This Week in Auto Racing September 14 - September 16

This Week in Auto Racing September 14 - September 16

This Week in Auto Racing September 14 - September 16
The Sports Network

Nextel Cup

Sylvania 300 - New Hampshire International Speedway - Loudon, NH

The preliminaries are out of the way, the pretenders are sitting on the sideline and now its time to determine a Nextel Cup champion. There are 12 drivers remaining in the "Chase for the Nextel Cup" and all 12 could realistically be champion.

Jimmie Johnson, who finished the regular season in fourth place, will begin the 10-race "Chase" with the most points by virtue of his series-leading six victories. The defending series champion started the season strong, slumped a bit in the summer, but has returned to form with two consecutive wins at California and Richmond. He appears ready in every phase of the game.

"It's a great feeling to be able to go into the Chase leading the points," said Johnson. "That's something you obviously want to do, not only from the points standpoint, but from a psychological standpoint it's a benefit for sure."

Johnson's Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon, the four-time series champion, will start with the second-most points - 20 less than the No.48 Chevrolet team. Gordon has led the series for 21 of 26 weeks and his 21 top-10s are by far the best in Nextel Cup.

Two-time series champion Tony Stewart will start with 30 points fewer than Johnson, but that shouldn't matter if Stewart continues to run as he has for most of the summer and into the fall. The No.20 Joe Gibbs Racing Chevrolet driver began the season with a 43rd-place finish in Daytona and didn't get his first win until July, but since that point he has been a force to be reckoned with. Since the race in Chicagoland, Stewart has earned three wins among seven top-10s in eight races.

"In this day and age with NASCAR being as technical as it is and as advanced as it is technology-wise, it's going to be hard for the drivers to make the difference. It's more about the team, and we've got a great team at Joe Gibbs Racing."

Carl Edwards and Kurt Busch will begin the "Chase" 40 points behind Johnson, but both drivers have the ability and the teams behind them to win it all. Edwards and his No.99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford team have come on strong winning twice since mid-June. Busch was in danger of not making the "Chase" at all before the team came together in June. While others saw their chances melt away in the summer heat, Busch has not finished worse than 11th in a race in two months. Included in that streak are wins at Pocono and Michigan.

There are six drivers who will start 50 points behind the leader. Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr., 2003 Nextel Cup champion Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Jeff Burton and 2007 Daytona 500 winner Kevin Harvick. All six could win the title if things break their way. Hamlin, Stewart's teammate at JGR, has been the most consistent with one win, 10 top-fives and 15 top-10s.

Even Clint Bowyer, the only driver in the "Chase" without a win, has the team and talent to win it all. Bowyer will have two teammates in the "Chase" with him in Burton and Harvick which should help all three challenge for the championship.

As has been the case in the past, winning the 2007 Nextel Cup title is all about avoiding the bad races even more than winning them. Put together 10 solid efforts and you win the title. But two bad results and you are done, kaput, finished.

Remember back to 2004 when Johnson had two straight finishes outside the top-30 and despite winning four of the final six (six top-six finishes) came up eight points short. Last year, Johnson won just once, but had only one bad race (New Hampshire) and won the title.

"This is going to be the most competitive Chase we've seen," Johnson said.

It all begins on Sunday.

Craftsman

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

With eight races left in the championship, it's still possible for "soon-to- be-a-Nextel-Cup-driver" Travis Kvapil (-194) and 2006 Craftsman Truck Series champion Todd Bodine (-263) to get back into the fray, but unlikely.

No, it appears that the truck series title will be won by either points leader Ron Hornaday Jr. or Mike Skinner (-4).

Skinner has led the championship for most of the season, since the third race in Atlanta, but fell out of the lead two weeks ago when Hornaday Jr. finished second at the Gateway International Raceway. It was Hornaday Jr.'s 16th top-10 in 17 starts and gave him a slight edge heading down the stretch.

Hornaday Jr.'s four-point lead over Skinner is the second-closest margin at this point of the season in series history. Only Scott Riggs' one-point lead over Joe Ruttman in 2001 was closer.

