This Week In Auto Racing July 6 - July 8

This Week In Auto Racing July 6 - July 8

This Week In Auto Racing July 6 - July 8
July 3rd, 2007

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Another big week of racing highlighted by Saturday night's classic summer shootout at Daytona and a big F1 race at Silverstone.

NASCAR

Nextel Cup

Pepsi 400 - Daytona International Speedway - Daytona Beach, FL

Hendrick Motorsports gets a lot of well-deserved notoriety for winning so often, Joe Gibbs Racing is having a pretty good year, DEI has two very good drivers in Martin Truex Jr. and Dale Earnhardt Jr., but the team to watch this weekend in NASCAR's return to Daytona Beach just might be Richard Childress Racing.

In the season opener at Daytona, everyone remembers that RCR's Kevin Harvick outran Mark Martin on the final lap for the win. But RCR was more than a one- car team that day. Jeff Burton finished third and Clint Bowyer was headed for a top-10 finish before an accident left him sliding across the start/finish line on his roof.

Both Harvick and Burton have a victory this year which puts RCR in a tie for second place (Roush Fenway Racing also has two wins) in the wins category behind Hendrick Motorsports (10). All three RCR drivers are currently in the top-12 which means they are in line to make the "Chase for the Nextel Cup."

Jeff Burton is in fifth-place overall and just 18 points out of third. The South Boston, VA driver has nine top-10s in the 17 starts and a win in Texas. Had he not been the "gentleman driver" that he is, he probably would have had a second win at Bristol in the Food City 500.

Burton was second to eventual winner Kyle Busch when he chose not to use the "bump and run" technique so prevalent on short tracks and raced Busch cleanly. At the checkered flag he was 0.064 seconds or about eight feet short of the victory. Busch acknowledged it after the race.

"Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton there at the end really gave me a lot of room and I just want to thank them for letting me race."

"He has always driven me clean and I'm gonna drive him clean and that's the way we race," said Burton.

Last year Tony Stewart won the Pepsi 400. It was his second consecutive win in the mid-summer classic at Daytona. Only one driver has ever won three consecutive Pepsi 400 races. David Pearson won the July event from 1972-1974.

Pearson is always underrated when talking about NASCAR greats, but he was one of the top-three drivers all-time. The three-time series champion (1966, 1968, 1969) ranks second all-time in wins with 105, second in poles (113), fourth all-time in laps led (25,425) and sixth in races led (329). In the two-year span between 1968-69 Pearson won 27 times and also finished second 30 times.

"The Silver Fox" won the Firecracker 400 (now the Pepsi 400) an amazing five times.

"Writers were asking me last year who was the best driver I ever raced against," said "The King" Richard Petty in a 1993 Circle Track Magazine interview. "I told them David Pearson. David and I ran more firsts and seconds than anybody else, and we raced together on dirt tracks, superspeedways, road courses, big tracks and little tracks. It didn't make any difference, you had to beat him every week."

Stewart is that kind of driver. It doesn't matter whether he is climbing into a dirt track car, an IROC car or the COT, you will always get an honest effort.

Busch

Winn-Dixie 250 - Daytona International Speedway - Daytona Beach, FL

Though there have been 11 different winners halfway through 2007 NASCAR Busch Series season, one driver continues to dominate the championship.

Carl Edwards has earned four wins, 12 top-fives and 15 top-10s to construct an 809-point lead. The record winning margin all-time was set last year by Kevin Harvick - 824 points over Edwards. That record will be short-lived as Edwards will likely win by more than 1000 points.

Despite Edwards' dominant performance, there have been other drivers to make headlines.

Open-wheel driver Juan Montoya is making a successful crossover to NASCAR. He won his first race at Mexico City in the Busch Series road-course.

Stephen Leicht won at the Kentucky Speedway one year after David Gilliland shocked the world with a win that propelled him to the Nextel Cup Series.

Brad Coleman won a pole (Talladega) and finished second and fourth in his last two starts. Other relative newcomers winning poles were David Ragan and Regan Smith.

Defending series champion Harvick has had a pretty good time in the series, when he has raced. He sits third in the championship despite starting just 13 of the 17 events. Harvick has two wins and 11 top-10s.

Harvick's 28th career win last week in New Hampshire puts him within three wins of Jack Ingram for second-place all-time. Mark Martin holds the all-time Busch Series record with 47 wins.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. won last year's Winn-Sixie 250 edging Brian Vickers for the win.

There were 10 laps to go and Earnhardt Jr., Vickers and Harvick put about a four-car length lead on the pack. Clint Bowyer bridged the gap and caught the lead group with seven laps to go. It was a four-horse race to the checkered flag.

