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This Week in Auto Racing April 19 - April 22

This Week in Auto Racing April 19 - April 22

This Week in Auto Racing April 19 - April 22
April 17th, 2007

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - A busy week is in store for race fans beginning with Nextel Cup qualifying on Thursday (race is Saturday night) and ending with a Champ Car race on the streets of Houston on Sunday afternoon.


Nextel Cup

Subway Fresh Fit 500 - Phoenix International Raceway - Phoenix, AZ

He has yet to win a race this season, but Jeff Gordon is still your Nextel Cup points leader.

It's not the Gordon doesn't know how to win, he has 75 Nextel Cup wins on his resume, just one less than legend Dale Earnhardt and seventh all-time in the series. Gordon has qualified well, starting in the top-10 in five of the seven events. But so far he hasn't been able to finish the job finishing second at California, Las Vegas and Martinsville, third at Bristol and fourth in Texas last Sunday.

However, with NASCAR still valuing consistency more than winning, it all adds up to an eight point lead over Jeff Burton (one win) and 125 points on Matt Kenseth (one win). Gordon's teammate at Hendrick Motorsports, 2006 Nextel Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson, has the most wins in the series (three), but sits third in the title chase because of two bad days - 39th at Daytona and 38th at Texas.

The remainder of the top-12 are all more than 200 points behind Gordon.

The series heads further west this week from Fort Worth, TX to sunny Phoenix, AZ for a race on the flat one-mile oval at the Phoenix International Raceway. The eighth race of the season will be the third race with the "Car of Tomorrow."

The first race with the COT was a rather dull affair at the usually exciting Bristol Motor Speedway. Even Mark Martin, who watched the race on television, wasn't a fan.

"I thought the COT handled poorly enough that the guys actually didn't run over each other because they didn't have good control of their car," Martin said. "It was a cleaner race than what we normally see because the cars were so hard to control, they weren't able to get in there and mix it up."

The series then went to Martinsville where the racing improved and we watched a very exciting stretch run between Johnson and Gordon. Gordon was beating and banging on Johnson's rear bumper over the final 30 laps but couldn't unnerve the defending series champion and finished second.

Now its on to PIR where if history is an indicator Gordon will again come up short. Phoenix along with Homestead and Texas are tracks where Gordon has never won.

Last year, Kevin Harvick won both races in Phoenix. In fact, Harvick won both the Busch and Nextel Cup spring races at PIR. The No.29 Richard Childress Racing driver began the season by winning the Daytona 500, but since then he has struggled to find his way. Harvick has earned just one top-10 since Daytona and finished outside the top-20 on four occasions. In two races with the COT Harvick has finished fourth and 41st. He finished 29th last week at Texas.

"Either something was wrong with the Shell-Pennzoil Chevrolet or we just missed the set-up," said Harvick after Texas. "We will have to go back to the shop and see what went wrong. However, I am looking forward to going to Phoenix where we seem to have a pretty good track record."

Look for a much better effort from Harvick this weekend.

Five drivers had earned two top-10s in the two races with the "Car of Tomorrow." They are Kyle Busch (win, 4th), Jeff Burton (2nd, 6th), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (7th, 5th), Gordon (3rd, 2nd) and surprisingly Jamie McMurray (9th, 9th).

After a horrible first season with Roush Fenway Racing, McMurray has rebounded in 2007 and sits 10th overall. It is the first time McMurray has been in the top-10 since September 2005. The No.26 Ford driver started the season with two sub-30th finishes but since has posted four top-10s in five starts. In his fifth Nextel Cup season he might just make his first "Chase for the Nextel Cup."

The action will begin with a rare Thursday night qualifying session and the race will drop the green flag on Saturday night at 8:30 p.m. (et).


Bashas' Supermarkets 200 - Phoenix International Raceway - Phoenix, AZ

And we thought last year's Busch Series championship was a jog for winner Kevin Harvick. Harvick set an all-time mark by winning the title by 824 points but that record might not last very long.

Carl Edwards (1,370 points) is decimating the Busch Series in 2007. Through eight events, Edwards has a mammoth 403-point lead over Dave Blaney and 432 over Harvick. Through eight races last year, Harvick (1,284 points) held just a 156-point lead over Denny Hamlin.

Edwards has built the lead by winning twice and not finishing worse than sixth in any race.

Blaney, driving the No.10 Toyota, is second, but hasn't performed particularly well, though he did finish second in the season opener in Daytona. Harvick has raced better than Blaney (one win, five top-10s), but has missed two races as has fourth-place Kyle Busch (five top-10s).

