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This Week in Auto Racing July 13 - July 15

This Week in Auto Racing July 13 - July 15

This Week in Auto Racing July 13 - July 15
July 11th, 2007

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - As the "Chase for the Nextel Cup" gets closer the races get more and more important. The IndyCar race at the Nashville Superspeedway will also be important as drivers try to figure a way to slow the Franchitti juggernaut.


Nextel Cup

USG Sheetrock 400 - Chicagoland Speedway - Joliet, IL

Jeff Gordon was sitting in 12th place in the standings when the series last stepped onto the Chicagoland Speedway track. It was one of the few tracks in the series where the four-time series champion had never won.

But Gordon ended his Joliet, IL winless streak and climbed into the top-10. He has been in the top-10 ever since - 37 weeks. It is the second longest active streak in Nextel Cup behind the 44-week streak by Jeff Burton. (The all-time record is held by Dale Earnhardt - 174 weeks from 1986 - 1992.)

Both drivers were there at the finish line of the 2006 USG Sheetrock 400.

Matt Kenseth pulled away after he fought back a passing attempt by Gordon on the restart and held 1.484-seconds over the No.24 Chevrolet with 20 laps remaining. Burton was three seconds back.

Gordon posted five consecutive fastest laps, but was still one second back with 15 miles remaining. He was right on Kenseth's rear bumper with five laps to go and on the next lap he tapped Kenseth's bumper and sent the No.17 Ford spinning.

"I got in there real hard, he blocked me a little bit a couple of times," said Gordon. "I jumped back in the gas and I don't know if Casey (Mears) sitting on the outside made him hesitate, but I was just trying to get the best run I could."

"I know it was intentional," said Kenseth afterwards.

Gordon inherited the lead as Kenseth gathered himself and returned to the track in eighth place. But half-a-lap later he ran out of fuel and coasted down pit lane.

The race would finish under a green-white-checker, but the question wasn't could anyone catch Gordon, it was whether they had enough fuel to reach the checkered flag. Gordon did and won the race. Burton did too and took home second place.

Gordon has been almost perfect in 2007 winning four times and posting 16 top-10s in 18 starts. Even after being penalized 100 points for a COT infraction, Gordon owns a 277-point lead over Denny Hamlin. With just eight races left before the start of the "Chase for the Nextel Cup," Gordon can coast into the "playoffs." He is 733 points ahead of 12th-place Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Also safely ensconced in the "Chase" are Hamlin, Kenseth, 2006 Nextel Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, Burton and Carl Edwards.

The final six playoff positions are being contested by 11 drivers. Currently, two-time Nextel Cup champion Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch, Daytona 500 winner Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Clint Bowyer and Earnhardt Jr. hold the positions. But Jamie McMurray, winner of last week's race in Daytona, is just 49 points back. The win was his first in 166 starts.

"That guy (McMurray) works as hard or harder than anybody down here; he deserves it," said Edwards, his teammate at Roush Racing.

Also within striking distance are Ryan Newman (-61), Kurt Busch (-121), Greg Biffle (-204) and J.J. Yeley (-236).


USG Durock 300 - Chicagoland Speedway - Joliet, IL

This week's Busch Series race at Chicagoland is likely to see a first-time winner make the turn into Victory Lane. In six previous races, there have been four first-time winners.

In 2001, Jimmie Johnson won the only Busch race of his career. The next year, Johnny Sauter held off late charges from Todd Bodine and Jeff Burton. Skip to 2004 and Justin Labonte won his first and only Busch race squeezing out every drop of fuel to get to the checkered flag.

Casey Mears became the fourth member of the club one year ago when he beat Carl Edwards to the checkers. The No.60 Ford was 2.097 seconds back with 13 laps to go and Mears in "fuel conservation mode."

But Mears must have seen Edwards coming and stepped it up and the margin actually increased with 10 laps to go. It was still 1.808 seconds with just six miles to go. Mears cruised to the checkered flag without challenge, earned his first-ever Busch win and ran out of fuel on the victory lap.

A possible choice for this year's first-timer would be Brad Keselowski. After a great run substituting for Ted Musgrave in a Craftsman Truck race, he will get a shot behind the wheel of Jr. Motorsports' No.88 U.S. Navy Chevrolet.

The 24-year-old made 13 starts for a smaller team - Keith Coleman Racing before it suspended its operations. When Musgrave was suspended for one race because of an on-track incident, Keselowski finally got the chance to compete in a top quality, competitive truck.

Keselowski won the pole, led four different times for a total of 62 laps and contended for the win.

