This Week in Auto Racing July 20 - July 22

This Week in Auto Racing July 20 - July 22

This Week in Auto Racing July 20 - July 22
July 17th, 2007

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - With Nextel Cup racing getting a rare weekend off, it gives open-wheel racing a chance to shine. The best race of the weekend should be at the Nurburgring where Ferrari and McLaren will fight it out for F1 supremacy.

NASCAR

Busch

Gateway 250 - Gateway International Raceway - Madison, IL

Though Carl Edwards lost 82 points off his Busch Series lead, it is hardly time to panic. The No.60 Roush Racing Ford driver still holds an absurd 716- point lead over Kevin Harvick in the standings and is threatening to break Harvick's all-time winning margin (824 points) which he set just last year.

Edwards had a rare stumble on his way to the 2007 Busch Series title last week in Chicagoland. He was fighting among the leaders for most of the race until a late race penalty left him outside the top-20.

But the 2006 Busch Series runner-up will likely rebound at the Gateway International Raceway where he will be the defending race champion.

In that race Denny Hamlin had the dominant car for most of the evening, leading a race-high 169 laps, but Edwards led the final nine en route to a 5.658-second victory.

On lap 154 Clint Bowyer joined Hamlin and Edwards to create a three-way race for first. The top-three drivers opened up a seven-second lead over the rest of the field. Then Hamlin pulled away from Edwards when Edwards made a mental mistake by missing the entry to pit lane. Bowyer took over second as Edwards finally made his pit stop on lap 178. Seven laps later Bowyer made his last pit stop of the night.

While Hamlin stayed on the track, Edwards, on fresh tires, was able to make up for his error. On lap 187 Hamlin finally came in for his last stop and he chose to take fuel only to keep his lead. When he returned to the track the margin was 2.196 second over Edwards. The No.60 Ford quickly caught up to Hamlin and with just nine laps to go Edwards passed Hamlin on the outside for the lead. Edwards pulled away from Hamlin as the laps dwindled down and after 200 laps of racing Edwards cruised past the finish line victorious.

Over the first 20 events of 2007, Edwards has fashioned his 716-point lead from four wins, 12 top-5s and 15 top-10s.

On the other hand, had Harvick raced the complete schedule the numbers say he would be leading. Harvick has made 15 start and won three times. His 13 top-10s, despite five fewer starts, is second only to Edwards. Edwards is averaging 153.7 points per race, while Harvick is slightly better earning 157.2 points per race.

But Harvick made the decision before the season that he couldn't race full- time in the Busch Series. He has stuck to his decision and the result is that Edwards will cruise to his first Busch Series championship.

INDYCARS

The Honda 200 at Mid-Ohio - Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course - Lexington, OH

For the second time in three weeks the IndyCar Series will take the show to a street course.

That's good news for Scott Dixon, No.9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing, who so far this year has a win (Watkins Glen) and a second place (St. Petersburg) in two road course starts. It's not a fluke either. In 2006 Dixon earned a first, second and fourth in the three road course events.

Dixon seeks to improve on last year's fourth-place overall finish. In 2006 he collected two wins and nine top-fives. He already has those numbers in 2007 with still six races left on the schedule and is working on a two-race win streak.

"To come back and repeat at both (Watkins Glen and Nashville) is fantastic," said Dixon. "To be honest, things seem to come a little easier for me. I think it is a confidence level. Coming into these two races that were back to back, we've proven ourselves (at Nashville) last year, so you do come into a race weekend with more confidence. That's really all I can put it down to.

The New Zealand native is one of six drivers who has raced on the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The IndyCar driver with the most success on the 2.258-mile circuit is Helio Castroneves. In four CART starts between 1998-2001 the Brazilian collected three top-10s including back-to-back wins in 2000 and 2001.

Series points leader Dario Franchitti has made the most starts at Mid-Ohio, but has little success to show for it. In six starts, Franchitti has just one top-10 (third in 1999) and finished 16th or lower four times.

But this is a different Franchitti than we have seen before. In posting 11 top-10s in 11 starts, the Edinburgh, Scotland driver has learned how to compete even when he doesn't have the best race car and is looking at the big picture.

"The position that Scott and I are in, obviously being up at the front in the fight for the championship maybe changes it (the thought process)," said Dixon. "Take Marco (Andretti), for instance, who I believe can win week in, week out, has the pace and the talent to do that, and the car to do that. Right now he's just looking to win races. So there's a situation right now, earlier on I backed off rather than trying and make the big outside pass. Marco would have kept his foot on it or certainly Dan (Wheldon) did, because Dan is not really in the fight for the championship right now."

Franchitti has collect four consecutive podium finishes to carve out a 34- point lead over Dixon (434-400) and 97 over teammate Dan Wheldon.

