This Week in Auto Racing April 13 - 15

9:07 AM, Apr 13, 2012   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series will run under the lights at Texas Motor Speedway, while the Camping World Truck Series will race at Rockingham, NC for the first time. The IZOD IndyCar Series heads to Southern California, and Formula One travels to Shanghai for the Chinese Grand Prix.

NASCAR

Sprint Cup Series

Samsung Mobile 500 - Texas Motor Speedway - Fort Worth, TX

After taking its first weekend off during the season, the Sprint Cup Series returns to action on Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway.

Roush Fenway Racing has been dominant at the fast 1.5-mile oval since the series began competing there in 1997. RFR has accumulated eight victories at Texas. Joe Gibbs Racing and Hendrick Motorsports are second on the list with three wins each.

Matt Kenseth won at Texas one year ago. Kenseth's victory, which was eight seconds ahead of runner-up Clint Bowyer, broke a two-year winless streak for RFR at this track. His teammates, Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle, finished fourth and fifth, respectively.

RFR repeated its top-five domination at Texas last November. Edwards finished second to race winner Tony Stewart, while Kenseth placed fourth and Biffle took the fifth spot again.

"It's a place I've been fortunate to have had a lot of great finishes at, and it's a track where Roush Fenway as an entire team seems to perform well at," said Kenseth, who also won at Texas in 2002.

On Wednesday, Kenseth was honored for winning the 2012 Daytona 500 during a champion's luncheon held at Daytona International Speedway. Kenseth beat Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Biffle to capture his second win in the Daytona 500. The race was delayed until February 27 (Monday night) due to rain.

"It's pretty cool to see [the car] sitting there with all the confetti on it, just like it was sitting in victory lane, and seeing the fans lined up out there," said Kenseth, who was joined by his owner, Jack Roush, and crew chief Jimmy Fennig. "It's unusual to celebrate [on Wednesday], but it was kind of an unusual race, so I might as well just keep that going."

Kenseth is currently fourth in the point standings, as he trails leader Biffle by 12 points.

Edwards leads all drivers with three wins at Texas, including a season-sweep there in 2008. Biffle won the spring 2005 race at this track.

After winning the most recent Sprint Cup race on April 1 at Martinsville, Ryan Newman moved up to eighth in the point standings (-24). Newman bounced back from an early-race pit-road speeding penalty and benefited from a crash involving Hendrick drivers Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon after the restart of the first green-white-checkered finish. He then held off A.J. Allmendinger during the final two-lap overtime finish to claim is 16th career win in the series but his first since last July at New Hampshire.

"It's big for us from a points standpoint, because we gain an advantage in the points, but primarily to give us something to fall back on if we need to win to make it into the [championship] Chase," Newman said.

Newman is one pole win away from 50, which would place him solely in ninth on the series' all-time pole winners list. He captured the top starting position for both races at Texas in 2005.

After being denied the victory at Martinsville, team owner Rick Hendrick is hoping his 200th win in NASCAR's premier series will come at Texas. All four of Hendrick's drivers -- Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne and Jimmie Johnson -- have won at Texas in the past.

Earnhardt Jr.'s first career Sprint Cup victory came at Texas during his 2000 rookie season when he drove for Dale Earnhardt Inc. He has won 17 more races since then, but it's been 135 races since his last one, which came in June 2008 at Michigan.

Trailing Biffle by just six points in the early season, Earnhardt Jr. is optimistic he'll be back in victory lane soon.

"Confidence is up real high," he said. "There are still some things we want to improve on, and the races can't come fast enough for our team right now, because we are ready. We are really liking being at the track and being on the track, making laps and working."

Hendrick has three victories at Texas, most recently by Gordon in the spring of 2009. Gordon ended a 47-race winless streak.

Forty-six teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Samsung Mobile 500.

Nationwide Series

O'Reilly Auto Parts 300 - Texas Motor Speedway - Fort Worth, TX

The Nationwide Series resumes its schedule on Friday night at Texas Motor Speedway after taking a two-week break. The series last competed on March 24 in Fontana, CA, where Joey Logano scored the victory.

Elliott Sadler, the current points leader, is off to the best start in his NASCAR career. Sadler has finished ninth or better, including two victories, in the first five Nationwide races this season. His wins came at Phoenix and Bristol.

Sadler holds an 18-point lead over second-place and defending series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr. His No. 2 Richard Childress Racing team also leads by 18 points in the owner standings.

