This Week in Auto Racing April 27 - April 29

This Week in Auto Racing April 27 - April 29

This Week in Auto Racing April 27 - April 29
April 24th, 2007

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The Car Of Tomorrow has been put in the garage for a week and NASCAR Nextel Cup teams will go restrictor-plate racing this weekend with all that it entails. There will also be racing at the Kansas Speedway involving both the truck series and IndyCars.

NASCAR

Nextel Cup

Aaron's 499 - Talladega Superspeedway - Talladega, AL

Racing at Talladega means side-by-side-by-side racing for three hours at speeds over 190 m.p.h. and trying to avoid "The Big One."

A good day at the Talladega Superspeedway means you bring your car home with all the fenders still on it and if that happens you usually have a top-10 finish.

But Talladega, even more than Daytona, has been known for the huge, multi-car accident.

The Talladega Superspeedway was built on a soybean field located next to a couple of abandoned World War II airport runways and opened in September 1969. The 2.66-mile circuit, with it's 33-degree banking, holds the fastest qualifying mark in NASCAR history (Bill Elliott's 212.809 m.p.h. in April 1987) and the fastest 500-mile race in Winston Cup history when Mark Martin won the DieHard 500 in two hours, 39 minutes, 18 seconds in May 1997.

Although both Daytona and Talladega are "restrictor-plate" tracks they are very different "beasts." Drivers say that Daytona is a "handling" track and Talladega is a "horsepower" track.

That might be because the banking at Talladega is steeper than Daytona (33- degrees vs. 31-degrees) but more likely is because the straightaways are much longer. At Talladega the front straightaway is 500 feet longer while the backstretch is 400 feet longer.

The added distance allows drivers to reach the very top end of their power curve and those with the most horsepower have a distinct advantage.

So while the favorites are teammates Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and DEI's Earnhardt Jr., watch qualifying very carefully. Unlike at Phoenix where qualifying was not particularly important, at Talladega, qualifying will be a perfect indicator of who has the most horsepower.

In 170 events at both Daytona and Talladega, the race winner has come out of the first two rows a total of 104 times (61.1%).

But back to "The Big One."

Because of the restrictor-plate, the speeds of the cars are so similar that almost everyone drives in a pack. Almost no one can escape the pack because no one has the power to pull away and even if they could drive out to a temporary lead, the speed of the cars in a pack is much greater than the speed of an individual car and the lead driver would get swallowed up.

If and when something happens to a car in the middle of the pack (tire or engine failure for example) there is no time to avoid the problem. The result is usually an abundance of bent sheetmetal and ruined race cars.

"If you're stuck in the middle of the pack, there's not much you can do," said Kurt Busch.

For example, on the fourth lap of the spring 2003 race, 27 cars were involved in an accident, including eventual winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. That fall, Michael Waltrip took the victory, but the race is mostly remembered for Elliott Sadler's wild end-over-end "ride" down the backstretch.

For those thinking championship and "The Chase," Talladega is a race to get past, to post a reasonable result and go on.

In last year's Aaron's 499, Jimmie Johnson edged Tony Stewart by 0.120 seconds for the victory. Johnson probably would have completed the sweep in the fall event, but was sent spinning by eventual winner Brian Vickers.

"Junior", Johnson and Vickers were one-two-three as the laps dwindled down. Five laps to go and everyone was still nose to tail. Three laps to go and still no one was making a move. The white flag came out but still no movement.

Down the final backstretch and Johnson slid to the bottom, but Vickers gave him a little shot from behind and Johnson spun into Earnhardt Jr. sending both off the track.

"That's not the way I wanted it to happen," said Vickers. "When he turned (Johnson), I got off of him and he went to pass the No.8. The No.8 kept pushing down and when he jerked (the wheel) to avoid the No.8 I just got into the back of him. That's the last thing I wanted to do."

Hendrick Motorsports has won the last three Aaron's 499 races (Johnson once, Gordon twice). They have also won five of the last six Nextel Cup events. Its time for someone else to step up and prove that they can play at the Hendrick Motorsports level.

Busch

Aaron's 312 - Talladega Superspeedway - Talladega, AL

While Clint Bowyer won last week's Busch Series race at the Phoenix International Raceway, it was just another day at the office for points leader Carl Edwards.

Edwards' fifth-place finish at PIR was his eighth top-five of the season (in nine starts) and his lead in the series is an amazing 424 points. By comparison, when Kevin Harvick won last year's Busch title by a record 824 points, his lead through nine events was just 289 points.

"We fought a loose car the majority of the race and just couldn't give Carl enough grip there at the end,"said Edwards' crew chief Pierre Kuettel. "We had a great points day and added to our lead. That's what we came here to do."