"I've watched Brad for a while and he's shown a lot of promise in the few Busch races he's run," said Earnhardt Jr. on the team's website. "He became available at a time when we were looking to make some changes to our program and everything just lined up for us to put him in the Navy Chevrolet for the next three races."

Edwards is the man to beat in 2007 as he jogs to his first Busch Series championship. On the back of 15 top-10s and a series-leading four wins, Edwards has a stranglehold on the driving title - by 798 points. The all-time winning margin is 824 points which Kevin Harvick set last year.


Built Ford Tough 225 - Kentucky Speedway - Sparta, KY

Travis Kvapil won the race two week's ago, but he didn't gain much on the leader Mike Skinner or second-place Ron Hornaday, Skinner finished fourth and Hornaday Jr. came across the stripe in third place.

Skinner's lead is 103 points on Hornaday Jr., 228 points on defending series champion Todd Bodine and 263 points on Kvapil.

The No.5 Toyota has built the lead with consistency. It is what NASCAR values the most. Skinner has put up 12 top-10s in 12 starts, winning three times. He leads the series not only in points, but also in winnings ($392,875), laps led (654), poles (7), top-fives (10) and driver rating (122.9).

Last year, Hornaday Jr. won the race and it helped him put together a three- race streak of top-fives. He faded down the stretch, but this year he has been in contention all season long.

"The win at Kentucky was very special," said Hornaday, who has 31 wins and two titles in his Craftsman career. "It really signified a turnaround in our program. To beat my competitors in that race was huge. It helped change our outlook and our program.

"When Rick (Ren - crew chief) arrived, he took a good team and made it better. He has such an attention to detail and is so focused and driven."

Skinner was the leader of last year's race with 21 laps to go, but he got into a scuffle with Dennis Setzer that sent him into the wall. Hornaday Jr. inherited the lead. The "King of Restarts" did his job and was never challenged on the way to the win.


Firestone Indy 200 - Nashville Superspeedway - Lebanon, TN

Dario Franchitti has been great all season and it shows in the standings. He has three wins, including the Indianapolis 500, and has yet to finish below seventh. Franchitti has been even better over the last three weeks winning two times and finishing third in the other.

Franchitti has taken a close championship race that had at least six drivers thinking titles and turned it into a two-man, maybe a three-man, race.

The Edinburgh, Scotland native owns a 47-point lead over Target Chip Ganassi's Scott Dixon. Franchitti's Andretti Green Racing teammate Tony Kanaan is in third place, 75 points back.

Dixon won last week's road course race at Watkins Glen, his third in a row at the upstate New York site. He has eight top-fives so far this year.

Kanaan, the 2004 IndyCar Series champion, has been up and down this year. He has earned two wins, and seven top-fives, but he also has finished outside the top-10 three times.

Kanaan also made headlines last week when he got into it after the race with Sam Hornish Jr. Both Team Penske and AGR were fined $25,000 for the incident, the drivers were fined an undisclosed amount and Hornish Jr.'s father, who got physical with Kanaan, will not be allowed in the pit area for one race.

"We are disappointed in the actions of the drivers, the team members and the non-team members involved in the incident," said Brian Barnhart, president of the racing and operations division for the Indy Racing League."

Dixon is the defending champion at the Nashville Superspeedway.

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Re: This Week in Auto Racing July 13 - July 15

USG Sheetrock 400 - Chicagoland Speedway - Joliet, IL

Schedule: Friday, qualifying (Speed Channel, 4 p.m.); Sunday, race (TNT, 2:30 p.m.).

Track: Chicagoland Speedway (tri-oval, 1.5 miles, 18 degrees banking in turns).

Race distance: 400 miles, 267 laps.

Last race: Jamie McMurray ended a 166-race winless streak in dramatic fashion, rallying from 35th after an early penalty for driving below the yellow line to set up a drag race with Kyle Busch to the finish of the Pepsi 400. The two raced side by side for most of the final two laps around Daytona International Speedway, and McMurray nosed across the finish line a mere 0.005 seconds ahead of Busch.

Last year: Jeff Gordon spun out Matt Kenseth with four laps to go, then held on to win the USG Sheetrock 400. Fans showered the track with debris after the race, an apparent protest of Gordon's racing tactics. Gordon and Kenseth tangled earlier in 2006 during a race at Bristol Motor Speedway, causing Gordon to shove Kenseth after the race. Kenseth and David Stremme then crashed on the way to the start/finish line, sending Kenseth spinning again at the finish.

