't close to him, I was into him.

"It was chaotic at that point. Dale and Wallace were getting into it big time. Everybody was getting into it, not just them. I was hit probably three times in the first lap. I had a gas. I was very disappointed I ended up with so few laps."

Cheever entered IROC with the attitude that the NASCAR drivers did not intimidate him.

"Afraid of what?" Cheever asked. "That Earnhardt is going to come out and spank me? There is not a racing driver alive that I'm afraid of. If I were, I wouldn't be here. These guys are tough, but they are really good racing drivers. And we race very close."

Dale Earnhardt Sr. waited for the last lap to pull away.
Dale Earnhardt Sr. waited for the last lap to pull away. (Allsport)

Cup driver Bobby Labonte were able to work in tandem to pick off the victory from another Winston Cup star, Martin.

"Right there is why I won the race," Earnhardt said, pointing to Labonte. "The first of it was exciting. It was a pretty awesome show. Some of the guys should have taken drug tests before that race. I don't know, if I drove an open wheel car, I don't think I would drive like that. It was just a little too much for me at the start. It was a little too wild at the start there.

IN ADDITION TO TAKING SHOTS at the open wheel drivers in the race, Earnhardt also poked a few criticisms at his son.

"I trust a lot of them, but it seems you get more comfortable racing with a guy like Al Unser Jr.," Earnhardt said, referring to a driver who wasn't in the race because of an illness to his daughter. "These guys are great racers, they are very professional. But I don't think the wind was blowing around their head enough. They need to put an air hose in there to get more air to their head.

"But it wasn't only the open wheel guys. That Earnhardt kid was pretty wild out there too. I knew something was going to happen. I wanted to be there at the end. Hopefully Dale Jr. learned something from this and he won't get in trouble again."