IROC Wide Open For Open-Wheelers
August 1, 2001 | 11:18 P.M. EST
In fact, nine of the 11 IROC participants have a chance to win the IROC championship this weekend in the fourth and final race of the all-star series.
Of course, some drivers have a better chance than others, but the fact that four open-wheel pilots have a chance at all is saying something.
For the past 12 years NASCAR drivers have walked away with the IROC title. This year, open-wheel drivers don’t just have a shot, they have a good chance of winning.
Fittingly, those open-wheelers can capture the honor on their home turf – Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Former Indy 500 winners Brack and Cheever lead the open-wheel charge. Brack, at 43 points, is just one point behind IROC leader Bobby Labonte in the standings. Cheever is third with 39 points.
Both have been consistently competitive this season. Brack has finishes of second, third and fourth, and Cheever has finished third, fourth and fifth in the first three races of the season at Daytona, Talladega and Michigan.
Brack isn’t holding anything back as heads to IMS for the first time since he won the Indy 500 in 1998.
"To me, IROC is as important as any other world championship," Brack said. "I give 100 percent of my effort to IROC as I do to the CART races. IROC is a lot of fun, but it is also extremely important as a driver because it proves you have versatility in your driving skill. It proves I can get into anything and be competitive, which is not something a lot of drivers can do and I take pride in that.
“To win this would be a great honor because it is very tough to do coming from my background among all the talented and extremely skillful NASCAR drivers in this style of racing.”
If he were to win, Brack would become the first driver to win a race at IMS in two different forms of racing. Cheever, who won last year’s IROC race at Michigan, and Lazier could also score the rare Indy double.
Cheever likes the idea of having the series title decided at Indy.
"Just being invited to compete in the IROC series is an honor, so to have a shot at winning the championship is very exciting," he said. "Having the finale at Indianapolis is good. It's not that I feel like I have an advantage, though - it's more like I don't have such a big disadvantage."
Lazier is another driver who is still mathematically in the running for the title, but realistically his chances are slim. Still, he’s looking forward to more time behind the wheel of his Pontiac Firebird.
“Stock cars are so new to me that it is quite an adjustment to me anytime whether I was in an Indy car or not,” said Lazier, who has finished third, sixth and 11th in his three IROC appearances. “In the perfect world, I would be there to run the IROC car every mile that I could, every day. I am the only open-wheel rookie left in IROC, so every one of those miles probably pays huge dividends for me.”
Goodyear was also in his first year of IROC competition, but he suffered a broken back in the Indy 500 in May and was replaced by Al Unser Jr., which brings us full circle.
Unser Jr. was the last open-wheel driver to win an IROC title. He did that in 1988, and when he strapped himself into an IROC car for the first time this season he showed those championship skills by finishing second at Michigan in June.
With a maximum of 26 points available in an IROC race, Unser Jr. has a chance to win the title for Goodyear. As a replacement driver, Unser Jr. can only claim an IROC win, not a title.
He could, however, become the driver with the most IROC victories if he wins in Indianapolis. Unser Jr. is tied with the Dale Earnhardt with 11 IROC wins.
It all shakes out Saturday, when the IROC race starts at 2 p.m. (ET). The race will consists of 40 laps around the 2.5-mile oval. On Friday IROC practice starts at noon (ET), with final practice at 3:15 p.m. (ET).