This Week in Auto Racing June 29 - July 1

This Week in Auto Racing June 29 - July 1

This Week in Auto Racing June 29 - July 1
June 26th, 2007

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It is summertime and everyone wants to get on track this weekend. The list is headed by Nextel Cup in New Hampshire and the IndyCars on the short track at Richmond.

NASCAR

Nextel Cup

Lenox Industrial Tools 300 - New Hampshire International Speedway - Loudon, NH

Juan Montoya and Jeff Gordon performed feats of magic on Sunday.

Montoya's was coming from 32nd on the grid to win his first Nextel Cup victory when no driver had ever won from further back than 13th since they began running at Infineon in 1989. Gordon was almost as good coming from 41st place to finish a solid seventh.

But for Gordon, the real magic will be needed on Tuesday when NASCAR officials decide what penalty he and the No.24 Hendrick Motorsports team should suffer for failing pre-race inspection.

Rick Hendrick has already said the team suffered enough of a penalty by being forced to the back of the grid and not being allowed to practice on Friday.

We expect NASCAR to come up with more severe penalties this week.

When the No.8 DEI team installed an incorrect rear wing bracket, the team was fined $100,000, penalized 100 driver and owner points and the crew chief was suspended for six weeks. It would be surprising if the penalty to the No.24 and Jimmie Johnson's No.48 team were not at least that stiff.

Still, Gordon will likely enter this week's Lenox Industrial Tools 300 with the points lead. He currently, as of Tuesday morning, has a 271-point lead over Denny Hamlin. Barring an unprecedented penalty from NASCAR he will still have the lead when the race begins on Sunday.

In truth, with the "new" Chase for the Nextel Cup" it is not important to be the points leader after 26 weeks. The goal is only to be in the top-12 and win as many times as possible. With four wins and a 723-point lead over 12th place, no matter what the penalty, Gordon will enter the "Chase" as either the leader or second in points.

Almost the same can be said for Johnson, the 2006 Nextel Cup champion, who also owns four wins and is safely ensconced in the top-12.

Now its on the squared-flat corners at the New Hampshire International Speedway for the first of two events in 2007. The 1.058-mile oval will also host the first event of the "Chase" on September 16th.

It would be nice to win not only for your chance to get in the "Chase," but because winning the first race puts you in good position to repeat in the fall event.

Johnson swept both events in 2003 and Kurt Busch matched that in 2004. Tony Stewart won the summer of 2005 events and just missed, finishing second, in the fall race that year.

Last year Kyle Busch won this race while Kevin Harvick finished fifth. Harvick would used that knowledge to win the fall race and take the early lead in last year's "Chase."

Harvick was pretty good last Sunday, finishing second to Montoya. He lead his RCR teammates to a two-three-four finish. All three are currently qualified for the "Chase" in what is turning out to be a very good year for Richard Childress Racing.

"Kevin is our leader on the road-course thing and really has made us as competitive as we are," said Burton. "That's as much to do with our performance today as anything is Kevin pushing them (the crew) to get better fuel mileage, to build better cars."

Busch

Camping World 200 - New Hampshire International Speedway - Loudon, NH

In his first nine 2007 Busch Series starts, Carl Edwards collected a win and eight top-fives. His lead was 424 over Dave Blaney. In the next eight races, Edwards earned only three top-fives (two were wins - Dover and Nashville) yet his lead has ballooned to 776 points over David Reutimann.

Edwards finished 33rd and eighth in his last two events although in truth he was one of the fastest cars on the track in each instance. But "bad" luck has cost him good finishes in both races.

As long as Edwards continues to show up for the race, he will easily collect his first Busch Series title.

Now for more interesting happenings...

Aric Almirola is listed as the winner of last week's Busch race at the Milwaukee Mile. An unhappy winner, but a winner none-the-less.

Almirola was very happy in 2006 when he got the opportunity to qualify Denny Hamlin's No.20 Chevrolet in Milwaukee. He performed so well that he won the pole for Hamlin who eventually drove the car to a second-place finish.

The team was so pleased that they asked Almirola to drive it again this year. Again, Almirola put the car on the pole. And when Hamlin was late getting to West Allis, WI, Almirola started the race in the No.20 Chevrolet.

