This Week in Auto Racing June 22 - June 24
This Week in Auto Racing June 22 - June 24
This Week in Auto Racing June 22 - June 24
June 19th, 2007
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Jeff Gordon versus Juan Montoya on a road course. Could anyone have ever imagined such a matchup a couple of years ago? If Gordon's soon-to-be-born daughter will cooperate we will get to see it this Sunday.
Toyota/Save Mart 350 - Infineon Raceway - Sonoma, CA
The question everyone is asking this week is who will be behind the wheel of the No.24 Dupont Chevrolet?
Since 1993 no one except Gordon has driven the Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, but the streak might end on Sunday. Gordon and wife Ingrid Vandebosch are expecting their first child, a daughter, sometime this week. If she comes over the weekend, Gordon will miss the race and Mark Martin will be behind the wheel of the Dupont Chevrolet.
While Martin has been good on the 1.99-mile, 12-turn road course, he is no Gordon. Martin has made 18 starts, earning 13 top-10s including a win in 1997.
Gordon, on the other hand, owns a record five wins at Sonoma and nine top- fives in 14 starts. He has won the pole five times and holds the qualifying record of 94.325 m.p.h. which he set in 2005. He has led an amazing 437 laps and has a 9.9 average finish.
Gordon also happens to lead the 2007 Nextel Cup championship, by 264 points over Denny Hamlin. Should he miss the race, he could lose up to 195 points of the lead. Under the old championship system, that might be incentive enough to keep Gordon at the track.
But with the new "Chase for the Nextel Cup" in place, Gordon can miss the race and not really be penalized. There is no longer an incentive to be No.1 in the standings at the end of 26 races. Gordon, or any driver, only has to qualify for the "Chase" and accumulate wins. His lead over the 12th and final qualifying position in the "playoffs" is a whopping 701 points. So qualifying for the "Chase" is not a worry for the four-time Nextel Cup champion. He also has won four times this year and at worst will start the 10-race "Chase" in second place behind teammate Jimmie Johnson.
Gordon will obviously be the favorite should he compete, but if he is forced to miss the event, there will be a couple of challengers that should take over as race favorite.
Tony Stewart began his career as an open-wheel racer and his experience has paid off very well at NASCAR road-course events. Stewart has won twice at Infineon (2001, 2005) and earned four top-10s in eight starts. His average finish of 10.5 is second-best (to Gordon) of any top-12 driver.
However, there may be a "new sheriff" in town and his name is Juan Montoya.
Montoya has struggled a bit in his rookie season, but that has been on oval tracks, a place he had little experience. This week is a road course and Montoya must be considered a favorite, with or without Gordon.
Montoya won the 1999 CART championship as a rookie, winning seven poles, seven races and leading 954 laps - almost all on road courses. He graduated to Formula One and won seven more times.
Montoya left Formula One in mid-season last year to sign with Chip Ganassi and get into a Nextel Cup car for the first time in his career. Though he is only 23rd in the standings, he has shown flashes of the speed and aggressiveness that will one day make him a title contender.
But for now, he will certainly be a contender for the win this week. In his first taste of NASCAR road course racing, a Busch race in Mexico City in March, Montoya won the race. It was a pretty strong field too. Road course specialists Boris Said, Ron Fellows, Scott Pruett, Brian Simo and P.J. Jones were there. Nextel Cup had the week off, so Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards, J.J. Yeley, Greg Biffle and David Gilliland were there. So to were Adrian Fernandez and Michel Jourdain, both accomplished open-wheel racers. Still, Montoya won and was easily the best on the track.
So we all hope the Gordon can make the race, because a Gordon, Stewart and Montoya matchup would be great racing and fun to watch.
AT&T 250 - The Milwaukee Mile - West Allis, WI
Carl Edwards was leading last week's Meijer 300 when he was sent spinning. He eventually finished a distant 33rd and yet he still expanded on his already huge Busch Series lead.
Edwards, driver of the No.60 Roush Fenway Racing Ford, will bring an absurd 701-point lead over second place Dave Blaney to this week's race at the Milwaukee Mile.
To put it in perspective, Edwards could completely skip the next three races, concentrate on his Cup team, and still be the points leader. Over the past couple of weeks it's been tough on Edwards and the other Nextel Cup drivers who are also competing full-time in the Busch Series.
Two weeks ago, the Nextel Cup raced at Pocono while the Busch Series was in Fort Worth, TX., a distance of 1334 miles. Last week, the flights back and forth were between Brooklyn, MI and Sparta, KY. This week its Sonoma, CA to West Allis, WI.
Despite all the flying back and forth, Edwards has continued to thrive.
He won the Busch opener of this "three-race test" leading 49 laps. He finished 14th at Pocono the following day. Edwards was leading, and dominating, in Kentucky before the accident and came back the following day to win his first Nextel Cup race in 52 starts.
The final leg of the test is at the historic Milwaukee Mile where Edwards finished a distant 21st in 2006. Expect vast improvement, at least into the top-10, and an even larger championship lead after the checkered flag has fallen.
Toyota Tundra Milwaukee 200 - The Milwaukee Mile - West Allis, WI
Mike Skinner remains the leader in almost every Craftsman Truck Series category. The No.5 Toyota Tundra driver leads the way in points (1,708), winnings ($350,600), Laps led (535), wins (3), pole wins (6), top-fives (8) and top-10s (10).
But this week he might not be the odds-on favorite to win the race. Ron Hornaday Jr., second in the standings, has had a lot of success on the famous Milwaukee Mile.