They stayed in line over the next few laps, preparing for the final charge to the finish line. With three laps to go and Jason Leffler spun out down the backstretch and set up a green-white-checker finish.

On the restart, Earnhardt Jr. fought off a couple of runs by Vickers, then pulled away to the final two-length margin.

"He must have had a fifth-gear in there somewhere because we had some good runs on him," said Vickers.

Unfortunately, the wrong Earnhardt is on the preliminary entry list. "Junior" is not planning to run while Kerry Earnhardt is on the list in the No.63 Spraker Racing Chevrolet.

Still, there are at least 18 other Nextel Cup drivers who hope to give Edwards a run for his money.

INDYCARS

Watkins Glen Indy Grand Prix - Watkins Glen International - Watkins Glen, NY

The 2007 IndyCar season began in March at the Homestead-Miami Speedway and the four-car Andretti Green Racing team was nowhere to be found. Dan Wheldon and Scott Dixon led a one-two sweep while the best AGR could muster was a fifth place by Tony Kanaan. Dario Franchitti was next best with a seventh-place finish while "media darlings" Danica Patrick (14th) and Marco Andretti (20th) were disappointing.

But by the third race at Twin Ring Motegi Kanaan had posted the team's first win and Franchitti finished a solid third.

Race five was Indianapolis and Franchitti benefited from a questionable call to restart the race with more rain on the way to win his first "500." However, even had the race not been restarted AGR would have been a winner. When the first rains came, Kanaan. Andretti and Patrick were sitting first through third.

"When we came here in 2002 we were in the middle of a very busy time with the Champ Car schedule," Franchitti said. "I didn't really get it...Gradually, the more time I've spent here, culminating in 2004 when we qualified on the front row, I said, 'OK, I'm starting to get this.' There's this desire you realize what it means to try to win the 500."

Since Indy, AGR drivers have gotten it, winning three of the four races and collecting seven top-fives.

Franchitti enters this week's race with a 65-point lead over Dixon and 72 points over both Wheldon and Kanaan.

"It's too early in the season to point race," said Franchitti. "I've just got to keep getting the maximum week in, week out."

Franchitti will have to do a lot better than last year when he was the last running car on the track finishing 16th.

Dixon won the race pretty easily, finishing 2.3311 seconds ahead of Vitor Meira. But the fans got some action when rain began to fall late in the race. First Kanaan, then Helio Castroneves did 360-degree spins. Tomas Scheckter also went for a slid.

The three leaders (Dixon, Meira and Ryan Briscoe) all gambled that they could make it without changing to rain tires. The race would restart, but shortened by time, would go just one lap under green. Dixon got the jump on Meira and the drivers on rain tires could never make a move on the three leaders.

Dixon also won this race in 2005.

This is race 10 of 17 and the second of five road-course events this season.

CHAMP CARS


Steelback Grand Prix of Toronto - Exhibition Place - Toronto, ON, Canada

In the second of three consecutive races north of the border, the Champ Car Series will race at Exhibition Place in Toronto, ON. It's a place that used to be the bailiwick of Michael Andretti.

The current IndyCar Series owner won the event a record seven times. But in the five years since his last win in 2001, the race has been won by five different drivers. A.J. Allmendinger won last year's event, but will obviously not be back to defend his title.

Still, 2003 winner Paul Tracy, 2004 winner Sebastien Bourdais and 2005 champion Justin Wilson will be on the starting grid.

Bourdais has never finished lower than fifth in four starts. The Frenchman has put up 145 points through the first six events, good enough for a tie for first place with Robert Doornbos.

Doornbos is finally getting to show what he can do when he gets in a competitive car.

The Rotterdam native never really got that chance when he drove for the non- competitive Formula One Minardi team in 2005 and Red Bull Racing in 2006. In 11 starts his best finish was 12th in 2006 at both China and Brazil.

Now with Minardi Team USA he has begun to show his talent. He opened his rookie Champ Car Series campaign with a second place at Las Vegas. Following his only bad outing at Long Beach (13th), Doornbos has found himself on the podium four consecutive times including a win last week at Mont-Tremblant.

At Mont-Tramblant, Doornbos survived slick, rainy conditions to take a 2.888- second win over Bourdais. Over the final laps, with the race on the line, Doornbos never made a mistake, never let Bourdais get close, and in fact built on his margin to the checkered flag.

"I was nervous because it's a new series, new circuits," said Doornbos. "I don't know the tracks. I don't know the drivers.

