Remembering Kenny Irwin Jr. 14 years after his death
Fourteen years ago, NASCAR was struck with tragedy once again at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. On July 7, 2000, the 1998 Rookie of the Year Kenny Irwin Jr. was killed after his throttle hung heading into Turn 3 during Sprint Cup Series practice.
Irwin's No. 42 Chevrolet struck the wall head on, and then rode the wall on its driver's side before coming to a rest on its roof. Officials determined Irwin had been killed instantly.
A bright and rising star in the Sprint Cup ranks, Irwin lost his life in the same corner, in the same fashion that had claimed the life of Adam Petty just two months earlier.
Irwin came up through the ranks as an open-wheel driver in the USAC series. During that time, he scored seven USAC wins, was the 1993 USAC Rookie of the Year, and the 1996 USAC Midget Series champion.
In 1996 he also made the jump to NASCAR, making five starts in the Camping World Truck Series. The next season, Irwin won two Truck Series races at Homestead and Texas, and also made his Sprint Cup Series debut at Richmond, qualifying on the outside of the front row and finishing eighth.
Irwin would land a full-time Sprint Cup Series ride with Robert Yates Racing to drive the famous No. 28 in 1998, earning the Rookie of the Year title over the likes of Kevin Lepage, Jerry Nadeau and Steve Park.
In all, Irwin would make 87 Sprint Cup Series starts, with his best finish coming in the 1999 Daytona 500, when he finished third behind Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Sr.
For the 2000 season, Irwin had joined Team SABCO, owned by Felix Sebates and recent NASCAR convert Chip Ganassi.
Unfortunately, Irwin was never able to show his full potential in the Sprint Cup Series. At just 30 years old, Irwin was just one in a string of fatal accidents that would include Adam Petty, Tony Roper, and ultimately Dale Earnhardt Sr. spanning the 2000 and 2001 seasons.