"We're definitely off to a fast start," Sadler said. "We're competing at a higher level this year than what we did I feel like the whole entire season last year, which is always good. We feel like as a team we're communicating together very well. We have a lot of experience on my race team. A lot of the guys on my team have been on the 29 Cup car [Kevin Harvick] the last couple years, so experience is always a key factor.

"We feel like we're bringing really fast race cars to the track, and we're still improving. We've got better, faster stuff coming down the pipeline, but we've just got to compete at a high level week in and week out, because that's what we're going to have to do to stay where we're at in the points."

Sadler has competed in eight Nationwide races at Texas, earning five top-10 finishes and two poles. He also has one Sprint Cup win at this track, which came in April 2004.

Last year, Sadler finished fifth in the Nationwide spring race at Texas. When the series returned there in November, he captured his fifth pole of the season, but a loose-handling condition led to a ninth-place run.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Paul Menard, Kasey Kahne, David Ragan, Kurt Busch and Logano are those Sprint Cup regulars competing in this race.

Busch will make his first of an estimated 17 Nationwide starts in the No. 54 Toyota, which is owned by his younger brother, Kyle.

Kurt Busch made his first career Nationwide start in the 2006 spring race at Texas. After starting seventh, he led 70 of 206 laps en route to the win. Busch finished eighth at Texas one year later. This will be the third time he has competed in a Nationwide event at this track.

"Theres nothing bigger than winning in Texas," he said. "You can't have a better place to race at."

Kyle Busch has driven the No. 54 car in the first five races this season.

Forty-five teams are on the preliminary entry list for the O'Reilly Auto Parts 300.

Camping World Truck Series

After an eight-year absence, NASCAR is back at Rockingham Speedway this weekend. The Camping World Truck Series will compete at "The Rock" for the first time.

Rockingham will be an unknown for most of the drivers competing in this event, but some, such as Ty Dillon from Richard Childress Racing, are quite familiar with the challenges they will face on the 1.017-mile track.

Dillon, a rookie in trucks this year, is coming off a second-place finish at Martinsville two weeks ago. In 2010, Dillon clinched the ARCA Series championship with a victory in the season-finale at Rockingham. His previous experience there will certainly be an advantage for him in Sunday's 200-lap race.

"I feel like it's a huge advantage," he said. "I'm the last race winner there as far as a NASCAR style race car. So I feel like I've got a really big advantage. My guys have a good set-up, I believe, going forward there. It's going to be tough to dial a truck compared to an ARCA car there, but I feel like I've got a good understanding of the racetrack.

"It will be somewhat of an equal playing ground for the only time this year, I believe, that everybody's going there for the first time in a long time. We've been there earlier than anybody else has, so I feel like we might have a little bit of an advantage."

The 20-year-old Dillon is currently fourth in the truck standings, just four points behind leader John King.

Seven of the 41 drivers entered in the Good Sam Roadside Assistance 200 have previous NASCAR experience at Rockingham. Todd Bodine has a pair of Nationwide wins there, with his most recent one coming in 2001.

"You have to have a truck that's just well balanced," Bodine said. "There's a lot of self control that goes into it. The last thing you want to do is over drive it."

Other Rockingham veterans who are entered include: Kasey Kahne, David Reutimann, Ron Hornaday Jr., Johnny Sauter, Jason Leffler and Johnny Chapman.

Kahne and Reutimann are those drivers who are attempting the Texas/Rockingham combo this weekend. Kahne is doing triple duty this weekend, as he is competing in the Sprint Cup and Nationwide races at Texas.

When the last NASCAR Cup Series race was held at Rockingham in February 2004, Kahne made a last-lap charge on Matt Kenseth for the lead, but Kenseth beat Kahne to the finish line by just 0.01 seconds.

IZOD INDYCAR SERIES

Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach - Streets of Long Beach - Long Beach, CA

The IZOD IndyCar Series will run its third consecutive road/street course race of the season this weekend in Long Beach, CA.

Team Penske driver Helio Castroneves kicked off the season last month with the win at St. Petersburg, FL. Last week, Castroneves' teammate, Will Power, rebounded from a poor starting position to take the victory at Barber Motorsports Park. The series will race on the streets of Sao Paulo Brazil on April 29.