"Michael Cannon deserves all the credit, my engineer. He's helping me through the race. He has so much experience winning, running at the front. It makes life easy for me. I feel very comfortable. I feel that I'm in control."

For a first year driver to feel comfortable in just his sixth race is unusual to say the least.

Bourdais might just have a real fight for the title this year.

FORMULA ONE

British Grand Prix - Silverstone Grand Prix Circuit - Silverstone, England

While the Grand Prix of Monaco is the most prestigious on the Formula One racing schedule, this week's race at Silverstone might be the most important in regards to the drivers championship.

Despite Ferrari winning four of the first eight races, the season to date has been dominated by McLaren Mercedes.

McLaren rookie driver Lewis Hamilton leads the series with 64 points, eight consecutive podium finishes, and two wins (Montreal, Indy). Behind him in the standings is two-time World Champion Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard is 14 points behind Hamilton, also has two wins and scored points in all eight races.

But after two sub par races in North America, Ferrari came back with a vengeance at Magny-Cours.

Ferrari's Felipe Massa started on the pole while teammate Kimi Raikkonen started a close third. At the drop of the green flag, Raikkonen flew around Hamilton for second place and the two Ferraris powered away from the field.

It was all Ferrari and the race was decided with two pit stops each of which Raikkonen got the better of Massa. When Raikkonen returned to the track after his final stop ahead of Massa, the race was effectively over and the Finn won for the first time since the season opener in Australia.

The one-two Ferrari finish has re-ignited hopes of chasing down Hamilton and Alonso as the series arrives at the Silverstone Grand Prix Circuit.

"Ferrari are quick, but I think we can take it to them at the next race," said Hamilton, who hails from nearby Stevenage, England. "We are competitive and consistent. I know we'll be quicker."

In France, Ferrari was quicker.

"We are definitely much happier with the car since the last test," said Raikkonen. "In the last races we just couldn't get it together. I think it seems to have good speed now so we must keep it up in the next races."

If Ferrari can show again this week that they have the speed to stay with or beat McLaren, then it should be quite a battle over the final weeks. However, if McLaren steps up and proves that France was just a one-time setback then we might be store for more of their early season dominance.

Silverstone seems to be the key to what will happen over the second half of the F1 championship.

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Re: This Week In Auto Racing July 6 - July 8

Pepsi 400 - Daytona International Speedway

Schedule: Friday, qualifying (Speed Channel, 4 p.m.); Saturday, race (TNT, 6:30 p.m.).

Track: Daytona International Speedway (tri-oval, 2.5 miles, 31 degrees banking in turns).

Race distance: 400 miles, 160 laps.

Last race: A two-tire gamble for Denny Hamlin paid off with his first Nextel Cup victory of the season at New Hampshire International Speedway. Hamlin edged Jeff Gordon by 0.068 seconds - less than a car length.

Last year: Tony Stewart was back to his on-track dominance and off-track hijinks, winning his second straight Pepsi 400 by charging to the lead with two laps to go. He then celebrated with his trademark climbing of the fence. Stewart led more than half the event, surged back in front with two laps remaining and held off a late charge from Kyle and Kurt Busch. The Busch brothers finished second and third.

Fast facts: Kevin Harvick won the season-opening Daytona 500 on Feb. 18, but is winless in a Cup points race since then. ... Jeff Gordon finished second at New Hampshire, Dale Earnhardt Jr. fourth and Jimmie Johnson fifth despite having their crew chiefs suspended six races last week for inspection violations. ... The race was lengthened to 400 miles in 1963. ... Tony Eury Jr. has served his six-race suspension and will return calling the shots for Dale Earnhardt Jr. this week. An illegal rear wing was found on the DEI No. 8 at the Dodge Avenger 500 in Darlington, S.C.


Winn-Dixie 250 - Daytona International Speedway

Schedule: Friday, qualifying (ESPN2, 1 p.m.), race (ESPN2, 7:30 p.m.).

Track: Daytona International Speedway (tri-oval, 2.5 miles, 31 degrees banking in turns).

Race distance: 250 miles, 100 laps.

Last race: Kevin Harvick held off a late challenge by Carl Edwards to grab his second Busch victory of the season at New Hampshire International Speedway.

Last year: Dale Earnhardt Jr. returned to Daytona's Victory Lane for the first time in more than two years, winning the Winn-Dixie 250. Earnhardt took the lead early and dominated the rest of the way, holding off Brian Vickers after a late restart. Earnhardt led 88 of 103 laps and picked up his 21st Busch victory, tying his late father and Harry Gant for seventh on the career list.

