Jarrett Wins IROC Opener

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The International Race of Champions kicked off the first of its four legs on Friday afternoon at Daytona International Speedway with Dale Jarrett beating his Winston Cup teammate Ricky Rudd to the checkered flag by a matter of inches.

To take the win, Jarrett made one of the most unbelievable moves in IROC history when, while running third heading down the backstretch on the last lap, he went between the lead cars of Rudd and Eddie Cheever and headed into Turn 3 with the lead.

Rudd wasn’t done yet, though, as he mounted a charge. Rudd and Jarrett bumped a few times heading toward the finish line to the amazement of the fans at Daytona.

“When they opened up the middle on the backstretch, I knew I didn’t have anything to lose so I went for it and made it through,” Jarrett said. “I knew those guys were going to get to racing there on the last lap, I just wanted to be up there mixing it up with them. To win my first IROC race this way is awesome.”

Jarrett’s best overall finish at Daytona in IROC competition – which this year features identically-built Pontiac Firebirds and 12 drivers selected from four racing circuits – was third in 1994.

Following Jarrett across the line in Friday’s event were Rudd, Eddie Cheever, Kenny Brack, Bobby Labonte, Scott Goodyear, Dale Earnhardt, Mark Dismore, Tony Stewart, Jeff Burton, Buddy Lazier and Jeff Green.

The most exciting action of the event may have happened after the checkered flag flew with an on-track dispute between Earnhardt – a seven-time Winston Cup champion - and Eddie Cheever – of the Indy Racing Northern Light Series.

Battling for the lead with two laps to go, Cheever pinched Earnhardt down into the grass in a move that would have wrecked almost anybody but “The Intimidator.”

Earnhardt saved his car - somehow and someway - and without taking his foot off the gas, came back out onto the first-turn banking at full steam.

“Anybody else in the world would have wrecked that car and torn it all to pieces, but he saved it,” Jarrett said.

After Jarrett and Rudd had taken the flag and everything had calmed down, or as everybody thought, Earnhardt caught up with Cheever on the backstretch and paid him back by tapping him and sending him into a spin.

Fans rose to their feet as Cheever pulled his machine down pit road and Earnhardt – who had already parked his machine – walked towards Cheever.

Earnhardt pointed his finger at Cheever as he approached the car, but when Cheever crawled from the Pontiac, Earnhardt put his arm around him and smiled.

In the first 10 laps of the event, two of NASCAR’s top drivers – Stewart and Green – fell out of the race because of mechanical problems. Stewart led the Winston Cup Series in victories last season with six, and Green won the 2000 Busch Series championship by a remarkable 616 points.

Just before the 30-lap mark, things got interesting when Burton triggered a three-car wreck that also involved open-wheel drivers Lazier and Dismore. All three were unable to continue because of the damage to their cars.

The IROC Series returns to action on April 21 at Talladega Superspeedway. The starting order of that race is reversed from the finishing order of Friday’s race at Daytona.

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