The Intimidator keeps on intimidating.
Dale Earnhardt, 1994 driver of the year, did it again Friday, knocking Indy car champion Al Unser Jr. out of the lead--and the race--with a last-lap bump that put Earnhardt's aqua-colored car in victory lane in the International Race of Champions.
"It was just one of them deals," Earnhardt said, as if that said it all.
Only a day earlier, Jeff Gordon was saying, "Earnhardt would wreck himself to keep you from going by him (on the last lap)." Friday it was apparent that he would also risk wrecking to get to the front.
Unser, who had led 22 laps of the 40-lap race for 12 identically prepared Dodge Avengers, ended up spinning into the third-turn wall and finishing 10th. He had taken the lead from Earnhardt at the start of the last lap and pulled two car lengths ahead, but it wasn't far enough.
"I was trying to block Dale," Unser said. "I ran into the same thing last year, except Dale blocked me. Last year, I lifted. This year, Dale didn't. It's just another lesson at Daytona."
Indy car driver Scott Pruett finished second, followed by three Winston Cup drivers--Ken Schrader, Ricky Rudd and Rusty Wallace.
It was Earnhardt's fifth IROC victory and his second in a row at Daytona, where he has won 26 races of all types.
Earnhardt's view of the last lap:
"We were drafting back to him and he moved down. I moved down. He moved up. I moved up. He moved down. I came back to the outside of him. I was committed. We were on him, my front end was just about up into his right rear tire when he came over and got into me.
"I backed out. He got sideways and I went back down to the bottom. I hate it had to happen."
Earnhardt averaged 180.723 m.p.h. for the 100 miles.
The first 39 laps had been a race of failed attempts to get to the lead. It seemed nearly every time a driver pulled out to pass the leader, he lost the draft and slid back seven or eight positions before he could get back in line. Even Earnhardt could not keep his car from dropping back as the single-file pack roared past him several times.
It happened to Mark Martin on the last lap. He was third, chasing Earnhardt and Unser, when he lost contact and in a single lap dropped back to eighth, where he finished.
Gordon, who became the youngest IROC starter at 23 years 5 months, also became its youngest race leader when he slipped past Unser at one point to lead four laps. His hopes ended when his car's transmission failed.
"I'm real happy anyway," he said. "I wanted to run in the IROC series, I wanted to lead a lap and wanted to win one. I'm already two of three, so it's been good to me so far."
Everyone seemed to have a good time, even the losers, and the pastel cars appeared more evenly matched than ever before in the 19-year series.
"This is so much fun, it should be illegal," said Trans-Am driver Tommy Kendall, who finished sixth.