But this Almirola is a more experienced driver than as a rookie and he had two top-10 in his last two starts. So he rightly expected that he would drive the whole race and get the team another good finish.

The team, however, had other plans. When Hamlin finally got to the track, the team decided to put the more veteran driver in the car. The change was made on a lap 59 caution and they ended up being down one lap to the leaders when they got going again.

"I didn't want to do it," Hamlin said. "I knew he would be really upset. He did all the hard work."

No matter, the car was very good and so is Hamlin and he made the lap back and went on to win the race. Almirola gets credit for the win since he started the race, but wasn't their for the traditional celebrations.

Almirola refused all interview requests.

Hopefully, Almirola will get a shot to win the next one on his own accord. He certainly has the talent.

Craftsman

O'Reilly 200 - Memphis Motorsports Park - Memphis, TN

Mike Skinner won another pole and posted another top-five last Friday. Ho hum.

Skinner now has started first in seven of the 11 events. He has won three and holds a 108-point edge over Ron Hornaday Jr.

The No.5 Toyota driver leads the series not only in points, but in driver rating (123.5), winnings ($370,775), laps led (638), top-fives (9) and top-10s (11). He has led at least one lap in every race this year.

Hornaday Jr. finished a very good second last week in Milwaukee. But he gained few points on Skinner. If not for Skinner, we would be singing the praises of "The King of Restarts."

Hornaday Jr. has two wins (Lowe's, Dover) and owns 10 top-10s in 11 starts. He could easily have a third win, he led 117 of 169 laps at the Texas Motor Speedway, before finishing fourth.

Johnny Benson won last week's race making him the eighth different winner in the season's first 11 races. It was about this time last year that he won a couple of races back-to-back and challenged Todd Bodine for the championship.

Qualifying will again be important at Memphis.

"This is a follow-the-leader race track," said Rick Ren, Hornaday Jr.'s crew chief. "It can be very difficult to pass. Even pit selection plays an important role at Memphis."

That bodes well for Skinner who is close to breaking his on single-season pole record (10 poles in 20 races) which he set in 1995.

INDYCARS


SunTrust Indy Challenge - Richmond International Raceway - Richmond, VA

"It's like flying jet fighters in a gymnasium," veteran Eddie Cheever Jr. once said of the 0.750-mile Richmond International Raceway.

The quote still holds up today.

"Flying" around the relatively flat track at an average speed of 170 m.p.h. leaves little room for error. It takes only a slight bobble to leave you splattered against a SAFER barrier.

Another win by Dario Franchitti, at the Iowa Speedway, sends him to RIR with a 51-point lead over second-place Tony Kanaan. Franchitti has yet to finish worse than seventh this year. That was at the season opener in Homestead. Since then he has been no worse than fifth.

"It's been a good start to the season," said Franchitti. "Are we halfway yet? It's too early. We're just going to keep week-in, week-out trying to do a good job and see how it goes."

Right behind Kanaan are Scott Dixon (-52), Dan Wheldon (-54), Sam Hornish Jr. (-64) and Helio Castroneves (-80). All are still in the championship fight, but it is time for them to step it up.

Hornish Jr. won last year's race ahead of Vitor Meira. Hornish Jr. was leading on lap 185, but Franchitti was closing. They worked their way through slower traffic and Hornish Jr. built the margin to two seconds.

As the drivers came across the start/finish line with four laps to go Meira passed Franchitti on the inside for second. After the pass was complete a caution came out for Castroneves when his right-rear tire blew apart putting debris on the track. The race finished under caution.

After a 14th-place DNF at Iowa, Hornish Jr. could certainly use a trip to Richmond's Victory Lane.

CHAMP CARS

Champ Car Mont-Tremblant - Circuit Mont-Tremblant - Mont-Tremblant, QC

There must have been a blue moon on Sunday afternoon at the Burke Lakefront Airport. Not only did Sebastien Bourdais not win the race, but the No.1 Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing team didn't finish the race.

That doesn't happen very often to the three-time series champion.

Since 2004, Bourdais has finished 39 of 46 races. In those four years, the Frenchman has never had more than two DNFs in a single year.