With podium finishes in each of the first two races, Castroneves holds a two- point lead over Scott Dixon from Target Chip Ganassi Racing. Dixon is the only other driver to finish on the podium at St. Petersburg and Barber.

Castroneves started on the pole and won at Long Beach in 2001 when the race was sanctioned by CART/Champ Car.

Dixon has yet to win at Long Beach, but after leading the most laps in each of the first two races this season with the new Indy car, this could be the time that Dixon drives into victory lane at the Southern California street course.

"It's been sort of one that slipped by us many times," Dixon said. "It's a fun place to race. It has a different degree of difficulties. You have long straights, good braking areas, some fast corners, so it's a good mix. I think we'll put on a great show.

"The kind of car we're racing now, with the racing being so good at Barber, I expect it to be very good at Long Beach."

With his win at Barber, Power moved to up to third in the point standings. He is nine points in back of Castroneves.

Power has started on the pole in each of the first three races at Long Beach that have been sanctioned by IndyCar (2009-11). He won at Long Beach in April 2008, in what was the final race for Champ Car. IndyCar and Champ Car unified prior to the start of the '08 season.

"We really have been quick everywhere this year," Power said. "I think you put [Barber] out of your mind pretty quick and start focusing on [Long Beach]. I guess it gives the guys confidence that we can win if we don't qualify on pole, and we can win from quite far back."

IndyCar's new pit rules go into effect at Long Beach. Pit road will be open from the outset of non-emergency full-course cautions on road/street courses, potentially cutting the number of laps under the yellow flag. The rule will be employed for the remainder of the season.

The sanctioning body has made another rule change, beginning with this race. The lapped traffic will move to the rear of the field during any restarts in the final 20 laps of a road/street course event.

"The pits have historically been closed during full-course yellows to make sure that not only the field is under control but in order before opening the pits," IndyCar competition and race director Beaux Barfield said. "As such, it leads to this rush when all 26 cars come in at the same time. It can be exciting, but it definitely is a contributing factor to some of the pit lane issues that we've had in the recent past."

Twenty-six teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

FORMULA ONE

Chinese Grand Prix - Shanghai International Circuit - Shanghai, China

After winning last month's Malaysian Grand Prix, Fernando Alonso from Ferrari is surprisingly atop the Formula One world championship point standings.

Alonso's win gave Ferrari a huge boost after the Italian team endured numerous performance and reliability issues with its car during pre-season testing.

Heading into Sunday's Chinese Grand Prix -- the third round of the season -- Alonso holds a five-point lead over Lewis Hamilton from McLaren. Alonso won the Chinese GP in 2005 when he drove for Renault. The Spaniard finish seventh in this race one year ago.

"Here we are in Shanghai for the start of the third race weekend of the year," Alonso said. "Arriving here in China as the leader of the championship is something I would never have expected, at least given the way winter testing went [for Ferrari]. It means we have done a good job, managing to make use of all the potential at our disposal and making the most of every opportunity. I'm not expecting any surprises in this race, compared to what we saw in Australia and Malaysia."

Hamilton is a two-time Chinese GP winner (2008 and 2011).

Last year, Hamilton experienced a fuel leak prior to the start of the race at Shanghai International Circuit. His team corrected the fuel-line problem by changing the air filter in his car. Hamilton was then able to make his warm-up lap in time to line up third on the starting grid.

After making his third and final pit stop, Hamilton, with fresher tires, chased down Sebastian Vettel and overtook him for the lead with four laps remaining. Vettel made just two pit stops during the 56-lap event. Hamilton crossed the finish line 5.2 seconds ahead of the Red Bull driver for the win.

"I'll be heading to China looking to win, but it's just as important to pick up some good points if, for whatever reason, a win isn't on the cards. I have some vivid memories of racing in China - some good and some not so good. I've won there twice. Both were victories I'm really proud of."

So far this season, Hamilton has started on the pole in the Australian GP and the Malaysian GP but has finished third in each of those events.

"I won't deny that I'm disappointed to have had two pole positions and not to have been able to convert either of them into victories, but I prefer to think of it that luck just hasn't been on my side, and that it will swing my way sooner or later," he said.

Vettel, the two-time defending world champion, has won the pole for the Chinese GP the last three years. The young German won this event in 2009 and finished second last year.

"I've had some good races there in the past," Vettel said. "We got a great result in 2009 when we took the team's first win, and in 2011, when we were second. Hopefully, we can get a strong finish and some more points."

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