Hornaday Jr. has a win at New Hampshire (1996) and has been more consistent there than Skinner finishing sixth and fifth the last two years.

"What can I say about Loudon, except that I really enjoy the track," said Hornaday Jr. "I have led laps in most of the races there and gone to victory lane once. Like I always say - my favorite tracks are the ones I win at."

But Skinner has been pretty good this season leading the series in winnings ($552,700), laps led (943), wins (4), poles (9) and top-fives (12). He finished second in 2006 at NHIS, but was a mediocre 24th in 2005.

Johnny Benson has won the last two events and is the defending champion at NHIS.

FORMULA ONE


Belgium Grand Prix - Spa Francorchamps - Spa, Belgium

Before Sunday's race begins there are some off-the-track issues to be determined. On Thursday, the World Motor Sport Council will meet in Paris to begin a hearing on "spygate" where Ferrari has accused McLaren of stealing secret information.

Specifically, Ferrari has accused McLaren of benefiting from a 780-page packet of information sent by former Ferrari performance director Nigel Stepney to McLaren's now-suspended chief designer Mike Coughlan.

McLaren was found guilty at a first hearing in July of "fraudulent conduct", but the WMSC said there was insufficient evidence that the team had used the information to their advantage.

In a worst-case scenario, McLaren could be kicked out of the competition both this year and next, but that is highly unlikely.

McLaren is also appealing a ruling in Hungary that took away all their manufacturer points earned for that weekend (15). They currently lead the manufacturers championship by 11 points.

McLaren's rookie Lewis Hamilton is trying to ignore all the off-the-track happenings because he is in the middle of a titanic battle with his teammate for the driver title. Currently Hamilton leads the two-time World Champion by just three points, down from 14 points after the French Grand Prix.

Alonso has won two of the last four events and finished second the last time the series visited the famous Spa-Francorchamps circuit in 2005.

Kimi Raikkonen won the race in 2005 driving for McLaren. He is still alive in the drivers championship, just 18 points back after finishing on the podium for three straight races. He has surpassed Felipe Massa as Ferrari's best chance to win the drivers title because Massa has falter badly in two of the last three events, finishing 13th at Hungary and 21st in Italy.

"All the upcoming races are crucial - can't make any more mistakes," said Raikkonen at Monza.

That advise will work for everybody. It's time to be at your best if you want to wear the Formula One crown

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Re: This Week in Auto Racing September 14 - September 16

Auto Racing Glance

Sylvania 300 - New Hampshire International Speedway - Loudon, NH

Schedule: Friday, qualifying (ESPN2, 3 p.m.); Sunday, race (ABC 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: Jimmie Johnson easily raced to his series-best sixth victory of the season, winning at Richmond International Raceway to shore up the top seed in the Chase for the championship. The defending champion will start the 10-race title hunt on top of the standings and with the momentum of two consecutive wins to help him hold off 11 other challengers.

Last year: Kevin Harvick turned New Hampshire International Speedway into his personal playground, dominating the Sylvania 300 to take the early lead in NASCAR's Chase for the championship. Harvick, who started from the pole and paced almost every practice session, led 196 of the 300 laps to run away with the first round of the Chase.

Fast facts: Johnson and Matt Kenseth are the only drivers to qualify for the Chase all four years. ... Jeff Gordon, the four-time series champion, will be seeded second - just 20 points behind Johnson. Tony Stewart, the two-time series champion, will be 30 points back in third. He missed the Chase last season. ... Dale Earnhardt Jr. missed the Chase for the second time in three years after a 30th place finish at Richmond. He ran in the top three late in the race, but his fifth motor failure with just a few laps to go sealed his fate. ... Johnson is trying to become the first repeat Cup champion since Gordon (1997-98). ... Denny Hamlin won the LENOX Industrial Tools 300 at Loudon on July 1. ... Stewart won three Chase races last year despite not qualifying for the championship field.

