Kenny Irwin had his share of ups and downs during his first season as a full-time competitor in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. But that's to be expected for any rookie who is making the move from the NASCAR Busch or Craftsman Truck Series. The good news for Irwin is that he appears to be learning his lessons well.
Irwin, who edged out Kevin Lepage, Jerry Nadeau and Steve Park for 1998 NASCAR Winston Cup Rookie of the Year honors, finished 28th in the final point standings a year ago. He had a number of memorable moments, but none better than when he captured the first pole of his career at the season-ending event in Atlanta last November. Overall, Irwin posted four top-10 finishes in '98, including a season-best fifth in the spring Atlanta race.
In addition to those achievements, Irwin is most proud of the way he performed in front of the home fans in Indianapolis for the Brickyard 400. As a child growing up in Indianapolis, Irwin often dreamed of what it would be like to drive at the famed speedway and when his chance finally came he took advantage. The crowd went crazy as Irwin posted the fourth-fastest qualifying speed of the day. Unfortunately, a possible storybook finish was postponed when he got involved in an accident midway through the race and finished 38th.
Irwin competed in all but one of the 33 races on the circuit last season with the only race he missed being the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte in May.
While Irwin is still a newcomer to NASCAR Winston Cup, he is no stranger to racing. He cut his teeth on the open-wheel circuit beginning in 1991 and won back-to-back rookie of the year honors in the USAC Sprint (1993) and USAC Silver Crown Series (1994).
Irwin's first taste of NASCAR came in the Craftsman Truck Series, where he won two races, finished 10th in the final 1997 point standings, and won the Cintas Rookie of the Year award. He was named to replace Ernie Irvan as driver of the No. 28 Texaco Havoline Taurus late that season, but had enough time to run four Winston Cup events. Irwin made an impressive debut as he qualified second and finished eighth at Richmond.