This Week in Auto Racing July 12 - 14

2:48 PM, Jul 11, 2013   |    comments
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Loudon, NH (Sports Network) - The NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series are running at New Hampshire Motor Speedway this weekend, while the Camping World Truck Series competes at Iowa. The IZOD IndyCar Series has a doubleheader on the streets of Toronto.


Sprint Cup Series

Camping World RV Sales 301 - New Hampshire Motor Speedway - Loudon, N.H.

Penske Racing drivers Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano currently find themselves outside the cutoff point for the championship Chase in the Sprint Cup Series.

With eight races to go before the start of the Chase, Keselowski is 13th in the point standings, while Logano sits in the 15th spot. Keselowski, the defending series champion, and Logano have yet to win a race this season.

Keselowski has appeared in the Chase the past two years. In 2012, he scored an average finishing position of 7.8 in the last eight races of the regular season. In 2011, Keselowski's average finishing spot was 8.6 over those same races. He qualified for the Chase with a wild card two years ago.

"It would be really easy for me to say that we need to hit the panic button if we didn't have speed in our cars," Keselowski said. "Speed is something that can take months, or even years, to develop. That would make me really uneasy.

"But the fact is that we've been fast almost everywhere we've been. We just need execution and luck. Take last weekend (at Daytona). We came off of pit road after the final stop in second place, but we finished 21st with an intact race car. Whether that was being in the wrong line for other restarts or getting stuck three-wide with no help, those are things that are out of your control, to a certain degree. We do have some very good racetracks coming up for us, and I'm confident that our speed will carry us through to the Chase."

Keselowski is just 11 points behind 10th-place Tony Stewart, who moved up six positions following his second-place run at Daytona.

Right now, Martin Truex Jr. (11th in points) and Kasey Kahne (12th) hold the two wild card positions. Truex and Kahne have one victory each this season.

Keselowski has not won a Sprint Cup race at New Hampshire in the past but has finished sixth or better in the previous three events there.

"(New Hampshire) has become a pretty good racetrack for me," he said. "Our flat-track program at Penske Racing has been pretty solid as a whole. It's one of the tracks where (crew chief) Paul (Wolfe) has experience as a driver. It's very hard to emphasize how much of a difference that can make. After testing up there two weeks ago, I feel really good about our package for the race."

Logano, who is 16 points behind Stewart, is a past winner at New Hampshire. He made series history at this track during his 2009 rookie season when he became the youngest driver ever to win a race. Logano was 19 years, 1 month and four days old when he won the rain-shortened event there. His first career start in the series came at New Hampshire in 2008.

"To finally get your first Cup win, even in a rain-shortened event, was amazing," said Logano, who hails from Middletown, Conn. "That's something they can't take away from you. But I also remember coming here as a kid. The first Sprint Cup Series race I ever went to was at this track. So I have a lot of memories here. But I'd really like to win another race - a full-distance race - and make even more memories here."

Logano had a disappointing 40th-place finish at Daytona. He made contact with the wall after his right-front tire blew. Logano dropped five positions in points. He had finished 11th or better in the seven races prior to Daytona, which had moved him from 19th to 10th in the rankings.

"This is the time where you really need to step up and become a leader for the team and make sure everyone keeps their spirits up," he said. "We were all pretty bummed with what happened at Daytona, but even after the race, the guys were positive. We all said that we've come back from a few points down already this year, and we will do it again. That is the type of attitude this team has, and that is what we need to keep doing. There is plenty of time to get right back to where we were."

Forty-three teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Camping World RV Sales 301.

Morgan Shepherd, entered in the No. 52 Toyota this weekend at New Hampshire, is scheduled to make his first Sprint Cup start since 2006, which coincidentally came at this track. At 71 years old, Shepherd would become the oldest driver to start a race in NASCAR's premier series. Jim Fitzgerald currently holds the record. Fitzgerald was 65 years, 6 months and 20 days old when he competed at Riverside (Calif.) International Raceway on June 21, 1987.

Nationwide Series

CNBC Prime the Profit 200 - New Hampshire Motor Speedway - Loudon, N.H.