Fast facts: Edwards has an 809-point lead over David Reutimann in the standings. ... Harvick won the season-opening Orbitz 300 at Daytona on Feb. 17 after placing third in this event last year. ...Cup drivers swept the top 10 places last weekend. ... Chad Little set a Busch record by winning the 1995 event from the 42nd starting position.


Steelback Grand Prix of Toronto - Exhibition Place
Track: Exhibition Place (temporary road course, 1.755 miles, 11 turns).

Race distance: Undetermined, timed race (1 hour, 45 minutes).

Last race: Robert Doornbos drove to his first career win at the inaugural Champ Car Mont-Tremblant, but it was marred by poor sportsmanship. Sebastien Bourdais, the three-time defending champion, finished second and claimed Doornbos blocked him during the race. Bourdais was booed by some in the crowd when his finishing position was announced following the race and he refused to shake Doornbos' hand on the podium.

Last year: A.J. Allmendinger, the only American driver in the series, won the Molson Grand Prix of Toronto for his third victory in a row, the first U.S.-born driver to accomplish that feat since Al Unser Jr. in 1994.

Fast facts: Doornbos has four top-three finishes in six races. He and Bourdais are tied atop the standings with 145 points... During the 2005 event, Canadian Paul Tracy was involved in an early crash with Bourdais, continued on without his left front wing and was leading until he ran out of gas and quit the race. Tracy is a two-time winner (1993 and 2003) of this race. ... The first Molson Indy took place in 1986 before a sold-out crowd of 60,000.


Watkins Glen Indy Grand Prix - Watkins Glen International

Schedule: Saturday, qualifying, 1:30 p.m.; Sunday, race (ABC, 3:30 p.m.).

Track: Watkins Glen International (permanent road course, 3.4 miles, 11 turns).

Race distance: 204 miles, 60 laps.

Last race: Pole-sitter Dario Franchitti led all but nine laps and held off Scott Dixon and Dan Wheldon with the help of a late caution, giving the points leader his first IndyCar Series victory at Richmond. It was his third victory of the season and eighth straight top-five finish, and made him the second consecutive winner at Richmond to set a record by leading the most laps in series history (241).

Last year: Scott Dixon won a slippery battle of attrition that took Marco Andretti and several others, holding off Vitor Meira and Ryan Briscoe in a one-lap shootout to capture the Indy Grand Prix at Watkins Glen for the second straight year.

Fast facts: Franchitti padded his lead in the standings to 65 points over Dixon. Wheldon and Tony Kanaan are 72 back. ... Danica Patrick has five top-10 finishes in her last six starts. ... Inclement weather canceled both qualifying sessions in this event's history.


British Grand Prix - Silverstone Grand Prix Circuit

Track: Silverstone Circuit (road course, 3.194 miles, 14 turns).

Race distance: 191.64 miles, 60 laps.

Last race: Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa gave Ferrari a sweep of the top two places at the French Grand Prix, ending McLaren's winning streak at three Formula One races. The Finn finished the 2.74-mile circuit in 1 hour, 30 minutes, 54.200 seconds. Massa, a Brazilian, was nearly 2 1/2 seconds behind.

Last year: Fernando Alonso won the British Grand Prix, his third straight victory and fifth of 2006.

Fast facts: It was the first Ferrari victory since Massa won at Spain in May. ... Massa won his fourth pole of the season and the seventh of his career at Magny-Cours. He had three straight earlier this season. ... Lewis Hamilton was third for McLaren, 32 seconds behind the winner. Hamilton, a Briton who won the previous two races in Canada and the U.S., now has eight straight top-three finishes in his rookie season - two wins, four seconds and two thirds - to lead the standings with 64 points. ... The Silverstone track was built on a World War II airfield

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Re: This Week In Auto Racing July 6 - July 8

Bourdais on pole in Toronto
July 7th, 2007

Toronto, Canada (Sports Network) - Sebastien Bourdais won Saturday's Champ Car final qualifying session for the Steelback Grand Prix of Toronto on the city streets. The No.1 Newman/Haas/Lanigan driver circled the 1.755-mile, 11-turn temporary street course in 58.288 seconds (108.393 m.p.h.) barely beating Justin Wilson

The pole win earned the three-time series champion his second championship point of the weekend. The Frenchman has never finished lower than fifth in four starts in Toronto, which includes a win in 2004.

The pole victory was Bourdais' third of the season and 28th of his Champ Car career.

Wilson (58.299) will start on the front row with Bourdais.

Oriol Servia (58.661) and Simon Pagenaud (58.664) will make up row two.

