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Martin continues IROC dominance

There's no catching Mark Martin in an IROC race at California Speedway.

Martin took the lead for good from Jeff Gordon on lap 13 and held off Al Unser Jr. on Saturday to win his second straight International Race of Champions. It was the fifth victory in the past eight events for Martin, who has won the past two IROC titles and three of the past four.

Martin averaged 162.089 mph for the 100-mile, 50-lap race. Unser was .218 seconds behind in an identically prepared Pontiac.

"I can't believe I won another IROC race," Martin said. "There must be some mistake."

There's no mistaking the roll Martin is on. His seventh career IROC victory tied him for second on the career list with Dale Earnhardt, who finished 10th among 12 drivers. Unser is the leader with 11.

"The pride of my career is the last four years in IROC," said Martin, who splits his winnings from the all-star series with his NASCAR Winston Cup crew.

No one other than Unser, who drives in the CART Indy-car series, made a serious run at Martin around the 2-mile oval. With two laps to go, they pulled away from the pack. Unser tried to go low and pass Martin on the final lap, but failed.

"The draft is pretty powerful on the straightaways. My car was good through the corners, but he would get runs at me on the straightaways," Martin said. "If I had been behind him, I could never have passed him."

CALIFORNIA 500: The specter of the dominating Ford Taurus hangs over today's race.

Sure, defending champion Jeff Gordon's Chevrolet Monte Carlo starts from the pole on the 2-mile oval at California Speedway, but recent history indicates he may be outnumbered.

The Taurus has been overwhelming so far on tracks between one mile and 2{ miles long, winning at Las Vegas, Darlington and Texas and taking eight of the top nine spots at Atlanta.

Gordon qualified first for today's race, but the next four cars will be Fords.

"It looks like we're going to have our hands full," Gordon said. "The Taurus probably still has a little advantage in downforce on most of the tracks.

"But you can't sit and worry about that. You've got to get your car set up the best you can and go out there and race. We've won a couple of races and we've been competitive in a couple of others, and this team believes we can win every race."

BODINE QUALIFIES: Geoff Bodine, who failed to make the field last week at Talladega, was the fastest qualifier in the second round.

Bodine's Ford earned the 26th position in the 43-car field with a lap of 179.520 mph.

Gordon took the pole Friday with a lap of 181.772.

Earnhardt failed to qualify and took the provisional past champion's spot at the rear.

Mike Skinner, recovering from fractured ribs, qualified 27th. He will start and Mike Dillon will take over after the first pit stop.

AUTO CLUB 200: Ken Schrader, a Winston Cup driver tuning up for today's race, edged Kevin Harvick in the NASCAR Winston West Series at Fontana.

NHRA LONE STAR NATIONALS: Joe Amato, Cruz Pedregon and Warren Johnson are the leaders entering today's finals at Ennis, Texas. Amato is the Top Fuel leader after covering the quarter-mile distance in 4.639 seconds at 318.47 mph.

Pedregon leads in Funny Car after a 4.855 at 314.79 in a Pontiac.

Johnson will lead the 16-car Pro Stock field from the pole after a 7.004 at 197.54.

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