The combination of part-time drivers and Edwards' great start may end the Busch Series "title chase" by July.

It is interesting to note that with David Reutimann fifth overall, Toyota drivers hold two of the top-five spots.

Roush Fenway Racing is also putting on a pretty good display this year. Besides Edwards, RFR has Matt Kenseth and David Ragan in the top-10. Kenseth owns two wins and four top-10s in six starts while Ragan is 10th overall.

"This is probably our best run as a team," said Ragan. "You always want to run a little better than you did, but what a great rebound from last week. The Discount Tire Ford Fusion team worked extremely hard in getting the car prepared."

Ragan's fifth place last week moved him ahead of Juan Montoya and just two points behind Marcos Ambrose in the Raybestos Rookie of the Year standings.

The Busch teams will qualify on Friday afternoon and race Friday night with the green flag dropping at 9:30 p.m. (et).


Indy Japan 300 - Twin Ring Motegi - Motegi, Japan

Through two events and its looking very much like 2006 where two teams, Target Chip Ganassi Racing and Penske Racing dominated. Last year those two teams combined for 12 of 14 wins and collected 47 top-10s.

The 2007 season opener was a one-car affair that saw Dan Wheldon in a "race of his own" with everyone else competing for second. Target Chip Ganassi took the top-two spots and Penske's Sam Hornish Jr. finished third.

Two weeks ago at St. Petersburg, Penske's Helio Castroneves won the race with Ganassi's Scott Dixon second.

"That was probably one of the races where I focused the most," said Castroneves. "Nothing was distracting me. I'm glad. I'm getting better. I'm still learning, believe it or not."

Through two races, the two teams hold four of the top-five position in the standings with only Andretti Green Racing's Tony Kanaan breaking up a sweep.

Scott Dixon is the points leader with 80 markers, but he is just five points ahead of Castroneves and Dan Wheldon. Kanaan is fourth 15 points behind.

Andretti Green Racing did at least show up in St. Petersburg with their drivers finishing third, fourth and fifth. But it still appears to be a two- team race between Ganassi and Penske.

In last year's race at Twin Ring Motegi, Castroneves was seemingly the only driver on the track. He started on the pole, led 184 of 200 laps and won by a whopping 6.3851 seconds.

"It looks very easy on TV," said Castroneves. "I have to say it isn't easy. It's not easy at all."

The race will not be shown on live television (tape delay on ESPN).

Champ Cars

Grand Prix of Houston - Streets of Houston - Houston, TX

Will Power leads the Champ Car Series championship after two events. It might be the last time that anyone other than Sebastien Bourdais leads the championship as the Frenchman got back on track last week in Long Beach.

After stumbling in the season opening event in Las Vegas, Bourdais rebounded to his "normal" level of dominance last week on the streets of Long Beach.

Driving the No.1 Newman/Haas/Lanigan machine, Bourdais won the pole on Saturday and led 58 of 78 laps en route to a relatively easy victory. The only laps he didn't lead were just after pit stops when drivers on different fuel strategies temporarily held the top spot.

This was in direct contrast to the Las Vegas race when Bourdais was never higher than sixth in qualifying and no higher than fourth in the race. He finished 13th after making contact with the wall midway through the event.

This week in Houston, Bourdais will be the defending champion having beaten Paul Tracy in last year's race by 1.238 seconds. Tracy, the series' active wins leader who missed last week's race after a practice crash, will be absent this week as well. Tracy's crash on Saturday morning left him with a compression fracture to his first lumbar vertebrae.

Oriol Servia will once again substitute for Tracy. He was quite successful in his debut finishing second behind Bourdais.

"I am very glad that I was given the opportunity," said Servia. "And I knew that the car was going to be good and the team was going to do a good job. I knew that if I wasn't too rusty, I could do a good job. So I took the opportunity and made the best of it."

Power finished third in Long Beach and added to his surprise win in Las Vegas help him extend his lead to 15 points over veteran Alex Tagliani who finished fifth on Sunday.

"It was a good result in the end, we earned a good haul of points and another podium," said Power. "We can now look forward to the next race in Houston next weekend with the championship lead."

Whether he can keep the lead for the following event in China on May 20th may depend on which Bourdais shows up - the three-time defending champion or the mid-pack driver of Las Vegas.

I expect the champion Frenchman to put together another great race and take back his customary position on top of the standings.

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