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Earnhardt one win away from first-ever IROC sweep
'99 News

Earnhardt (blue) edges Earnhardt Jr. (red) for his 3rd straight IROC win.

Brooklyn, Mich. (June 11, 1999)
A family affair proved to be a dream come true for Dale Earnhardt. It was pretty special for his son, Dale Jr., too.

Earnhardt won his third straight IROC Race of Champions on Friday, bumping and grinding his way his way through the final turn to win by .007 seconds at Michigan Speedway.

"That was a unique deal," said Earnhardt, a seven-time Winston Cup champion who has won 10 IROC races over the years. "That was something you hope for. To race Mark Martin for points and have your kid right up there with you most of the way was pretty special."

With one race remaining -- at the Brickyard in July -- Earnhardt has a chance to become the only driver in the 23-year history of the series to win all four races in a season. Rusty Wallace, who won the final three races in 1991, is the only other driver to win three straight IROC races.

Earnhardt, who started last, took the lead from Martin, whom he leads by 20 points in the series chase, on the 26th lap and Earnhardt Jr. pulled in behind him four laps later.

It was pure racing -- father and son -- from there until the end of the 50-lap, 100-mile race in evenly-matched Pontiac Firebirds. With 10 laps to go, the two had about four car lengths on the rest of the 12-car field. It stayed like that until the final turn until Wallace tried to squeeze into the picture.

"I was motioning for Rusty to stick with me on the last straightaway," Earnhardt Jr. said. I was working to get up by the side of my dad's car, but there was no air there."

Junior, who has been racing on NASCAR's Busch circuit, finally had to go at his father alone in the final turn. He tried to get past on the high side of the track -- and it looked like he might make it. His car nosed about two feet in front of his father's.

Then he got a lesson in racing with the big boys. The old man bumped him.

Once. Twice. Boom, boom.

"I was surprised," Earnhardt Jr. said. "That shocked the hell out of me. "But, he's supposed to do that. He's got all those years of experience. I was just a sitting duck, right there. It was just tough competition."

More like tough love.

"He was running the high line and I figured he was going to try to test me," Earnhardt said. We bumped fenders twice there at the end."

About 50 yards from the finish line, Earnhardt got the nose of his car in front and held on for the win. When it was over, father and son jumped out of their cars and ran to each other for bear hugs and high-fives.

It was a joyous occasion. Maybe the best family reunion ever.

"That was a pretty cool way to win," Earnhardt said. I think we're going to remember this forever. It was awesome."

But wouldn't it have been nice to let the kid win?

"He's going to have to earn everything like his dad did," Earnhardt said. "Besides, he wouldn't want anybody to say, `Your dad let you win.'"

Not much chance of that.

"Today was really special. I can't tell you what it was like to be racing with my dad," Junior said. "There at the end, he seemed to be saying, `You ain't gonna win, you ain't gonna win it.' That was fun there."

The elder Earnhardt, who averaged 162.235 mph, leads the standings with 68 points. Martin, who was bidding for his fourth consecutive title, is next with 48. Wallace follows with 40 points and Bobby Labonte has 39.

The IROC purse, which totals $760,000 and pays the champion $225,000, is based on series points.