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Three Contenders Vie for IROC Series Championship

Indianapolis, Friday, August 1, 2003 - In recent True Value IROC seasons, the scenario going into the finale at the Brickyard has been a wide spread battle, usually consisting of half the 12-driver field or more. But the sixth consecutive, True Value IROC at Indy championship crowning event Saturday, August 2, will be a contest of three, consisting of NASCAR Winston Cup driver Kurt Busch, NASCAR Craftsman Truck champion, Mike Bliss, and Busch's Winston Cup teammate Mark Martin.

Winning races, collecting bonus points for leading laps and decent showings, when not winning, separates Busch, Bliss and Martin from the remainder of the field, but not by much. If Busch finished last and NASCAR Winston Cup driver, Ryan Newman, fourth in points, won and collected five-bonus points for leading most laps, he would lose the championship by the tiebreaker, which awards the championship according to average finishes over all four-races.

Undoubtedly, all eyes will be on the mastery of Martin, who won the Daytona opener on February 14 and collected the five-bonus points. The four-time True Value IROC Champion has won every IROC race he has competed in at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway starting with the inaugural event in 1998 and continuing with consecutive wins in 1999 and 2000 - each win came from the back of the pack.

Martin said, "I'm looking forward to the IROC race at the brickyard. We have had success there in the past IROC races and hopefully we can keep that going. Starting towards the back means all we have to do is go forward and try to move to the front. Hopefully, we can lead the most laps, earn the bonus points and win the race. However, I'm pretty sure that's Kurt Busch and Mike Bliss' plan as well. We'll just have to play it all out and see what happens."

Martin's unabashed goal is to capture a, record-breaking, fifth title; he currently shares the record of four-titles with the late Dale Earnhardt. Adding to that, a repeat of his 1998 combination race win and championship would give him a 12th IROC race win and would break his shared record of 11 all-time wins, which he holds with Earnhardt and Al Unser Jr.

Busch and Bliss are at the opposite end of their IROC careers. Both are bottle-rocket rookies with IROC wins under their belts. Busch won race two on April 5 at Talladega Superspeedway and Bliss won race three on July 12 at Chicagoland; both also maximized their victories by collecting five-bonus points.

But, the two have a formidable situation sitting just ahead of them - literally. The line up for the race is by reverse order of the point standings, which will start Mark Martin 10th, one row ahead of Bliss and Busch starting 11th and 12th, respectively. Busch said, "Obviously, when you go to Indy, you've got to keep an eye on Mark Martin, and my plan all year has been to associate with Mark on the racetrack and run there, so that's my priority...while keeping a watchful eye in Bliss."

Busch and Bliss may be able to follow safely in Martin's footprint, but once up front, passing Martin would be bigger issue. Bliss said, "I'm well aware of how good Mark Martin is at Indy in IROC and Kurt Busch is going to be tough too. Actually, I couldn't put my finger on any one driver in this series and say 'he's the guy to beat,' because they're all very good, but the key is going to be getting a good start, working up through the field and getting out front in the clean air."

Busch doesn't have to win to take the championship, but if Martin's up front, he'd best mimic the Daytona opener and adhere himself to his Winston Cup teammate's bumper, especially if Martin picks up five bonus points for leading most laps. In that case, Busch would have to finish second in order to win the championship.

But for Busch and Bliss, a chance at the championship is already more than either one expected, Busch said, "I feel fortunate to be in this position in only my first season. I've been dealt good cards, and if I can carry this thing off, it'll be an honor to have won that trophy."

Bliss said, "Coming into this, I was just really excited just about getting an invite to run IROC, I never even thought about winning a race, or for that matter, the championship and now, here I am. I'm just kicking myself in the pants for doing stupid things at Daytona (finishing ninth) because a better finish there would have put me a lot closer to the championship coming into Indy. Being this close can be a lot of pressure, but you've just got to have fun and go run the wheels off it."

The reigning True Value IROC champion, Kevin Harvick, sixth in points, is out of contention for a repeat championship. The remaining field consists of NASCAR Busch Series champion, Greg Biffle (5th), NASCAR Winston Cup driver Jimmie Johnson (7th), IndyCar Series champion, Sam Hornish, Jr. (8th), World of Outlaws champions, Danny Lasoski (9th) and Steve Kinser (10th), IndyCar Series driver Scott Sharp (driving for the injured Felipe Giaffone (11th) and fellow IndyCar Series two-time Indy 500 winner, Helio Castroneves (12th).

The 40-lap, 100-mile True Value IROC finale will get underway at Indianapolis Motor Speedway at 1:00 p.m. CDT and be broadcast on ESPN, Sunday, August 3 at 1:00 p.m. EDT.


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