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SPORTS WEEKEND | MOTOR RACING / SHAV GLICK

Earnhardt Jr., Stewart Could Dominate Sunday Scene

May 28, 1999|SHAV GLICK

INDIANAPOLIS — Memorial Day weekend traditionally is the busiest day in motor racing, and this year is no exception.

After Indy cars run here Sunday in the 83rd Indianapolis 500, NASCAR's Winston Cup cars will be at Concord, N.C., for the Coca-Cola 600, the longest race of the season, at Lowe's Super Speedway.

Two rookies, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart, will be as closely watched as such veterans as Dale Jarrett, Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin.

Earnhardt, known as Little E to differentiate him from his father, is making his first Winston Cup start after winning the Busch Grand National series last year. He took no time in showing he was ready when he qualified higher than his dad in Wednesday night's time trials.

Little E will start eighth, the Intimidator 15th.

"I know I will have a lot of people watching me, wondering if I'll make it or be a flop," Dale Jr. said in a conference call. "Some people want me to be a big star because they pull for my dad and want me to be like him. Some people want me to fail because my dad's had so much success. But I'm Dale Earnhardt Jr. I'm not my dad, and I have to be who I am."

Stewart, the leading Winston Cup rookie, will drive in the 600 after driving in the Indy 500 earlier in the day.

"The difference [in the two cars] is about the same as night and day," Stewart said. "The easiest way to describe the difference is if you take a tennis ball and you take a bowling ball, and if you sat 10 feet away from me and I rolled it toward you and asked you to make it change direction, you could make the tennis ball move pretty easy. Making the bowling ball move would be a lot harder, and that's what it's like.

"You're trying to make 3,400 pounds change direction in a stock car, where here you're trying to make 1,500 pounds change direction."

WEST COAST NASCAR

Mesa Marin Raceway in Bakersfield will be the West Coast counterpart of NASCAR's big weekend in North Carolina.

Winston West cars will race Sunday evening in the Forum Marketing 200, following a Featherlite Southwest Tour race Saturday night.

Mike Chase, a Bakersfield native who lives in North Carolina, will collect $10,000 before Sunday's race for leading the championship standings after five races. Chase has no wins but has finished in the top 10 in all five races, driving a Chevrolet owned by former drag racer Gene Christiansen.

Four of the five races this year have been won by Winston Cup or Craftsman Truck drivers--Mike Wallace twice, Ricky Craven and Jerry Nadeau. The only true Winston West driver to win is Sean Woodside of Saugus, who is second in the standings.

Butch Gilliland of Chino Hills has won the last two Winston West races at Mesa Marin.

In the Southwest Tour, Kurt Busch of Las Vegas is the points leader after finishing third at Irwindale Speedway, behind Greg Pursley and Keith Spangler in one of the closest finishes in Southwest history. Pursley's margin was about two feet.

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Winston Racing Series competition will take place Saturday night at Irwindale Speedway, where Rod Johnson of Canyon Country will try to retain his lead in the super late modified class over A.J. Dimarzo of Saugus and Brian Barron of Corona in a 50-lap main event. All drive Chevrolets.

INDY INVESTMENT

With Tony George spending $75 million to build a Formula One road racing course inside the 2.5-mile Indy 500 track, what's he going to do in a year or two when he finds that the European style of racing won't sell in mid-America?

He will probably do exactly what Chris Pook did in Long Beach when F1 priced itself out of business--bring in CART champ cars for a national championship road race. Maybe on the same weekend as the Indy 500.

Then George's investment would be worthwhile.

CART CHAMP CARS

Two hundred miles west of Indianapolis and its normally aspirated Indy cars, CART will showcase its turbocharged machines Saturday at Gateway Raceway in Madison, Ill., across the river from St. Louis.

All eyes will be on the sensational Colombian rookie, Juan Montoya, who has won three straight races for Chip Ganassi's Target team. Montoya, who replaced two-time champion Alex Zanardi in the car, won at Long Beach, Nazareth, Pa., and Rio de Janeiro.

If he wins the Motorola 300, he will join Al Unser Jr. and Zanardi as the only drivers to win four CART races in succession.

CART will experiment with night racing when it holds a practice session tonight at Gateway. It will be the first time for champ cars after dark.

"I'm really looking forward to driving a champ car under the lights," Unser said. "While I raced at night in sprint cars for my first three years as a professional driver, I've never driven an open cockpit car at night, and I'm curious to see what it's like."

A DAY AT INDY

For every success story around the Indianapolis 500, there are ones of travail and disappointment.

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