Cheever Chasing Two Titles
July 27, 2000 | 12:00 A.M. EST
No, Cheever hasn’t landed a NASCAR Winston Cup Series ride for the Brickyard 400. He’s just trying to pull off an upset in the International Race of Champions’ season finale during Brickyard 400 festivities on Aug. 4.
Cheever, who won the June IROC race at Michigan Speedway, has a chance to be the first open-wheel driver to win the prestigious IROC title since Al Unser Jr. accomplished the feat in 1988. Cheever trails Dale Earnhardt by 19 points.
With Cheever’s track record at Indy in an open-wheel car -- a win, two top fives and two top 10s -- and his experience in an IROC car last year at Indy -- where he led four laps and finished third -- Cheever appears to have enough experience to battle the fleet of NASCAR regulars who are more accustomed to the stock-type cars.
"I'm looking forward to Indianapolis," said Cheever, who won the Indy 500 in 1998. "I really enjoyed myself last year at Indy.
"I remember being in the lead, and I made a mistake going into Turn 1 and Mark Martin was behind me. I swear he must have hit me 25 times in Turn 2. I kept thinking, 'I'm going as fast as I can -- I can't go any faster.' He kept hitting me, and I started to get the hang of it."
Cheever got the hang of IRNLS racing long ago. He earned his first IRNLS win in 1997 at the Indy 200 at Orlando, and his latest win came in June at Pikes Peak. And Cheever had the series’ points lead until the Atlanta race on July 15. He is now second, 23 points behind Buddy Lazier.
That margin with two races left in the IRNLS is significantly closer than the one Cheever needs to overcome in IROC in order to claim the title. Cheever will have to display his understanding of stock car drafting like he did during the Michigan race.
"Going to Michigan, I wanted to see if I could learn something from that, and it went very well. I knew with five laps to go, I had a good chance. With two laps to go, I had a very good chance, and with one lap to go, it was looking good," said Cheever, who led 23 laps on the way to his victory at Michigan. "In Talladega I got to the front and everything was going okay until I starting seeing these hand signals.
"One means 'Stay in line.' One means 'Don't do that again,' and one means 'Let's pass the guy ahead.' I was in Talladega and thought 'You're in front, just tell someone to get in line,' so I started gesturing but nobody got behind me. All of a sudden I saw other hand signals. I knew they weren't 'Keep Eddie in front' hand signals, and I got shuffled way to the back."
Even so, Cheever said he doesn’t believe that NASCAR drivers gang up on open-wheel drivers.
"I am racing on the NASCAR drivers' turf and I understand that," Cheever said. "But never, ever have they ganged up on me in any shape or form, any more than they do on themselves.
"You watch Earnhardt Jr. going at it with Earnhardt Sr. -- if my son did that, I'd jump out and kick his ass. Here's a kid banging into dad, and dad is shaking his fist, and it just keeps on going. That's the way they race. That's fine, and people like it. It's a lot of fun."
In order to claim the 2000 IROC title, Cheever must win the Indianapolis season finale and collect five bonus points for leading the most laps, while Earnhardt would have to finish eighth or lower. Martin, currently second overall, would have to finish second or worse, and earn no more than two bonus points.