Bourdais already has two DNFs in 2007, yet he still leads the championship by three points over Robert Doornbos. That bodes well for a fourth title for the Formula One-bound driver. It also means that the other teams shouldn't expect too many more gifts from the No.1 team. They better learn how to beat Bourdais when he finishes races, something not many have been able to do.

Of the 39 races Bourdais has finished, he has won 26 of the them or 67%. In 2007 it is even better, he has finished three of the five starts and won all three.

A.J. Allmendinger seemed to have it figured out, winning five of the final nine races in 2006, but just as he came into this revelation he jumped to NASCAR and the promise of "big money."

In 2003 when Bourdais first came to Champ Cars, Paul Tracy was "the sheriff" winning seven times and earning a championship. But since then, Tracy has been inconsistent and not won more than twice in any one season. He did win last week though, and always runs well in front of a boisterous hometown Canadian crowd.

The hope for a great championship battle will likely come from either Doornbos, the former Minardi Formula One driver, or Will Power.

In his first season of Champ Car racing, Doornbos has been solid if not spectacular. He has two second and two third-place finishes. But the Rotterdam, Netherlands native has led just one lap and has not yet asserted himself.

"I think all Minardi Team USA personnel are really looking forward to the Mont-Tremblant race, not only because of the challenging circuit and the beautiful surroundings, but also because of the momentum everyone is carrying following last weekend's Cleveland race," said owner Paul Stoddart.

Power, on the other hand, has led at least one lap in four of his five starts this year and won the season opener in Las Vegas. Last year in his first full season he earned nine top-10s en route to a sixth-place overall in the standings.

"We just go onto Mont-Tremblant with the same plan we have for every race - get on pole and win one," said Power.

That would work.

FORMULA ONE

French Grand Prix - Circuit De Nevers - Magny-Cours, France

It is seven races into his Formula One career, but Lewis Hamilton isn't acting or driving like a rookie. And he is doing things that no rookie has ever done in F1.

Like seven consecutive podium finishes to start a career. Like leading the drivers standings. Like beating his own teammate, Fernando Alonso, who just happens to be the reigning two-time World Champion.

Hamilton has been virtually flawless in F1 this season yet he seems to grasp where he is in the big picture.

"I'm still a rookie," Hamilton said just before Indy. "I am learning every day, every time I arrive at the track. The whole season I will feel like a rookie."

But he grows more confident with each win and each success.

"If I'm consistent, then there's no reason why I can't win the title;" he added.

At some point in the season Hamilton will hit a rough patch. It happens in every season to every driver, well except maybe for Michael Schumacher in the 2004 season when he won 13 of 18 races and finished in the top-five 15 times.

It will be at that point that we find out what the 22-year-old is made of.

Maybe it already started. On Thursday, Hamilton crashed a go-kart into the barriers at a London charity auction. So far this season that is the only mistake he has made.

For Ferrari, these are troubled times.

The car doesn't seem as consistent or fast as the McLaren Mercedes and they have not been very competitive of late.

Brazilian Felipe Massa has been their best driver, but he is 19 points behind Hamilton and nine points behind Alonso. His best finish since back-to-back wins at Bahrain and Spain is a third place.

Kimi Raikkonen, expected to come over from McLaren and be the team's No.1 driver has been anything but. After a season-opening win in Australia, his best finishes are a pair of third-place results.

"We are waiting for the real Raikkonen, the one that everyone fears," Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo said.

Moreover, it appears that Raikkonen is not the "team player" that Michael Schumacher was.

"It would be interesting to see how good he could be if he concerned himself with the technology side, too," said former boss Peter Sauber.

He is also more of a "party animal" than Schumacher.

"The Finns like to drink from time to time," said Ferrari chief executive Jean Todt to the French newspaper Le Figaro.

Then again, he is barely halfway through the first season with Ferrari. Once he gets used to the way things are done and gets comfortable with the "stardom" of driving for Ferrari, there is no telling how good he can be.

He and Ferrari will need to get it together soon or they can all start thinking of the 2008 championship.

