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This Week in Auto Racing June 7 - June 10

This Week in Auto Racing June 7 - June 10

This Week in Auto Racing June 7 - June 10

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It's one of those rare weekends where everyone wants to be on the track so be prepared for a full slate of racing. The week begins with a truck race on Friday night in Fort Worth and doesn't end until the checkered flag flies late Sunday afternoon in Portland.


Nextel Cup

Pocono 500 - Pocono Raceway - Long Pond, PA

The late Bill France Jr. is responsible for growing NASCAR from a regional sport to its current national reputation. Under his leadership everyone shared in its growth from track operators to team owners to the fans. He retired in 2003.

Brian France, his son and CEO, has been in control for four years and has continued to advance the sport by adding the "Chase for the Nextel Cup" and looking internationally for both drivers and fans.

So while this week's race will take place on the same track that they have raced at since 1974, there are many changes from that race 33 years ago won by Richard Petty.

First off, a Petty is not likely to win the race. Though Petty Enterprises is much improved over the last few years and Kyle Petty did finish third in the Coca-Cola 600, they are not ready to win a race...yet.

The finish at the Lowe's Motor Speedway was Petty's only top-10 of the season. The team's best driver, Bobby Labonte, also has just one top-10 finish. At Dover, Labonte finished 18th and Petty 34th.

"I don't know if anyone besides (Martin) Truex Jr. had a good handle on it," said Petty of his car after the race at Dover. "He lapped a lot of cars out there. We didn't give up and tried a ton, but only a few guys had the combination right today."

Dale Earnhardt Inc.'s Truex Jr. was dominant at Dover leading a race-high 216 laps and winning by a whopping 7.355 seconds. It was a huge win for a team reeling from the news that their No.1 driver and NASCAR's most popular driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. will leave the team at the end of the season.

Truex Jr. and Earnhardt Jr. are close friends as well as teammates and there were some who thought he might jump ship at the end of the season as well. The rumors left the team in a bad situation.

But Truex Jr. nixed all the rumors by saying, "They gave me my opportunity, and I've decided I'm going to finish out the year and honor my contract because of all the things they've done for me."

Then on Monday he became the first driver from New Jersey in 49 years to win in NASCAR's top series (Frankie Schneider of Lambertville won at the Old Dominion Speedway on April 25, 1958).

"We'll ta There are also rumors that Greg Biffle is being eyed as the replacement for Earnhardt Jr. A pairing of Biffle and Truex Jr. would be a pretty good combination.

After the win on the "Monster Mile" in Dover, Truex Jr. and the No.1 DEI team head north to the 2.5-mile Pocono Raceway tri-oval.

It was at Pocono last year that Denny Hamlin "announced" his arrival by winning both events. Hamlin had made just 20 Nextel Cup starts before surprising both fans and experts with his win on the tough Long Pond, PA track. He repeated the feat six weeks later. Both times Kurt Busch finished second.

Hamlin went on to make the "Chase" and finished third. He won the 2006 Nextel Cup Raybestos Rookie of the Year award. The No.11 Joe Gibbs Racing Chevrolet driver is currently fourth in the standings with eight top-10s.

"We're running better at every race track than what we did last year," Hamlin added. "I'm pretty happy about the way our season is going. I know as a driver I'm slowly but surely getting to where I need to be and still haven't reached my full potential yet."

It should be interesting to see how Hamlin races this week. Can he or teammate Tony Stewart finally make their way into Victory Lane?


Federated Auto Parts 300 - Nashville Superspeedway - Lebanon, TN

Carl Edwards' third win of the season last Saturday at Dover gave him an unreal 472-point lead over 2006 series champion Kevin Harvick in the Busch Series standings.

In truth, his lead is even larger than that since Harvick is not a full-time Busch Series driver this season. Harvick has already missed two events and is not scheduled to compete this weekend in Nashville.

Edwards, however, will make the trip back and forth between Tennessee and Pennsylvania and therefore he will likely leave the Nashville Superspeedway with around a 600-point margin over either Harvick or third-place Dave Blaney.