Hornaday Jr., won the race in 1997 and in seven career starts has finished outside the top-five only one time - (seventh in 1999). Skinner, on the other hand, has struggled in recent years finishing 16th and 11th over the past two years.
There are six drivers who hail from Wisconsin in the race headed by two-time winner Ted Musgrave (2001, 2004).
"Milwaukee really puts the emphasis on working hard because that's back home, in front of friends and family and people that followed your career," said Musgrave. "You put a little extra effort into it; I know the crew does, too."
Other drivers with local ties include: Kelly Bires, Travis Kvapil, Ryan Mathews, Tim Sauter and Josh Wise.
Kvapil is coming off a win last week in Michigan. The win was the 45th for Roush Fenway Racing in the truck series. Kvapil was in second place with just a couple of laps to go when he got underneath Kyle Busch on the final lap for the win.
"Mike (Beam) and the guys here really figured out what we needed to do to make the trucks to where I could drive them fast," said Kvapil.
Iowa Corn Indy 250 - Iowa Speedway - Newton, IA
This will be the first IndyCar race at the 0.875-mile track designed by none other than Rusty Wallace.
"I've been waiting for this event for a long time to happen," said Wallace, the retired NASCAR champion and current television commentator. "I'll have my racetrack owner hat on. It's like a child to me, it really is. I watched it be built since birth, you know, and it was just an amazing track."
The track has graduated banking to help get more side-by-side racing.
"I've talked to Tony Kanaan, Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon and all three of them said, 'My gosh. I never drove on a track that had this much grip,'" said Wallace.
The series already has some of the tightest and closest racing of any major series.
Two weeks ago, Kanaan held off three-time IndyCar Series champion Sam Hornish Jr. for the win at the Texas Motor Speedway. Hornish Jr. had the fastest car all night, but needed to hold off a charging Tony Kanaan.
Final green-flag stops began with Castroneves on lap 186. Hornish Jr. came in two laps later with more than a seven-second lead. A nine-second stop, with no mistakes, set him up for a smooth ride to the checkered flag.
But that doesn't usually happen in IndyCar racing.
They cycled through final stops, the last car being Jeff Simmons and Hornish Jr. inherited the lead once again.
Then on lap 199, a six-car incident cost Dan Wheldon any shot at the win. A.J. Foyt IV, Castroneves, Dixon, Ed Carpenter and Darren Manning were the other cars involved. It appeared that Foyt IV lost a tire and as Carpenter slowed down he got hit by Dixon and Manning.
The incident also erased Hornish Jr.'s now eight-second lead.
With 13 laps to go, the margin was just 0.1954 seconds. Hornish Jr. and Kanaan were almost side-by-side and it allowed Danica Patrick to get back into the fray. It was a three-car race with 10 laps remaining.
Kanaan was trying the high side, but he couldn't make it stick. two laps to go and he tried the high side again. They saw the white flag and it was still Hornish Jr. leading Kanaan.
On the final lap, Kanaan would continue to press the outside line, but he just didn't have enough speed to make the pass. Hornish Jr. took the checkered flag by just 0.0786 seconds.
"It really feels good to be in the winner's circle after starting off the season - not necessarily didn't have any bad luck; we just couldn't get things to go our way," said Hornish, who led a total of 159 laps. "So I've said all season, we're right there. We're right on the edge."
Dario Franchitti finished fourth, his sixth consecutive top-five, and will take a 12-point lead over Kanaan to Iowa. Just behind them are Dixon (-19), Wheldon (-20), Hornish Jr. (-27) and Castroneves (-51).
Grand Prix of Cleveland - Burke Lakefront Airport, Cleveland, OH
Now its on to Cleveland, Ohio and one of the best spots for watching a "road course" event. At most road venues, the fan gets to see one corner and watches the rest of the race on a big screen as if they were at home in front of the television. But at the Burke Lakefront Airport, the entire course is visible from the stands.
This is a track with a couple of very good passing zones and the wide runways make more than one line possible. It is particularly fun in the first turn of the first lap when 17 cars roar into the corner all on differing lines. Sometimes they all make it through, most times they don't.
The 2004 race is a perfect example. Pole winner Paul Tracy came done the front straight on the left side of the track and Justin Wilson tried to duck underneath. It didn't work and both drivers were sent to the sidelines.
After the crash a very disappointed Tracy said, "the corner was mine, so it's very disappointing." Sebastien Bourdais would go on to win the first of his two GP of Cleveland victories.
Last year, Paul Tracy's car went airborne over Bourdais. The bottom of Tracy's car made some contact with Bourdais' head during the crash. Bourdais was conscious and moving as he was transported to a local hospital for further observation.
A total of seven drivers crashed during the wild start.
A.J. Allmendinger reclaimed the lead on lap 80 of the 95-lap event and held on to beat Bruno Junqueira by 3.279 seconds. Allmendinger has since left the series for the Nextel Cup Series.
Since finishing 13th in the season opener in at Las Vegas, Bourdais has put together a string of three wins. He has done so in dominating fashion, leading 58 of 78 laps in Long Beach, 62 of 93 in Houston and 48 of 103 laps in Portland.
Last week, while most of the Champ Car Series was "back at the shop," Bourdais was entering and finishing second in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. He also made 142 laps testing for the Formula One Toro Rosso team. He will make a third test for the team in July. Looks like we know where Bourdais will be spending 2008.
Then again, there doesn't seem to be much of a challenge for the Frenchman in Champ Cars. He seems likely to bring home his fourth consecutive title this season.