Elliott Sadler became $100,000 richer after finishing third in last Friday's Nationwide Series race at Daytona.

And if all goes well for Sadler during the next three weekends, he could become a millionaire.

Daytona was the first of four races in this year's "Dash 4 Cash" bonus program from Nationwide Insurance, which is the title sponsor of NASCAR's second-tier series. Elliott Sadler, Brian Vickers, Austin Dillon and rookie Kyle Larson were those drivers eligible for a $100,000 bonus there. Sadler's finish at Daytona was two and three spots in front of Dillon and Larson. Vickers placed 13th.

By winning the first Dash 4 Cash race, Sadler automatically qualified for the program's second event this weekend at New Hampshire International Speedway. Dillon, Larson and Sam Hornish Jr., who finished seventh at Daytona, are eligible for the cash award in Saturday's race as well.

If Sadler wins the bonus at New Hampshire and Chicagoland (July 21) and then scores the victory in the Indianapolis race (July 27), he will be awarded $600,000, totaling $1 million in winnings.

"This is the third year in a row that I've won at least one of these Dash 4 Cash (races), and now we're eligible for New Hampshire," Sadler said. "We're looking forward to going up there and seeing if we can make it two in a row."

Sadler's best finish in his past five Nationwide races at New Hampshire is fourth, which occurred in 2005. He finished seventh at this track one year ago when he drove for Richard Childress Racing. Sadler is in his first season driving for Joe Gibbs Racing.

"I've been pretty good there in the past, and I think that this weekend we really have to focus on track position, because it is so hard to pass," he said. "Pit strategy will definitely come into play."

Dillon collected the $100,000 bonus in the 2012 race at New Hampshire. He finished third in that event.

"I have a lot of laps there from running in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East Division and running some NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races there," Dillon said. "I've always been very successful, but I haven't been able to get to victory lane there yet. I feel like we've always been in the top five or top six. Hopefully, we can break through there this year and get a win. We earned the Nationwide Insurance Dash 4 Cash $100,000 bonus there last year, so I think it's a good time to try to get to victory lane."

Forty-three teams are on the preliminary entry list for the CNBC Prime the Profit 200.

Kyle Busch, Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, who won at Daytona, and Paul Menard are those Sprint Cup Series regulars entered in this race. Ryan Preece, Brett Butler and Chad Hackenbracht are scheduled to make their Nationwide debuts at New Hampshire.

Camping World Truck Series

American Ethanol 200 - Iowa Speedway - Newton, Iowa

The fourth time could be the charm for Chase Elliott in the Camping World Truck Series.

Elliott, the 17-year-old son of 1988 NASCAR Cup Series champion Bill Elliott, has been stellar in his first three career truck starts, all of them coming this season. He has finished sixth, fifth and fourth in starts at Martinsville, Rockingham and Dover, respectively. In fact, his average finishing position of 5.0 tied him with Kurt Busch (2000 rookie of the year in trucks) for the best three-race debut in the series.

On Saturday, Elliott is expected to make his fourth start in the series at Iowa Speedway. This 0.875-mile racetrack might very well be where he scores his first truck victory. Elliott picked up his first NASCAR touring series win in 2012 at Iowa, taking the checkered flag for the K&N Pro Series race.

"I think this racetrack is a lot of fun," Elliott said. "I think it puts on some great racing, and the place is known for that in the past. I feel like if we can get up there and just put together a mistake-free weekend and just have everything go our way, I think we'll be just fine."

Elliott is driving the No. 94 Chevrolet in trucks this season, with Lance McGrew serving as his crew chief. Elliott is scheduled to compete in the July 24 race at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio.

When trucks most recently ran at Iowa last September, Ryan Blaney became the youngest race winner in series history. Blaney was 18 years, 5 months and 15 days old when he scored his first truck victory.

Could Elliott top Blaney's record?

"I haven't thought about it a whole lot," Elliott said. "For me, we are just there to win like everybody else is and try to do a better job than the next guy. So I haven't really put a whole lot into my age and how old I am and how old the rest of these guys are. Just more so our personal program and what we need to do to be a little bit better."