Blaney is currently 672 points behind Edwards, but like Edwards, will do the double this weekend. Other "Cup" drivers planning to start in Nashville are Clint Bowyer, David Ragan, Greg Biffle, David Stremme and David Reutimann.

Edwards is also the defending Federated Auto Parts 300 champion. In fact, he has won the last two events on the 1.333-mile cement oval. In four starts his average finish is 2.7 and he has led 198 laps. Bowyer, who has an average finish of 2.8 in six starts, has the most laps led at Nashville - 274.

The Busch Series rookie competition is much closer than the title chase. Australian Marcos Ambrose is tied with Ragan for first with 139 points. Just behind them is "rookie" Juan Montoya (137) and Kyle Krisiloff (119).


Sam's Town 400 - Texas Motor Speedway - Fort Worth, TX

While the "big boys" are in Pocono and the Busch Series is in Nashville, the trucks will share the track with IndyCars at the lightning fast 1.5-mile oval in Texas.

Mike Skinner is the current championship leader by 77 points over Ron Hornaday Jr. Skinner is on quite a qualifying streak having won six straight. Still he is two short of his own record of eight consecutive poles which he set in 1995. The No.5 Toyota has done pretty well in the races too. He has yet to finish worse than eighth and has three wins.

Hornaday Jr. won for the second time last Friday night at Dover, leading 99 of 200 laps en route to the victory.

Both are former truck series champions (Skinner - 1995, Hornaday Jr. - 1996, 1998). But they are not alone in that claim. There are four other former series winners racing full-time and all are in the current top-10. Defending series champion Todd Bodine is third overall and behind him are Ted Musgrave (fourth), Travis Kvapil (sixth) and Jack Sprague (eighth).

Both of last year’s TMS races ended with green-white-checker finishes.

In the first one, Todd Bodine beat Skinner for the win and in the second one Clint Bowyer edged Kyle Busch for the victory.

With the Nextel Cup and Busch Series drivers competing thousands of miles away, this race will be a race between the "regulars." The way Skinner and Hornaday Jr. are running, look for another battle to the wire between the two points leaders.


Bombardier Learjet 550k - Texas Motor Speedway - Fort Worth, TX

Despite the preseason hype that this year would again be a battle between Penske Racing and Target Chip Ganassi Racing, that has not been the case.

After a 2006 that the team would like to forget, Andretti Green Racing has returned to prominence in 2007. Behind Dario Franchitti and a rejuvenated Tony Kanaan, AGR has become the third contender for the title.

Franchitti became known for more than being the husband of actress Ashley Judd when he won this year's Indianapolis 500. He finished second last week to take the points lead after six events.

Tony Kanaan was the best, by far, in 2004 when he won three times and earned 15 top-fives in 16 starts. He finished every single lap that season and easily won the championship. He finished second to Dan Wheldon in 2005, but last season won just one time and could muster just seven top-fives en route to a disappointing sixth place in the standings.

This season, he and Franchitti have led a resurgence at AGR. He won at the Twin Ring Motegi circuit and would have been declared the Indy 500 winner if the race had been called after 113 laps. When the rains came the first time, the No.11 AGR team was in first. Officials knew the race would never be run to completion yet they still insisted that the race be restarted. The race went 53 more laps and when it was halted for the second and final time, Franchitti was out front.

Either way, the win went to AGR and with Kanaan's win in Milwaukee last weekend that makes three wins for AGR in six races. It's one more than they won all last year.

"The Team 7-Eleven car was the best car all weekend," said Kanaan. "My boys gave me a great car and we didn't give up all day. We had to work hard to get to the front but it paid off. This was a great one-two finish again. Dario is leading the championship, but I'm going to do my best to catch him. This will be an exciting summer for sure."

Couldn't have said it better myself.

With Penske Racing's Helio Castroneves and Sam Hornish Jr. and Ganassi's Wheldon and Scott Dixon, there are at least six drivers who can win on any given Sunday (or Saturday night). And that doesn't include Marco Andretti, who already won once in his rookie season, Tomas Scheckter who is always fast but has trouble finishing and Danica Patrick, who should be more competitive and less combative.

The race is set to drop the green flag on Saturday night under the lights. You better not miss it.


