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Martin is initial IROC winner

Feb. 14, 2003 at 3:18 PM   |   Comments

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., Feb. 14 (UPI) -- Mark Martin was able to get an assist from his NASCAR Winston Cup teammate Kurt Busch to win Friday's opening race of the International Race of Champions (IROC) series at Daytona International Speedway.

With defending World of Outlaws Danny Lasoski bearing down on Martin's leading car on the final lap of the race, Busch was able to move up from third place to go alongside Lasoski's car.

By pulling from behind, it was enough to slow the second-place driver from having a chance to make a run at Martin for the victory. Busch was able to pass Lasoski for second place at the checkered flag.

"Coming off Turn 2, we were all up so close to one another and Danny's car slipped," Martin said. "That allowed Kurt to squeeze in beside him. I thought I had gotten too far and that will cost you the lead. I was so close to the end and didn't want to lose it that way. I was so close to the end. It was a great race."

The win was Martin's 11th IROC victory and tied him with Al Unser Jr. for most career wins in the series. It also was Martin's first-IROC win at Daytona International Speedway.

"Al Jr. is the very best guy I've ever seen to jump in an IROC car and Dale Earnhardt, we know what he was able to do," Martin said of his career accomplishments in IROC and his bid to surpass Earnhardt and Unser this year for most IROC titles. "This was a great race for me. A little bit of sunshine for our week. We are hoping that things can go our way on Sunday (in the Daytona 500) as well."

Jimmie Johnson of NASCAR Winston Cup finished fourth followed by last year's Busch Series champion, Greg Biffle. Sam Hornish Jr. was the highest finishing driver from the Indy Racing League at eighth.

Martin led the race three times for 21 laps. He passed defending series champion Kevin Harvick for the lead on lap 32 and led the remainder of the 40-lap race.

Despite being tied with Earnhardt and Unser for most IROC championships with four, this is the first time Martin has been in the series in three years.

"It's been a few years since I've been invited," Martin said. "I had a wonderful record. I had to think about before I accepted the invitation and wanted to come back. I decided it was my opportunity to come and try to make it five championships. Instead of being tied with Earnhardt, maybe I can take it over myself."

While some drivers may believe the second-place car has an advantage in the draft to make a last-lap pass, Martin didn't want to take any chances. Once he was in the lead, that's where he planned to stay.

"I just can't take credit for being smart enough to know how to do that," Martin said. "You can't control what other people want to do. You can't take credit for being real bright. The only reason you did the right thing is because other people around you did the right thing."

© 2003 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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