Edwards' lead is over Dave Blaney who seems to be the only Toyota driver to have figured out his car. The No.32 Toyota has collected four top-10s in his first season with Toyota power. He is also the only Toyota driver to have raced in all eight Nextel Cup events this year.

But Edwards' competition in the long run is in trouble. Behind Blaney in the first year at Toyota is Harvick and Matt Kenseth both of whom are not racing a full Busch schedule.

Therefore, it is likely that Edwards will have the championship all but locked up before the kids go back to school in September and there will be no "title chase" in this series for the second consecutive season.

Martin Truex Jr. won last year's Aaron's 312 in a rare appearance for the two- time Busch Series champion. He edged Harvick by 0.087 seconds.

With three laps to go Truex Jr. led Bowyer, Brian Vickers, Kyle Busch and Harvick to a restart. As Bowyer stumbled on the restart Vickers, Busch, and Harvick all tried to pass Truex Jr. on the outside but couldn't complete the pass. Truex Jr. held to the bottom of the track and drove past the finish line for the victory.

Craftsman

O'Reilly Auto Parts 250 - Kansas Speedway - Kansas City, KS

While the Nextel Cup and Busch Series will be playing bumper tag at Talladega, the truck series will join the IndyCar Series in Kansas for some action on the 1.5-mile speedway.

When the series last raced (March 31st at Martinsville), Mike Skinner was completing his third consecutive victory to take a 94-point lead over defending series champion Todd Bodine.

Bodine hasn't won yet in 2007, but after averaging three wins a year for the past three years, he will likely get one very soon. The No.30 Germain Toyota driver has four straight top-10s this year and finished second to Skinner in the last two events. Bodine won this race in 2005, but finished seventh last year to eventual winner Terry Cook.

With 25 laps to go, Cook was leading by more than two seconds over Rick Crawford. Skinner was eighth and Bodine ninth but neither was making a challenge.

Boston Reid was spun around on lap 147 and the ensuing caution flag eliminated Cook's big lead.

But Cook wasn't worried and he again built a lead of half-a-second with 12 laps to go and almost one second with 10 laps remaining. He continued to expand the margin and easily took the checkered flag for his first win since August 2002 at IRP.

Cook has done very little with his new team, the No.59 HT Motorsports Toyota. His best finish is a 15th place in Martinsville.

If Skinner wins this weekend, he will become the first driver in Craftsman Truck Series history to win four consecutive races.

"I love going to Kansas, said Skinner. "It is really a neat place. We ran well there last year, qualified on the pole and had a shot at winning the race until our pit strategy didn't pan out."

IndyCars

Kansas Lottery Indy 300 - Kansas Speedway - Kansas City, KS

At Twin Ring Motegi last Saturday, IndyCar Series points leader Dan Wheldon did everything right except win. He led a race-high 126 laps dominating for most of the afternoon, but in the end lost to Tony Kanaan by 0.4828 seconds.

With twenty laps remaining Wheldon's lead was 1.8834 seconds over Kanaan. But both drivers still needed to stop one more time. Wheldon came in first and when Kanaan returned to the track he had gotten back in front after a quicker stop.

"We lost radio communication pretty early," said Wheldon in the post-race interview. "We were being very conservative with the time that we had to pit and perhaps some improvements we could have made with the car over the duration of the race. I think that was basically what really hindered us."

Kanaan held 15 car lengths on Wheldon with five laps to go and though Wheldon closed in on Kanaan he could never get close enough for a passing attempt.

Wheldon's second-place finish earned him the points lead, though he is just three points ahead of Kanaan (118-115), who jumped past both Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves with the victory. Dixon is another three points back while Castroneves is 17 points behind Wheldon. Defending series champion Sam Hornish Jr. is tied with Dario Franchitti for fifth, 27 points back.

"We're only a couple of points behind where we were when we left here last year," Hornish said on his team's website. "If we keep it up and do the same thing we did last year, we'll be in good shape."

Hornish Jr. won last year's Kansas Lottery Indy 300, finishing 0.0793 seconds ahead of Wheldon.

A long 10.5-second pit stop on lap 150 left Hornish Jr. in second place and he would have to drive his way past Wheldon over the last 50 laps.

Wheldon was keeping the margin at about 1.2 seconds through the next 10 laps. Hornish Jr. slowly pulled up alongside Wheldon and on lap 184 took back the top spot. There were just five laps left and the No.6 Penske Honda was barely ahead of Wheldon. By lap 197 Wheldon had edge ahead across the start/finish line as they were side-by-side with Hornish Jr. on the inside and Wheldon on the outside.

Lap 198, and Wheldon still held a 0.0078-second lead as they crossed the stripe. But Hornish Jr. was beginning to work the inside line to perfection and he pulled the No.6 a full car length in front and stayed there over the final lap for the victory.

Hopefully this race will be just as exciting.

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