Next race: Dover 400, Sept. 23, Delaware


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

Schedule: Saturday, qualifying, 10:05 a.m., race (Speed Channel, 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: Johnny Benson raced to his second straight NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series victory on Sept. 1, holding off Ron Hornaday Jr. in the Dodge Dealers Ram Tough 200. Points leader Mike Skinner had the pole and led the first 30 laps on the 1.25-mile Gateway International Raceway oval, but dropped from contention after blowing out his right front tire.

Last year: Benson got past Kyle Busch an instant before a caution flag froze the field and never relinquished the top spot, racing away to a win at New Hampshire International Speedway.

Fast facts: Four points separate series leader Hornaday and Skinner. ... Skinner won his ninth pole of the season last weekend, one shy of the record he set in 1995. He is also the only driver to post three straight wins this season. ... Edwards' win last year was by 0.691 seconds over Skinner, the largest margin of victory in event history. The smallest was 0.189 seconds in 2002. ... There have been no repeat winners in the 11-year history of the event.

Next race: Las Vegas 350, Sept. 22


Belgium Grand Prix - Spa Francorchamps - Spa, Belgium

Site: Spa-Francorchamps

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

Track: Circuit of Spa-Francorchamps (road course, 4.329 miles).

Race distance: 190.476 miles, 44 laps.

Last race: Fernando Alonso led teammate Lewis Hamilton for McLaren's fourth 1-2 of the season at the Italian Grand Prix

Last year: No race.

Fast facts: McLaren's win came four days before a hearing in front of the World Motor Sport Council that could result in a two-year ban for the team from Formula One. McLaren and Ferrari are embroiled in a bitter dispute over alleged espionage and attempted sabotage, after technical data about the Italian team's cars turned up in the possession of McLaren's chief designer. Having avoided sanctions in July due to lack of proof, McLaren now faces a second hearing before the WMSC on Thursday, after the International Automobile Federation said it had ``new evidence'' in the case. ... The series returns to Belgium after a one-year hiatus. ... Alonso has four wins this season and now trails Hamilton by only three points at the top of the driver's standings, 92-89. Kimi Raikkonen is third with 74 points, followed by Massa with 69. ... McLaren leads constructor's standings with 166 points, followed by Ferrari with 143, and BMW with 86.

Next race: Japanese Grand Prix, Sept. 30, Suzuka

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Kimi Raikkonen takes pole ahead of teammate Felipe Massa for Belgian GP
September 15, 2007

SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium (AP) -Kimi Raikkonen took pole position for the Belgian Grand Prix on Saturday, edging Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa and the two McLaren drivers.

Behind the red Ferrari cars, world champion Fernando Alonso just got third place ahead of overall leader Lewis Hamilton, setting up a close race for Sunday.

Raikkonen, who won here when the Grand Prix was last contested in 2005, lapped the scenic 4.325-mile) track in 1 minute, 45.994 seconds, holding an edge of .017 seconds over Brazil's Massa.

McLaren's Alonso used a late run, moving from 10th place to third, and beat Hamilton in 1:46.091 by a margin of .315 margin over his rookie teammate.

The standings in the driver's championship are almost as close.

After winning the Italian Grand Prix on Sunday, Alonso trails Hamilton 92-89, compared to a 14-point gap after the French Grand Prix on July 11.

Raikkonen is third with 74 points. His pole position though kept him in with an outside chance of coming back and grabbing the title.

After Spa, there are only three races remaining - in Japan, China and Brazil.

Alonso is seeking his third title in a row. Alonso, who has been implicated in the highly publicized spy scandal involving Ferrari information, spun off with just five minutes to go in qualifying. He scrambled back to the pits and got back on track to put in one final fast lap.

In the spying scandal, McLaren was fined $100 million Thursday and was kicked out of the constructors' championship. The sport's governing body FIA published e-mails from Alonso on Friday that it said directly implicated him.

FIA quoted exchanges it said proved that Alonso and McLaren test driver Pedro de la Rosa were in unauthorized possession of secret technical information belonging to F1 rival Ferrari.

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