Grand Prix of Portland - Portland International Raceway - Portland, OR

It has been a long time since the Champ Car Series was on the track. Can anyone really remember what happened on April 22nd on the streets of Houston?

I can't.

To refresh your memory, Sebastien Bourdais won the race, more than four seconds ahead of 18-year-old rookie teammate Graham Rahal, son of Bobby Rahal. The win for the Frenchman was his second in a row.

It was also the 99th for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing. Legend Mario Andretti won the team's first in July 1983. Mario (18 wins), Michael Andretti (31), Nigel Mansell (5), Paul Tracy (2), Christian Fittipaldi (2), Cristiano da Matta (10), Bruno Junqueira (5), Sebastien Bourdais (25) and Oriol Servia (1) have recorded wins since Mario's first victory and the current lineup of Bourdais and Rahal hope to continue the trend.

"There are a whole lot of extremely famous names on the list before me and I'm proud to have contributed my share of wins," said Bourdais.

Sebastien Bourdais Sebastien Bourdais owns a three-point lead in the championship.
Power, if you can remember all the way back to April 8th, won the season opener in Las Vegas while Bourdais failed to finish the race after a crash on lap 32.

Behind Bourdais and Power is former F1 driver Robert Doornbos (-12) Alex Tagliani (-16) and Bruno Junqueira (-20).

Back this week after missing a couple of races with an injury is veteran Paul Tracy, the series' active wins leader (30). The Canadian is just one win behind legend Al Unser Jr for sixth all-time.

"It's great to finally be back in the car," said Tracy. "It's been very frustrating just watching from the sidelines, but I've worked very hard on my recovery and I had no problems at all driving the car (in testing)."

Also back after missing the first three events will be Jan Heylen who signed with Conquest Racing.

"We are excited about having Jan join us for the rest of the season," said owner Eric Bachelart. "Jan has tested with us before, and showed promise in his rookie year." Heylen finished 14th in 2006 with a best finish of fifth in Cleveland.

For the last three years, the series has belonged to Bourdais and Newman/Haas. There is no reason to believe that it won't continue to be that way.


Canadian Grand Prix - Circuit Gilles Villeneuve - Montreal, Canada

Through five races, the story of 2007 is the resurgence of McLaren/Mercedes. Led by two-time F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso and super rookie Lewis Hamilton, the team has been shown great strength.

Alonso, who won his two titles with Renault, has finished on the podium four times including wins in Malaysia and Monaco. Hamilton has become the darling of the media, and deservedly so, after posting five consecutive podiums and becoming the youngest driver to lead the championship.

While McLaren is not always the fastest car on the track, they are certainly the most consistent and neither driver is prone to errors.

Ferrari on the other hand has shown flashes of brilliance and own three victories this season, two from Felipe Massa and one from Kimi Raikkonen. Massa has not finished lower than sixth, while Raikkonen has struggled a couple of times finishing eighth in Monaco (started 15th) and 19th at the Spanish Grand Prix.

Ferrari can't afford to slip up as McLaren has already shown they will make very few errors this year. Despite winning three of five events, Ferrari is 20 points behind McLaren in the manufacturers championship.

After the narrow streets of Monaco, the series moves onto the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve which by comparison has plenty of places to pass.

"This will be my debut at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, because of the chances there are to pass, it looks like a great track to compete on," said Hamilton. "It has some very distinctive characteristics, such as the low grip, the long straights, hard braking and so on, so my initial laps will focus on understanding all these and how best to drive the track to get good times."

"Until last year, I hadn't had great results in Canada, so it was fantastic to win there," said Alonso. "It is always a tough race, and you see a lot of retirements because you are stressing the whole car with the high speeds and the hard braking zones."

In 2006, Alonso won both the pole and the race, edging Michael Schumacher by 2.111 seconds. But McLaren struggled. Raikkonen, now with Ferrari finished third while Juan Montoya was out early finishing 18th.

Ferrari expects to rebound from a mediocre Monaco. They have made some changes since Monaco, to the front and rear wings along with some less noticeable fixes to the brakes and brake cooling systems.

"We believe we will have a strong package for this event," said Ferrari’s sporting director Stefano Domenicali on the team's website.

They'll need it to compete with McLaren.

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