Last year Park, 30, won three races and finished second four times in the Busch Grand National Series. Irwin, 28, who in 1997 raced USAC midget and sprint cars as well as NASCAR trucks, jumped into his first Winston Cup race—at Richmond in September—and qualified second and finished eighth.
Irwin has an advantage in a proven team, but Park has more track savvy. In last year's Busch series he drove 16 of the 20 tracks on the '98 Winston Cup schedule.
Will Irwin and Park be eye-balling each other on the track? "That will be the last thing on my mind," Irwin answers coolly. Park, however, is not above some trash-talking. "I'll be aware of Kenny when he's directly in front of me," he says. "And I'll be aware of him when he's behind me two or three laps later."
As the first brothers ever to fill the front row for me Daytona 500, Bobby and Terry Labonte have never been closer—.07 of a second apart after Bobby won the pole at 192.415 mph in a Pontiac and Terry took the outside in a Chevrolet at 192.127—than they were after last Saturday's time trials. But money might come between brotherly love.
The Daytona winner will collect more than $1 million in prize money, and the Labontes are two of five drivers eligible for an additional $1 million bonus. In the No Bull 5, as the bonus contest is called, any of the top-five finishers in each of five races—the Daytona 500, the Coca-Cola 600, the Brickyard 400, the Southern 500 and the Winston 500—can earn the extra million by winning the next race in the No Bull 5 series. Thus, the top-five finishers of last October's DieHard 500 at Talladega (the Labontes, John Andretti, Ken Schrader and Irvan) are eligible at Daytona. Should one of those drivers win, his take would blow away that of auto racing's record single payday, the $1.6 million won by Arie Luyendyk at last year's Indianapolis 500.
This incentive showed in last Saturday's qualifying. The Labontes filled the front row, Schrader was third and Andretti was fifth. Still, the Labontes are the only drivers whose starting positions were guaranteed. The other 40 slots in the Daytona lineup were to be determined by the order of finish in Thursday's two 125-mile qualifying races as well as by time-trial speeds.
CART Spring Training
Keeping a Low Profile
Team Penske turned heads last week at CART spring training in Homestead, Fla., not with its lap speeds but with the sleek look of its new cars and one of its drivers. The cars, designed from scratch around the Mercedes IC 108E engine, are much more compact and lower to the ground than any other in the CART field. "There's not one part on the car that was on last year's other than the wheels," says owner Roger Penske. "Overall, it's the best car we've ever built."
The Mercedes engine is 31% smaller and 50 pounds lighter than last year's model but generates the same 850 horsepower. The petite powerplant allowed the Penske designers to lower the car's center of gravity by reclining the driver's seat and to improve handling by redistributing more of the car's 1,550 pounds from the rear to the center. "Cornering is definitely the biggest difference," says driver Al Unser Jr. "We're still developing this car and there's huge potential in it, but already it's definitely an improvement over last year's."