Sam Hornish Jr., not known for his road-course prowess, finished a solid second two weeks ago at Watkins Glen and is expecting good things in IndyCars' first visit to Mid-Ohio.

"I'm looking forward to heading to Mid-Ohio as I think we've got a great opportunity ahead of us after that second-place finish at Watkins Glen," said Hornish Jr., who used to come the 90 miles from his home in Defiance, OH to watch the CART races with his dad.

"I was too little to see over everyone else, so I sat on the top of the fence pole all day long watching the cars go by and thinking how cool that would be to someday drive there," said Hornish Jr.

How cool would it be if he actually won the race?

CHAMP CARS

Rexall Grand Prix of Edmonton - JAGflo Speedway - Edmonton, Canada

As the series heads to Edmonton for the Rexall Grand Prix of Edmonton the championship has become a three-man race. Rookie Robert Doornbos leads the way with 164 points and the former Minardi F1 driver has looked solid all season long.

Doornbos has one win (Mont Tremblant), six top-six finishes and only once (Long Beach) has he finished outside the top-10.

Behind Doornbos is Will Power (162) and three-time Champ Car Series champion Sebastien Bourdais (161). Power won the last time the series was on the track two weeks ago in Toronto when he was able to navigate the slippery streets of the Toronto course better than anyone else.

"I'm very happy for the team," said Power. "This is exactly what we needed points-wise, and also for Sebastien not to finish, that really helps us in the championship."

Behind the top-three drivers is Justin Wilson (138), who is attempting to bridge the gap and join the chase. Over the last four weeks he has cut the margin from 36 points to just 23.

In last year's race on the 1.973-mile road course it was Wilson who outlasted Bourdais for the victory. Wilson had a big lead when a caution flag let Bourdais get right onto his rear bumper.

The race would get back underway with 16 laps to go and the two clearly best cars took off down the track, but Nelson Philippe slammed a tire barrier in turn seven and brought out another caution flag. That would leave Bourdais just 13 laps to make a move past Wilson.

Again Wilson and Bourdais quickly put more than one second between themselves and third-place A.J. Allmendinger.

Despite being on harder tires and having less "push-to-pass" Wilson was doggedly hanging on to the top spot and in fact with eight laps to go the margin had ballooned to 2.5 seconds. Bourdais could do nothing with Wilson and he went on to win the race without serious challenge.

If Wilson can repeat that performance, he could turn the championship race into a foursome.

FORMULA ONE

Grand Prix of Europe - Nurburgring - Nurburging, Germany

While Ferrari drivers have won five of the nine Formula One races in 2007 they still find themselves trailing McLaren in every other category.

McLaren's fabulous rookie Lewis Hamilton is the series points leader having won twice (Canada, United States) and been on the podium in all nine races. Hamilton's teammate, two-time F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso, is second overall with two wins and six podiums. As a team, McLaren owns a 25-point lead over Ferrari in the manufacturer's championship (128-103).

Yet there is still reason for optimism at Ferrari. While the Ferrari lacked the speed in the two North American races, when the series returned to Europe their speed miraculously returned.

At Magny-Cours it was all Ferrari as Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa swept to a one-two finish. The series next went to Silverstone and again Raikkonen led the way, looking for all the world like the driver that Ferrari had wanted to see all season.

Raikkonen's two-race win steak coincides with a cutting remark from Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo

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

Apparently the words were taken to heart as Raikkonen has awaken to become the man Ferrari expected and the team is right back in the title chase.

"It was great to win two races in a row, the team and I needed that," the Finn said on Ferrari's official website. "It's time to succeed. The second part of the championship has begun and you can see how the performance pendulum is easily swinging from one side to the other."

Now it's the Grand Prix of Europe at the famed Nurburgring. In 2006, Michael Schumacher took it to Alonso (driving for Renault) for the victory. Massa finished third and Raikkonen fourth.

It should be quite a show this Sunday and if Ferrari continues to improve over the second half of the season the championship could be one of the best shows in years.

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Re: This Week in Auto Racing July 20 - July 22

AUTO RACING PACKAGE: Auto Racing Glance
July 18, 2007


Gateway 250 - Gateway International Raceway - Madison, IL

Schedule: Saturday, qualifying (ESPN2, 4:30 p.m.), race (ESPN2, 8 p.m.).

Track: Gateway International Raceway (egg-shaped oval, 1.25 miles, 11 degrees banking in turns 1-2, 9 degrees in turns 3-4).

Race distance: 250 miles, 200 laps.

Last race: Kevin Harvick won at Chicagoland, his fourth overall victory at the seven-year-old track on the outskirts of Chicago. Harvick drew side-by-side with Jeff Burton with 28 laps to go, then pulled past to assume the lead for good one lap later.