Matt Crafton comes to Iowa with a 22-point lead over Jeb Burton. Ty Dillon won two weeks ago at Kentucky and moved to within 40 points of the lead.

Thirty-five teams are on the preliminary entry list for the American Ethanol 200.

IZOD IndyCar Series

Honda Indy Toronto - Streets of Toronto - Toronto, Ontario, Canada

The IndyCar Series will hold its second doubleheader of the season this weekend on the streets of Toronto.

Last month, a doubleheader was held at Detroit's Bell Isle Park. Mike Conway won the first race (Saturday), and Simon Pagenaud scored his first career victory in IndyCar in the second event (Sunday). It was the first time in series history that two full-distance races took place at a venue on the same weekend.

The third and final doubleheader in 2013 will occur at Houston's Reliant Park, which is a new venue on the series schedule this season, on Oct. 5-6.

Race 1 at Toronto is scheduled for Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET, and race 2 is slated for Sunday at the same time. If a driver wins both events here, that person will collect a $50,000 bonus.

Ryan Hunter-Reay, the defending IndyCar champion, won last year's race in Toronto. Hunter-Reay posted his third consecutive victory. The Andretti Autosport driver won at Milwaukee and Iowa prior to Toronto.

"Doing the doubleheader there will be interesting," Hunter-Reay said. "Like Detroit, it's one of the bumpiest street circuits that we go to, which makes it more of the physical ones. It certainly will present its own set of challenges.

"Toronto is where you can get a lot of passing done, but at the same time, you really have to protect yourself for a double-race weekend. If you start tearing off front wings early in the weekend then you're going to be in the hole for Sunday."

IndyCar will use a standing start for race 1 at Toronto. Standing start is the same starting procedure used in Formula One, controlled by a trackside lighting system. Once the cars are in their grid positions following the formation laps, five lights will come on one second apart. The fifth light signifies the beginning of the race.

Race 2 will feature the traditional North American rolling start following a few pace laps.

The last time an Indy car race had a standing start was at Long Beach (Calif.) in 2008 when Will Power swept around the first three cars to take the lead.

Qualifications for the Toronto doubleheader will be the same procedure that was used in Detroit. Qualifying for race 1 will follow the regular three-round format, including the "fast six" final segment, for road and street circuits.

Race 2 qualifying will be split into two groups. Each group runs for 12 minutes, with five minutes of guaranteed green-flag time. Group 1 will consist of odd-numbered positions on the practice time sheet, while even-numbered positions will make up group 2.

The starting field positions for race 2 will be determined by the best time ranking of the two groups combined, from fastest to slowest. The fastest qualifier earns the pole position.

"Since we already had one dual in Detroit, we certainly understand how it works," said Helio Castroneves, who is the current points leader. "But because we've been through one, we know it's not going to be the same. I believe people are going to re-adjust from one race to another.

"The Toronto track is a traditional place, very, very tight. The track is very technical as well. Plus, we're going to be standing start (for race 1), so it's also another trick, something else for us to think about. But at the end of the day, we know what we need to do. Hopefully, we'll put ourselves in good qualifying, so we can start at the front."

Castroneves holds a 23-point advantage over Hunter-Reay, while Hunter-Reay's teammate, Marco Andretti, is 55 points behind.

After winning last Sunday's race at Pocono, Scott Dixon moved up to fourth in the standings (-65). James Hinchcliffe dropped to the fifth position (-84) following his 24th-place finish there. Hinchcliffe crashed into the wall in turn 1 of the opening lap. The Toronto-native leads the series with three wins this season (St. Petersburg, Fla, Sao Paulo, Brazil and Iowa).

"Last weekend (at Pocono) obviously didn't go very well for us, but we've had strong cars on the street courses this season," Hinchcliffe said. "Even though this isn't the place I've had the best luck, we're going to try to turn it around.

"The support back home has just been incredible this year. More than anything, I want to give the Canadian fans something good to cheer for and something to celebrate, because they are the best. An they've been so good to me over the last few years, and I want to repay them. Hope for a good finish, get the championship back on track, and hopefully, we can just go out and have two clean races."

Twenty-four teams are on the entry list for the Honda Indy Toronto (both races).

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