This Week in Auto Racing April 6 - April 8

This Week in Auto Racing April 6 - April 8

This Week in Auto Racing April 6 - April 8
April 3rd, 2007

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - With NASCAR's Nextel Cup taking the weekend off, the often underpublicized Champ Car Series will get a chance to open its season in full view of the racing public. Also on the track are Formula One in Malaysia and the Busch Series in Nashville.

NASCAR

Busch

Pepsi 300 - Nashville Superspeedway - Lebanon, TN

This week's Busch Series race will feature, or not feature, many of the Nextel Cup drivers who frequently compete in the "development" series. Instead of the usual 16-20 "Buschwhackers" on the entry list just six Nextel Cup regulars are entered.

Carl Edwards is one of the six Nextel Cup regulars entered in this week's Pepsi 300 at the 1.333-mile Nashville Superspeedway. He won't take the week off because he is attempting to win the Busch Series title as well as the Nextel Cup crown.

The No.60 Roush Fenway Racing Ford is well on his way having built a 197-point lead after just six races. He is coming off a win at the Bristol Motor Speedway and has accumulated six top-10s to date. In fact, his worst outing this season is a sixth-place finish in Las Vegas.

Behind Edwards in the standings are 2006 Busch Series champion Kevin Harvick (-197) and Kyle Busch (-248) both of whom are not racing a full schedule. So Edwards' true lead is already 291 points over Dave Blaney and 363 points over Marcos Ambrose.

Harvick, the defending Pepsi 500 winner, will take the holiday weekend off, his second missed race of the season. In that race, Harvick held a big lead over Reed Sorenson who got a little out of shape trying to keep up with his pace and crashed on lap 219 bringing out a final caution.

The final race to the checkered flag was two laps long with only Harvick and Clint Bowyer battling for the win. The crafty veteran got the jump on Bowyer and it was a smooth two-and-a-half mile drive to the checkered flag.

Both qualifying and the race are set for Saturday, April 7th.

FORMULA ONE

Malaysian Grand Prix - Sepang Circuit - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Following a workmanlike performance by Ferrari's new driver Kimi Raikkonen in winning the season opener in Australia the Formula One Series makes the trip to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for round two of the championship.

Under the hot Malaysian sun, Ferrari and all the F1 teams will test the limits of both man and machine. Most of the teams tested at Malaysia last week in preparations for the blazing conditions.

In addition, Raikkonen is worried about his engine making it all the way through the race.

"There is some concern," Raikkonen told the official Ferrari website. "We had a slight leakage of water during the last part of the race (in Australia) and the team told me to slow down. Obviously we hope that the engine will make it through the whole weekend and that we don't have to change it before the qualifying."

If the team is forced to replace the engine (engines are required to last for two events), Raikkonen would be dropped 10 places on the starting grid.

Behind Raikkonen in Australia, but clearly the "best of the rest" was two-time defending World Champion Fernando Alonso and his rookie teammate at McLaren- Mercedes Lewis Hamilton.

"It was a solid start to the season in Australia," said Alonso. "We knew we were not as quick as the Ferrari so we had a good result in light of this. In the early part of the season it is important to keep scoring points and finishing on the podium as we push forward with our development program.

"I have always gone well at Sepang, winning there in 2005 and finishing second there last year."

For the rookie, it was a great start, but he knows there is a lot to learn.

"The four days of testing this week were really useful on two counts," said Hamilton, the 2006 GP2 champion. "We had a number of developments to the car that we ran and will now bring to the race, and I was able to learn the track prior to the event.

Felipe Massa, Raikkonen's teammate at Ferrari, had a solid showing on the Albert Park Circuit in Australia despite just a sixth-place finish. That was because he started at the back of the field after slowing during qualifying with a transmission problem. The Brazilian started 16th and still managed to collect a few points which might come in handy late in the season.

After two straight championships, Renault looked a little out of sorts with their lineup of Giancarlo Fisichella and rookie Heikki Kovalainen. They could only manage to finish fifth and 10th, respectively.

"It was a tough race for me," said Fisichella. "We weren't on the pace of the leaders.

"Without a doubt, this (Malaysia) is the toughest race of the season - not just physically, but mentally too. The high temperatures and humidity make things very tough for the drivers and the cars too. For me personally, though, there are very good memories from my win last year, and I am prepared for the race this time round."

Fisichella will try to repeat last year when he won both the pole and the race. He controlled the race from start to finish while his then teammate Alonso had to work much harder to get around Jenson Button and earn the runner-up spot.

For those in the United States who wish to watch the race live, it begins very early Sunday morning (2 a.m.) on the east coast.

CHAMP CARS

Vegas Grand Prix - Streets of Las Vegas - Las Vegas, NV

It is a new season for Champ Cars with new teams and drivers, but one thing that hasn't changed is the brilliance of Sebastien Bourdais on a race track.

The Frenchman has won three consecutive titles and appears to be set for a fourth. Since finishing his rookie season fourth overall, Bourdais has been spectacular winning 20 times and finishing in the top-five 33 times in 41 starts.

Last year Bourdais coasted to his third consecutive title by 89 points over Justin Wilson and 102 points over A.J. Allmendinger who has since jumped to the cash and bright lights of NASCAR.

Bourdais has accomplished everything possible in Champ Car racing and it was thought he might be able to catch on at the next level - Formula One. But so far he hasn't received any offers from one of the top-level teams.

Bourdais commented on his future and the possibility just recently: "There's one step for me that might be available, but we still have to be waiting on it. It might be Formula One, but again, I really want to be competitive."

So instead Bourdais will dominate the Champ Car Series again.

This time around however, he won't have a veteran teammate, but will have rookie Graham Rahal by his side.

Graham is the son of racing legend Bobby Rahal. The elder Rahal won three CART (now Champ Car) titles and the 1986 Indianapolis 500. He also started two Formula One races and won the 1981 24 Hours of Daytona. As an owner Bobby teamed with television star David Letterman to win the 2004 Indianapolis 500 with driver Buddy Rice.

Now its the 18-year old Graham's turn behind the wheel. He will have the best equipment with Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing and should be immediately competitive with everyone except the three-time champion.

The series will still include Bourdais' nemesis - Paul Tracy. Tracy and Bourdais have never gotten along and there have been many exciting confrontations over the years between the two talented drivers. Tracy struggled in 2006 failing to win a race for the first time since 2001.

Wilson will also return and should be competitive. Others to watch include: Will Power and two former F1 drivers in Zolt Baumgartner and Robert Doornbos. Baumgartner and Doornbos will drive for Minardi Team USA. Minardi has found it rough going in Formula One where budgets are astronomical, but might find it a little easier in the Champ Car Series.

The season will begin at a brand new venue, on the streets of Las Vegas, instead of opening in Long Beach, CA. as has been tradition.

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