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Re: This Week in Auto Racing June 29 - July 1

This Week in Auto Racing
June 27, 2007

Nextel Cup

Site: Loudon, N.H.

Schedule: Friday, qualifying (Speed Channel, 3 p.m.); Sunday, race (TNT, 1 p.m.).

Track: New Hampshire International Speedway (oval, 1.058 miles, 12 degrees banking in turns).

Race distance: 317 miles, 300 laps.

Last race: Juan Pablo Montoya showed off his road racing prowess again, stretching his fuel to the limit and grabbing his first Nextel Cup win. Montoya, who qualified a disappointing 32nd in the 43-car field, was the first driver to win on the Northern California road circuit starting farther back than 13th.

Last year: Kyle Busch had to go to overtime at New Hampshire International Speedway for his first victory of the year. Busch passed Elliott Sadler for the lead 61 laps from the end and appeared to have the win all wrapped up before a crash involving Hendrick Motorsports teammate Brian Vickers and rookie Clint Bowyer brought out a caution flag on lap 298, just three laps from the scheduled end. The race was extended even longer after another accident. At the last restart on lap 307, both rookie Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards moved past Sadler, but Busch easily pulled away from the challengers.

Fast facts: Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson were docked 100 points each Tuesday, and their crew chiefs were both fined $100,000 and suspended for six races for violations at Infineon. Gordon remains the points leader after the deduction, but his margin was cut to 171 points over Hamlin. Johnson dropped from third to fifth. ... This is the eighth Car of Tomorrow race. ... Seven of the top-12 drivers in the current standings have won at New Hampshire. ... Montoya is the third foreign-born driver to win a race in NASCAR's top series. The Colombian driver joined Italian-born Mario Andretti, who won the 1967 Daytona 500, and Earl Ross of Canada, who won on the short oval at Martinsville in 1974. Montoya's only other NASCAR victory came earlier this year in a Busch Series race.

Next race: Pepsi 400, July 7, Daytona Beach, Fla.

Busch

Site: Loudon, N.H.

Schedule: Saturday, qualifying (Speed Channel, 10 a.m.), race (ABC, 2:30 p.m.).

Track: New Hampshire International Speedway (oval, 1.058 miles, 12 degrees banking in turns).

Race distance: 211.6 miles, 200 laps.

Last race: After missing the start of the race because his helicopter couldn't find a place to land, Denny Hamlin rallied to take the checkered flag in a wacky AT&T 250 at the Milwaukee Mile. But because substitute driver Aric Almirola started the race in Hamlin's car, NASCAR officially will credit Almirola with the victory, points and prize money.

Last year: Carl Edwards easily held off a late challenge from Kevin Harvick to win at New Hampshire International Speedway.

Fast facts: There have been 20 different winners in as many Busch races at New Hampshire. There have also been 17 different polesitters. ... According to NASCAR officials, Almirola's victory last week marked the first time a relief driver had won a race a Busch race since Jack Ingram turned his car over to Harry Gant at Darlington Raceway on April 13, 1985. ... Edwards recovered from the flat tire to finish eighth at Milwaukee and left with a dominant 776-point lead over David Reutimann the standings. He has finished second and first, respectively, over the last two years at New Hampshire.

Next race: Winn-Dixie 250, July 6, Daytona Beach, Fla.

Craftsman

Site: Memphis, Tenn.

Schedule: Saturday, qualifying (Speed Channel, 6 p.m.), race (Speed Channel, 8:30 p.m.).

Track: Memphis Motorsports Park, (tri-oval, 0.75 miles, 11-degrees banking in turns).

Race distance: 150 miles, 200 laps.

Last race: Johnny Benson took the lead just past halfway at The Milwaukee Mile, then held off Ron Hornaday Jr. on a late restart to win his second straight race.

Last year: Jack Sprague raced to his first victory of 2006, holding off rookie Eric Darnell by 0.251 seconds in the O'Reilly 200. Sprague also gained a share of the series career record for poles with his 28th, equaling the mark held by Mike Skinner.

