Formula One
 Saturday, July 8
Irwin killed in same turn as Adam Petty news services

LOUDON, N.H. -- Kenny Irwin was killed Friday when his car slammed into a wall at 150 mph at a track where tragedy is becoming all too familiar.

The crash came eight weeks to the day -- at almost the same spot -- where Adam Petty was also killed in a wreck during practice at New Hampshire International Speedway.

Friday, July 7
The mood in the garage area Friday in New Hampshire was one of shock and very deep sadness over the loss of Kenny Irwin. It was an uncomfortable situation for drivers and teams, as well as us the media. I'm sure everyone would have preferred to pack up their brief cases, lock up their tool boxes and just head back to the hotels for a quiet evening of mourning Irwin's death.

But the schedule dictates that everything goes on -- as it has in past years when tragedy strikes. There is no official policy by NASCAR, but the precedent that the schedule would go on was set many years ago. Rusty Wallace spoke about this very thing after winning the pole, saying he didn't really know why we had to go on today. But then again, he said it's something we've always done.

Through the years, Irwin and Tony Stewart became friends, on-track rivals and were even teammates during their open-wheel days. Stewart asked the media if we'd leave him alone so he could grieve in peace and quiet. Stewart did, however, offer his private plane to Kenny Irwin's family.

A lot of people are speculating on the cause of Irwin's crash, which could wind up being a hung throttle -- which is what many people speculated caused the crash that took Adam Petty's life here at New Hampshire International Speedway two months ago. NASCAR says it found no mechanical failures in the Petty crash.

Nevertheless, there remains several ideas about how to fix stuck throttles. The modified cars, which run in a NASCAR series, have a mechanism on the carburetor which acts like a kill switch. If the throttle does hang, the driver has the ability to shut the motor off and stop the car in time.

Irwin was a young man full of potential, and a lot of people though he could become the next superstar in Winston Cup racing. He made his way up through the open-wheel ranks, the Craftsman Trucks Series and into Winston Cup. Today was a very tough day, Saturday will be even tougher and Sunday may be the toughest of all when Irwin was expected to make his 88th career Winston Cup start.

But it seemed apropos that following Winston Cup qualifying we had a brief rain shower which produced a rainbow over in Turn 3 -- very similar to the one on the uniform Kenny Irwin wore this year. It will be a very somber weekend for sure.

Irwin, the Winston Cup Rookie of the Year in 1998, was entering the third turn when his car struck the wall and flipped onto its roof during practice for the New England 300.

Irwin, 30, died of "multiple injuries," Concord Hospital spokeswoman Jennifer Dearborn said, but offered no other details. Irwin's death was not announced at the track until nearly four hours after the crash.

Speculation centered on a stuck accelerator that would have prohibited Irwin from slowing enough to make the turn. That also was believed to be the reason for Petty's crash, but NASCAR has not been able to verify that.

Richard Petty, Adam's grandfather, said it was just a coincidence that the two drivers were killed in crashes at almost the same spot.

"Those things are circumstances beyond human control," said Petty, the king of stock car racing with a record 200 victories and seven championships. "There ain't nothing the matter with the racetrack.

"It's circumstances with the way you stop that thing so quick. Your body just can't stand it," he said.

Other drivers, though, were quick to criticize the track.

Rusty Wallace said there is a bump at the end of the long backstretch, where cars are going about 150 mph, and that most drivers are prepared for it. He also said dirt and rubber buildup on the asphalt surface also has made the 1.058-mile oval among the slickest on the circuit.

Mark Martin thinks the design of the track leaves little margin for error . "This race track and Martinsville are a particular danger to stuck throttles because the corners are so sharp," Martin said. "At a lot of the bigger race tracks with sweeping corners, you have a chance to do something about stuck throttles."

Ward Burton, visibly upset after visiting Irwin in the infield care center before his friend was taken to the hospital, said he would like to see the almost-flat turns banked higher in view of the deaths here.

