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IRL Drivers Looking for Another Strong Finish in True Value IROC 26

FONTANA, Calif. (April 22, 2002) -- The True Value International Race of Champions Series will contest its second of the four-race series Saturday (April 27) at California Speedway in Fontana. And if it is anything like the opener in Daytona, then look for another strong finish from the Indy Racing League (IRL) drivers.

The IRL captured three of the top five spots in Daytona. Sam Hornish Jr. was second, Scott Sharp third and Al Unser Jr. finished fifth. Following the race, Unser, who led the most laps, said, "The IRL shined today."

It's been a while since an open-wheel racer has won a True Value IROC race; the last was by Eddie Cheever Jr. in 2000 at Michigan International Speedway.

"The record sort of shows who has been ruling the roost," said Sharp, winner of last weekend's IRL race in Nazareth. "We can't worry about the open-wheel record. I think all of the drivers in NASCAR are very talented. They race so often and when you compete against the top five or so, you're racing against some really strong guys. If one of us (IRL drivers) could pull off a win in IROC, it would be a huge upset."

Hornish, winner of two of the first four IRL races this season, including a victory at California Speedway, also feels an IROC win would be a major achievement. "I would be ecstatic to win an IROC race," said Hornish, the reigning IRL series champion and current points leader. "The only thing that would make me happier is winning the Indy 500."

Though he finished second in his first True Value IROC race in Daytona, Hornish said he was a little disappointed after following Winston Cup driver Tony Stewart to the checkered flag.

"I think I could have probably played my cards differently and had a better finish," said Hornish. "I wasn't sure if I could have made the move or not to pass Stewart. I just sat back and was going to be content with second. Hopefully, this time I will work it out a little better and move up a spot."

When asked if winning the IRL race at California Speedway in March would help in Saturday's IROC event, Hornish said, "Not sure if it helps in skill, but it does help in the confidence level and it makes you look forward to race out there. An IRL car and an IROC car are worlds apart."

Sharp, a former sports car teammate of actor/driver Paul Newman, feels that California Speedway will favor NASCAR drivers more so than at Daytona.

"From my standpoint, Daytona will be the easiest of the four tracks for the non-NASCAR drivers," said Sharp. "Fontana will be more challenging. Fortunately, we (IRL drivers) got a chance to go out there to test and get comfortable with the cars and track.

"It's going to be a race where you're going to have to take care of your car a little more. It's not like Daytona where you run wide open all around the track. At Fontana you're going to be off the throttle at each end of the track. The NASCAR guys are so experienced with tire wear in these cars, when to pace yourself, when to push and how to adjust your driving style in regards to how the car is handling. These cars are extremely similar to what they (NASCAR) drive all of the time.

Sharp did go on to say that despite the disadvantage, an IRL driver could still win at California Speedway.

"We'll go in there thinking that we can win," said Sharp. "The cars are equal, but for Sam (Hornish) and myself it's going to be tougher since we're starting in the back. It's not like the draft at Daytona where you could hook up with the right group and pass cars. You're going to have to really drive by the guys, and to do that you're probably going to use up the car a bit more. We're going to have to pick our moments and pick the right points to lean on the car.

"We (IRL) all have a good shot at it. Sam adapted to the cars real well in Daytona. Junior (Unser) has won a bunch in IROC and Buddy (Lazier) did well in the IROC series last year. Helio (Castroneves) practiced a lot and he has an advantage by starting up front (2nd). We'll give it our best and hope we'll have just as much fun as we had in Daytona. That was a blast."

True Value IROC Notes:

  • Al Unser Jr., the two-time Indianapolis 500 winner, has 11 IROC wins and shares the record with the late Dale Earnhardt. Unser's last IROC win was in Daytona at the 1997 season opener.

  • The starting positions for Saturday's True Value IROC race are determined by the reverse order of finish from the first race in Daytona. Dale Jarrett, who finished 12th in Daytona, will start on the pole in California.

  • This will be the third True Value IROC race to be contested at California Speedway. The first was June 21, 1997, the inaugural race weekend for California Speedway. The second was the following year -- May 2, 1998. Mark Martin won both races.

  • The IROC series was born a few miles east of California Speedway - in 1973 at Riverside International Raceway. Mark Donohue won the inaugural event in a Porsche Carrera RSR. Riverside Int'l Raceway hosted 16 IROC races between 1973 and 1988.

    The True Value IROC Series matches 12 drivers from different forms of auto racing in equally prepared cars, on Goodyear Eagle radial racing tires. The goal is to eliminate the mechanical advantages and to produce a winner determined solely on driver skill. The series consists of four 100-mile races at different racetracks with points awarded for finishing positions. At the end of the fourth race, the points are tallied and a champion of champions is named.

     

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