Fast facts: There have been eight different winners in 11 races this season. Series leader Skinner and Hornaday are the only multiple winners. ... Skinner has finished outside the top five only twice this season. Skinner, who turns 50 on Thursday, has also won seven poles in 2007, three shy of his own single-season record set in 1995. ... Sprague, the track's only two-time winner, has finished 26th or worse in four of his last six starts. ... The late Bobby Hamilton will be honored during a pre-race ceremony Saturday.

Next race: Built Ford Tough 225, July 14, Lexington, Ky.

CHAMP CARS


Site: Quebec, Canada

Schedule: Friday, qualifying, 2:35 p.m.; Saturday, qualifying, 2:20 p.m.; Sunday, race (ESPN, 2 p.m.).

Track: Circuit Mont Tremblant (road course, 2.65 miles, 15 turns).

Race distance: NA.

Last race: Paul Tracy pushed his way to the front and held off rookie Robert Doornbos on the final lap to win his third Grand Prix of Cleveland, ending Sebastien Bourdais' three-race winning streak. Tracy was involved in two accidents early in the race, but the gutsy Canadian worked his way through the field and took the checkered flag, finishing 0.513 seconds ahead of Doornbos and another rookie, Neel Jani, who was 5.405 seconds back in third.

Last year: No race. This is inaugural event.

Fast facts: This will be the first open-wheel race at Mont Tremblat since 1968. ... Last week's victory ended a 23-race winless streak for Tracy, whose previous victory came at Cleveland in 2005. ... Despite finishing 12th at Cleveland, Bourdais still leads the championship standings with 117 points, three more than Doornbos and 12 ahead of Will Power.

Next race: Grand Prix of Toronto, July 8.

INDYCARS

Site: Richmond, Va.

Schedule: Friday, qualifying, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, race (ESPN, 7:30 p.m.).

Track: Richmond International Raceway (D-shaped oval, 0.75 miles, 14 degrees banking in turns).

Race distance: 187.5 miles, 250 laps.

Last race: Points leader Dario Franchitti survived a slippery short oval and a furious late charge from teammate Marco Andretti to win the inaugural Iowa Corn Indy 250. Franchitti, whose other victory in 2007 came at the Indy 500, won by 0.0681 seconds. The win helped Franchitti open up a 51-point lead over Tony Kanaan in the points race.

Last year: Sam Hornish Jr. blew by teammate Helio Castroneves early in the race to win the SunTrust Indy Challenge

Fast facts: Franchitti has had podium finishes in five of the last six races, including two victories. ... Hornish has won this race twice. ... An accident knocked Danica Patrick out of last week's race. She finished a career-best third at Texas the previous week. ... Andretti's runner-up finish last week was his first inside the top 15 since placing fourth at St. Petersburg on April 1.

Next race: Watkins Glen Grand Prix, July 8, N.Y.

FORMULA ONE

Site: Magny-Cours

Schedule: Saturday, qualifying (Speed Channel, 8 a.m.); Sunday, race, 8 a.m. (FOX, 1 p.m., tape).

Track: Magny-Cours (road course, 17 turns, 2.641 miles).

Race distance: 184.87 miles, 70 laps.

Last race: Rookie sensation Lewis Hamilton did it again, racing to his second straight victory in the U.S. Grand Prix on June 17. The first black driver in F1's 61-year history has finished all seven races this season in the top three. He now leads Mercedes McLaren teammate and two-time world champion Fernando Alonso by 10 points in the standings.

Last year: Michael Schumacher won the French Grand Prix for a record eighth time. Schumacher finished 10 seconds ahead of Alonso. Felipe Massa, Schumacher's Ferrari teammate, was third.

Fast facts: Hamilton has seven consecutive top-three finishes - a first in F1 for a rookie. ... McLaren drivers have finished 1-2 three times this season. ... BMW Sauber's Sebastian Vettel, a 19-year-old rookie filling in for Robert Kubica, made his first F1 start at Indianapolis and finished eighth to earn a point. ... Nine machines used to move disabled cars at the U.S. Grand Prix have been sold to the government for delivery to the U.S. military in Iraq. The JCB loadalls, which can lift up to 8,000 pounds and are used in farming and construction, loaded disabled cars onto flatbed trucks during the race.

Next race: British Grand Prix, July 8, Silverstone, England

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