Last year: Carl Edwards overtook Denny Hamlin with nine laps left and held on to win the Busch Silver Celebration 250 at Gateway.

Fast facts: Edwards still holds a 716-point lead over Harvick, who will not compete in this race. ... Reed Sorenson's last Busch win came in the 2005 event. He finished fourth last year. ... There has not been a repeat winner at Gateway since Harvick in 2000-01.

Next race: Kroger 200, July 28, Indianapolis.


Rexall Grand Prix of Edmonton - JAGflo Speedway - Edmonton, Canada

Schedule: Friday, qualifying, 5 p.m.; Saturday, qualifying, 4 p.m.; Sunday, race (ESPN, 3 p.m.).

Track: JAGflo Speedway at City Center Airport (temporary street course, 1.973 miles, 14 turns).

Race distance: 172.48 miles, 88 laps.

Last race: Australian Will Power drove from fourth to first in 14 laps, finally splashing past rookie Ryan Dalziel to take the lead with 23 minutes to go, and went on to an easy victory in the messy Steelback Grand Prix of Toronto on July 8.

Last year: Justin Wilson bounced back from a disappointing finish in the previous season's Edmonton Grand Prix to pull away at the end for his first victory of 2006. The 27-year-old Englishman lost a shot at victory when he crashed on a restart late in the 2005 event.

Fast facts: Dutch driver Robert Doornbos has 164 points to 162 for Power and 161 for three-time champ Sebastien Bourdais, who went into the Toronto race with a two-point edge on Doornbos. ... Bourdais hasn't won in three straight races and taking the previous three events. ... Rookie Neel Jani finished a career-best second at Toronto. ... This is the third year of the race.

Next race: San Jose (Calif.) Grand Prix, July 29.


Grand Prix of Europe - Nurburgring - Nurburging, Germany

Schedule: Saturday, qualifying (Speed Channel, 8 a.m.); Sunday, race (Speed Channel, 7:30 a.m.).

Track: Nuerburgring (permanent road course, 3.196 miles).

Race distance: 191.919 miles, 60 laps.

Last race: Kimi Raikkonen won his second straight race and rookie star Lewis Hamilton made his ninth podium in a row. Raikkonen's win in the British Grand Prix was his third of the season. He won the opener in Australia, then struggled before becoming the only driver to win three times this year. Hamilton joined Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso as the only drivers with nine straight podium finishes. Schumacher had 19 for Ferrari in 2001-02, and Alonso had 15 for Renault in 2005-06.

Last year: Michael Schumacher won the European Grand Prix for the sixth time, his second straight victory over runner-up Alonso.

Fast facts: Raikkonen is the only driver with three victories. ... Indianapolis Motor Speedway CEO Tony George said on July 12 that he and F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone agreed not to schedule the U.S. Grand Prix for 2008. ... Hamilton continues to lead the drivers' standings with 70 points, followed by Alonso at 58, Raikkonen 52 and his Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa 51. ... Ralf Schumacher ended a 24-race winless streak during the 2003 event. ... Nuerburgring has held the European Grand Prix since 1984. The city previously had its license to hold F1 events revoked after Niki Lauda was badly burned during an accident in 1976. ... The original Nuerburgring, the Nordschleife, ran for 14 miles and was, in fact, two circuits: the Nordschleife and the Sudschleife. In total they had an amazing 172 corners.

Next race: Hungarian Grand Prix, Aug. 5, Budapest.


The Honda 200 at Mid-Ohio - Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course - Lexington, OH

Schedule: Saturday, qualifying, 11:50 a.m.; Sunday, race (ABC, 1:30 p.m.).

Track: Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (permanent road course, 2.4 miles, 15 turns).

Race distance: 191.93 miles, 85 laps.

Last race: Scott Dixon won the rain-delayed Firestone Indy 200 for his second straight IndyCar Series victory, becoming the 14th driver on this series to win consecutive races. Dario Franchitti managed to finish second for his 10th finish of fifth or better this year.

Last year: No race. This is inaugural event.

Fast facts: Last week's race was the first IndyCar Series event delayed a day by rain since June 2000 at Texas Motor Speedway. ... Franchitti has finished in the top five in 10 of this year's 11 races, including eight where he has been third or better. ... Danica Patrick finished third last weekend, tying her career-best finish from a month ago at Texas Motor Speedway. ... With Dixon's win, Target Chip Ganassi Racing now has 14 IndyCar Series victories. ... Mid-Ohio will host the IRL for at least the next three years. The series had not competed in Ohio prior to 2007.

Next race: Firestone Indy 400, Aug. 5, Brooklyn, Mich.

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