"Two's a problem," he said. "I think it needs to be addressed."

Officials of the track, which probably is criticized more than most on the circuit, had no immediate comment.

Operations director Kevin Triplett said officials immediately began looking at the twisted wreckage of what once was Irwin's sleek blue Chevrolet, hoping to learn what went wrong. Told of driver criticism of the track, including the need for higher banking in the turns, Triplett said NASCAR would listen all suggestions.

"But it's really too early to say what happened here," he said.

Wallace won the pole for the race Sunday with a record qualifying run of 132.089 mph, but Irwin was not far from his thoughts.

Kenny Irwin
Track officials attend to Kenny Irwin's car following his crash during practice Friday.

"These are the days that make you really sit back and look at yourself in the mirror and ask, 'Why do I do this?"' he said.

Irwin's car was withdrawn, and that of teammate Sterling Marlin didn't try a qualifying lap. But Marlin will attempt to make the field Saturday in second-round qualifying.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with Kenny's family and his teammates," said a statement from Irwin's BellSouth Racing Team.

Irwin, an Indianapolis native, was single. He is survived by his mother and father, and three sisters. Funeral services were not announced.

"We are deeply saddened at today's passing of Kenny Irwin," NASCAR president Bill France said in a prepared statement. "On behalf of all of us at NASCAR and the entire NASCAR community, our deepest sympathies, all our thoughts and prayers are with Kenny's family, friends and everyone at Team SABCO. Kenny was a fine competitor and will be missed very much by the entire NASCAR community."

Irwin was in his third full season of Winston Cup. He spent the first two years of his career with Robert Yates Racing. In addition to winning the Winston Cup rookie honors, Irwin was Craftsman Truck Series rookie of the year in 1997. But his Winston Cup career never took off, and he was fired last year by Robert Yates Racing after failing to produce in the vaunted No. 28 Ford. Irwin went winless in 87 career starts. He had three poles and four top-five finishes.

His death was the first in Winston Cup since Neil Bonnett and rookie Rodney Orr were killed after separate crashes in practice for the 1994 Daytona 500.

This year, Irwin moved to Felix Sabates' Team SABCO. Ironically, Irwin replaced Joe Nemechek in the No. 42. Nemecheck won the fall race last year at New Hampshire. Irwin was 28th in points this season with one top-five and one top-10 finish in 17 starts.

Irwin finshed 10th last fall at Loudon and was 26th in this race last year. In 1998, he was 11th in the fall race at New Hampshire and 32nd in the spring event.

A star in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, Irwin enjoyed his best season in 1999 when he was 19th in points with a pair of top-fives and six top-10 finishes. Irwin also won two poles driving for Yates.

Irwin, who is from racing-rich Indianapolis, proved himself as one of the top racers in the open-wheel ranks of the United States Auto Club. In five full seasons with the USAC Skoal National Midget Series, Irwin earned eight wins, 20 second-place, 59 top-five and 87 top-10 finishes, as well as the 1996 championship.

In 1997, his only full season with the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, Irwin once again was named Rookie of the Year. He won twice and finished 10th in the series point standings.

Irwin grabbed the Winston Cup spotlight in September of '97 at Richmond by qualifying his Ford on the outside pole in his first series race. He finished eighth, becoming the only driver in NASCAR's modern history to start on the front row and finish in the top-10 in his first race.

Although Richard Petty was at the track, Adam's father, Kyle, decided it was too soon to return to the place where his son was killed.

"He just didn't feel comfortable," said Jeff Dennison, a spokesman for Petty Enterprises. "They decided it would be better just to take a week off."

Veteran driver Steve Grissom will drive Petty's Pontiac.

Drivers hope New Hamphire tragedies bring change

Weber: A tragic encore takes Irwin's life

Kenny Irwin bio

User mail: Fans remember Kenny Irwin

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Wallace wins 7th pole in wake of Irwin's death

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