Robert Doornbos, who is tied for the points lead with Bourdais, struggled to a 12th-place finish. Despite the bad starting spot, he is finally getting to show what he can do when he gets in a competitive car.

The Rotterdam native never really got that chance when he drove for the non- competitive Formula One Minardi team in 2005 and Red Bull Racing in 2006. In 11 starts his best finish was 12th in 2006 at both China and Brazil.

Now with Minardi Team USA he has begun to show his talent. He opened his rookie Champ Car Series campaign with a second place at Las Vegas. Following his only bad outing at Long Beach (13th), Doornbos has found himself on the podium four consecutive times, including a win last week at Mont-Tremblant.

The race is set to drop the green flag on Sunday at 1 p.m.

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Hamilton takes pole position for British Grand Prix in first F1 race at Silverstone
July 7, 2007

SILVERSTONE, England (AP) -Lewis Hamilton moved a big step closer to becoming the first Englishman since Damon Hill in 1994 to win the British Grand Prix.

Hamilton took the pole position Saturday for his first Formula One race in his homeland, and later attributed his success to the support of the crowd at the Silverstone circuit.

``You definitely get a confidence boost and you feel the support,'' he said. ``It is not just a certain group of people in the stands or certain places. Here it is the whole grandstand. It's been fantastic and I really do appreciate the support.

``To see the amount of support I get and see the flags waving. I get a big buzz from that and get a lot of energy.''

Hamilton had a fastest lap of 1 minute, 19.997 seconds in his McLaren on the 3.2-mile circuit as time ran out in the qualifying session, edging Kimi Raikkonen of Ferrari by 0.102 seconds.

Hamilton now will try to extend his perfect eight-for-eight streak of top-three finishes in his rookie F1 season. He leads the driver standings with 64 points, 14 ahead of Fernando Alonso and 17 in front of Felipe Massa with nine races remaining.

``It was an extremely tense qualifying session. It was all down to the last lap,'' Hamilton said. ``I really had to pull it all out. I came to the first corner and I tried to do it quicker than ever and tried to maintain that pace.''

Two-time defending Formula One champion Alonso was third for McLaren in 1:20.147. Massa was fourth for Ferrari in 1:20.265.

It was the third pole this season for Hamilton - after the races in Canada and the United States, both of which he went on to win - and he received a huge ovation from the packed stands as he came back to the pits.

``I saw the reaction of the fans. It was a great buzz,'' Hamilton said. ``I nearly lost my voice. I came across the line and I was screaming just as loud as them. I turned the radio off and shouted 'Yes!'' I was shouting all the way around. It's a long lap.''

Last year, Alonso won the pole and the race in the middle of a string of victories to establish a big lead in the standings.

Raikkonen, who won last week's French GP, was the fastest in practice Saturday before qualifying and in one of Friday's two sessions. He said he made a mistake on the final turn.

``I just ran wide onto the grass,'' Raikkonen said. ``There is nothing we can change anymore. Hopefully we can get the good start. It's a long race.''

Sunday's 60-lap race will mark the first time Raikkonen is starting on the front row since the opening race of the season, when he won the Australian GP from the pole. Last week, the Finn started from third and overtook Hamilton on the first lap and Massa at the second pit stop to win in France.

Alonso struggled in Friday's practice sessions, finishing fourth and sixth.

``Yesterday, I wasn't quite happy with the car. Overnight we did some changes,'' Alonso said. ``The car was really different and I was able to enjoy the lap. Today, I found a pretty different car and much quicker.''

Hamilton also had some problems.

``Throughout the weekend, I have been struggling to fine tune the car,'' Hamilton said. ``I have been losing two-tenths (of a second) in the first sector, especially to Fernando.''

The battle for supremacy between Ferrari and McLaren has been overshadowed this week by sabotage allegations, which involved another team on Friday.

FIA, motor sport's governing body, plans to hold an investigation after Ferrari fired technician Nigel Stepney for allegedly sending a package of technical information to McLaren employee Mike Coughlan.

Honda released a statement stating that team boss Nick Fry had met Stepney and Coughlan, who has been suspended by McLaren, in June to discuss job opportunities at Honda.

``Honda would like to stress that at no point during the meeting was any confidential information offered or received,'' the statement said. ``Nick Fry informed (Ferrari boss) Jean Todt and (McLaren boss) Ron Dennis of the meeting and has offered to provide any information required by Ferrari and McLaren.''

Police searched Stepney's home in Italy on June 21 and again on Thursday. He was also officially informed he was under investigation after returning to Italy from the Philippines late Thursday.

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