Fast facts: McMurray is now 13th in the standings, 49 points shy of the final Chase for the Championship slot. He gained 135 points on 12th-place Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was knocked out of last week's race after an accident. ... Gordon has been among the top-10 in the standings for 37 weeks, the second longest active streak in the Nextel Cup. Jeff Burton has been there for 44 straight weeks. ... Kenseth was the top laps leader in each of the last two Chicagoland races, but didn't record a victory in either. ... Jimmie Johnson hasn't finished worse than sixth in any of his five career starts at Joliet. ... A Chevrolet has won five of the six races held at Chicagoland.

Next race: Allstate 400 at the Brickyard, July 29, Indianapolis.

USG Durock 300 - Chicagoland Speedway - Joliet, IL

Schedule: Saturday, qualifying (ESPN2, 11 a.m.), race (ABC, 3 p.m.).

Track: Chicagoland Speedway (tri-oval, 1.5 miles, 18 degrees banking in turns).

Race distance: 300 miles, 200 laps.

Last race: A risky maneuver propelled Kyle Busch to the front and eventually to his first NASCAR victory at Daytona International Speedway - a win in the rain-delayed Winn-Dixie 250. Busch saw several cars clustered around the inside lane and another one crawling along in the outside lane. He swerved right, drove through the grass, passed several cars and took the lead coming off pit road. NASCAR officials reviewed the move, but decided not to penalize Busch.

Last year: Casey Mears squirted away on a restart with 28 laps to go, then cruised to victory in the USG Durock 300.

Fast facts: NASCAR has determined the springs it confiscated from the No. 5 Chevrolet of Busch after last week's race at Daytona International Speedway are legal. ... The top eight spots at Daytona went to Nextel Cup regulars. ... Mears, Justin Labonte, Johnny Sauter and Jimmie Johnson all picked up their first career Busch wins at Chicagoland. There has not been a two-time winner at the track. ... Series leader Carl Edwards has top-five finishes in both of his Busch starts at Joliet.

Next race: Gateway 250, July 21, Madison, Ill.

Built Ford Tough 225 - Kentucky Speedway - Sparta, KY

Schedule: Saturday, qualifying, 4 p.m., race (Speed Channel, 7:30 p.m.).

Track: Kentucky Speedway (oval, 1.5 miles, 14 degrees banking in turns).

Race distance: 225 miles, 150 laps.

Last race: Travis Kvapil passed a spinning Brad Keselowski with nine laps to go and pulled away on the restart to capture the O'Reilly 200 at Memphis, Tenn., his second win in three weeks.

Last year: Ron Hornaday Jr. started 22nd, but extended his career wins to a series-record 29 by taking the Built Ford Tough 225.

Fast facts: Hornaday has finished outside the top 10 only once through the first 12 races. He was 11th in Atlanta on March 16. ... There has yet to be a multiple winner in this race. ... Kentucky Speedway filed a lawsuit in July 2005 against NASCAR and International Speedway Corp., alleging the companies have violated federal antitrust laws by illegally restricting the awarding of Nextel Cup races. ... Aaron Fike and his fiancee were released Tuesday after spending the weekend in jail on drug charges, Fike's attorney said. Fike drives the No. 1 Toyota Tundra for Red Horse Racing and is ranked eighth in the point standings this week.

Next race: Power Stroke Diesel 200, July 27, Indianapolis.

Firestone Indy 200 - Nashville Superspeedway - Lebanon, TN
Schedule: Friday, qualifying, 6:15 p.m.; Saturday, race (ESPN, 7:30 p.m.).

Track: Nashville Superspeedway (tri-oval, 1.33 miles, 14 degrees banking in turns).

Race distance: 266 miles, 200 laps.

Last race: Scott Dixon regained the lead after a fast pit stop on lap 45 and held off Sam Hornish Jr., series leader Dario Franchitti, Tony Kanaan and Marco Andretti over the final 14 laps to win the Watkins Glen Grand Prix. It was Dixon's third straight victory at the 3.4-mile, 11-turn natural road course in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York and seventh of his IndyCar Series career.

Last year: Dixon held off Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Dan Wheldon in the final laps and won at Nashville Superspeedway.

Fast facts: Kanaan and Hornish have been fined unspecified amounts and placed on probation for the rest of the year for their roles in a fight at Watkins Glen, the IRL announced Tuesday. Kanaan's team, Andretti Green Racing, and Hornish's team, Team Penske, were fined $25,000 each for unsportsmanlike conduct on pit road as the cars returned after the checkered flag. The teams are also on probation until Dec. 31. ... Franchitti, finished third at Watkins Glen and hasn't finished lower than seventh in the first 10 races of the season. Dixon cut into Franchitti's big lead, but still trails the Scotsman by 47 points. ... Buddy Rice will be seeking his fifth straight top-10 finish this weekend. ... This is the only track on the circuit with a concrete surface.

Next race: Honda 200, July 22, Lexington, Ohio

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