This Week in Auto Racing September 28 - September 30

This Week in Auto Racing September 28 - September 30

This Week in Auto Racing September 28 - September 30
September 25th, 2007

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - After a wild race at the Monster Mile, the "Chase for the Nextel Cup" continues with round three of 10 at the Kansas Speedway. Meanwhile, the Formula One championship heads down the home stretch with four drivers still vying for the title.

Nextel Cup

LifeLock 400 - Kansas Speedway - Kansas City, KS

For those who survived the "Monster Mile" it's on to the Kansas Speedway for race No.3 in the 10-race "Chase for the Nextel Cup." Last Sunday's "War of Attrition" saw Carl Edwards emerge as the big winner, climbing five positions after his win. At the other end of the spectrum were Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch and Denny Hamlin who all had problems and find themselves more than 100 points behind front-runner Jeff Gordon.

The good news for those who have fallen back is that 2006 Nextel Cup champion Jimmie Johnson gave them a blueprint for their comeback in last year's "Chase." The No.48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet driver began his 2006 Chase by finishing 39th at New Hampshire, 13th at Dover, 14th at Kansas and 24th at Talladega before going "crazy" and winning the title.

It won't be easy for the bottom four drivers, but it is still possible.

While Gordon is the points leader, he was really nowhere in Dover. He didn't lead any laps and finished one lap down to the leaders. But he also avoided both mechanical problems and all the on-track accidents to finish 11th. It's that kind of driving that helps win championships - when you aren't really competitive, but pull out a decent finish.

The No.24 DuPont Chevrolet has done well in Kansas, winning the first two events held at the track and collecting a total of four top-10s in six starts. His average finish on the 1.5-mile oval is 11.5. Gordon will need a great outing to maintain the championship lead. Just behind him are five drivers within 18 points.

Two-time Nextel Cup champion Tony Stewart is second overall just two points back.

"If there was one place I was worried about, it was here," said Stewart of Sunday's race on the team's website. "There were a lot of good cars that are in the Chase that had a bad day today, and not having a bad day is what you've got to do."

And Stewart has a better record at Kansas than Gordon with one win, five top-10s and an average finish of 6.5. That number is the best of the 12 "Chase" drivers.

Off his dramatic win at Dover, Carl Edwards is just three points behind Gordon and in line to make history. He leads the Busch Series by a whopping 754 points and can become the first driver in NASCAR history to win both the Busch and Nextel Cup Series in the same year.

Edwards survived multiple restarts at Dover to hold off his Roush Fenway Racing teammate Greg Biffle for the win.

"That was a lot of fun, but those red flags were killing me," said Edwards.

Some of the fun might have disappeared after the race when the No.99 Ford failed post-race inspection. NASCAR will have to make a decision about any penalties or fines, but at worst expect a 25-point penalty which will still keep him in the middle of the "Chase" battle.

"We'll go back to Daytona," said NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston. "We always like to have the opportunity to have a couple days' separation. We'll discuss it there and announce it, probably in the middle of next week."

Johnson started on the pole at Dover, but a blown tire left him two laps down to the leaders before he rebounded to finish 14th. After coming into the event as the points leader, he somehow survived and will start the Kansas race in fourth place, but just four points behind his teammate and co-owner Gordon.

Kyle Busch has been one of the quite ones so far, but a fourth at Loudon and a fifth at Dover has him in the middle of the championship fight. He is 10 points behind Gordon.

After earning his first Nextel Cup victory in the "Chase" opener at Loudon, Bowyer finished 12th at Dover and finds himself in sixth place just 18 points back.

Last year's race, won by Stewart, was decided by fuel mileage. The No.20 Home Depot Chevrolet was coasting as it crossed the finish line, out of fuel, but more than 12 seconds ahead of Casey Mears, who was also out of fuel.

It should be another interesting day on Sunday.

Busch

Yellow Transportation 300 - Kansas Speedway - Kansas City, KS

While the Nextel Cup race has six drivers within 18 points of each other, the Busch Series has no such drama. Carl Edwards is cruising to the championship and the only drama is whether he will break Kevin Harvick's record 824-point win of one year ago.

After suffering through the summer doldrums, Edwards has been his old self over the last two events. From Montreal to the California Speedway (five races) Edwards failed to crack the top-10, but in his last two starts Edwards has a second place and a sixth place finish.

Only three drivers are within 1000 points of Edwards - David Reutimann (-754), Harvick (-888) and Jason Leffler (-908).

At Kansas, Jason Keller will have a chance to tie the all-time mark for starts - 417 currently held by Tommy Houston. Keller, driving for CJM Racing, will have to qualify on time. The 37-year-old has accumulated 11 poles, 10 wins and 161 top-10s over his career. Twice he finished second in the championship (2000, 2002).

FORMULA ONE

Japanese Grand Prix - Fuji Speedway - Oyama, Japan

The Formula One championship has been a four-man race since the beginning, and it still is, with three races left in the season.

McLaren's rookie sensation Lewis Hamilton leads the series with three wins and 97 points. But after opening with nine consecutive podium finishes, Hamilton left the door open by finishing off the podium in three of the last five events.

Two-time World Champion Fernando Alonso, also of McLaren, has seized on the opportunity winning two of the last five events to close to within two points of Hamilton.

Despite being teammates, the two drivers don't get along which has created friction on the team. It didn't help that Alonso came to the team expecting to be the No.1 driver but feels he hasn't been treated that way.

Then there is the whole "spygate" fiasco that cost McLaren the manufacturers championship. After he was given immunity, Alonso testified that McLaren did indeed have and use the Ferrari data that was given to McLaren chief designer Mike Coughlan. He is not on speaking terms with McLaren boss Ron Dennis.

"In Fernando's mind, there is the firm belief that our policy, whereby each driver receives equal treatment, does not properly reflect his status as World Champion," Dennis said.

Expect Alonso to be driving for a different team in 2008.

Unless Michael Schumacher comes out of retirement, expect both Ferrari drivers to return in 2008. Both are still in the championship battle and both have shown they can win on any given Sunday.

In his first year with Ferrari, Kimi Raikkonen has won a series-high four times and sits 13 points behind Hamilton. Felipe Massa is fourth overall, with three wins and is 20 points back.

The Japanese GP has been held at Suzuka International Racing Course for the last 20 years, but will return to the Fuji Speedway for the first time since 1977. Formula One has raced there two times.

In 1976, Mario Andretti won a rain-filled race in his Lotus, but James Hunt won the championship by out-pointing Niki Lauda. Lauda withdrew from the race after three laps citing dangerous conditions.

The next year, Hunt won the race, but Gilles Villeneuve was involved in a crash that killed two people on the side of the track. After the event, Japan would not hold another F1 race for 10 years and then the venue was shifted to Suzuka.

In 2003 the Fuji circuit was closed for redesign by Hermann Tilke. It reopened in 2005 with a 1.5 km straight, which will be the longest in F1.

It should be an interesting "first" visit.

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Auto Racing Glance
September 26, 2007

LifeLock 400 - Kansas Speedway - Kansas City, KS

Schedule: Friday, qualifying (ESPN2, 4 p.m.); Sunday, race (ABC, 1 p.m.).

Track: Kansas Speedway (tri-oval, 1.5 miles, 15 degrees banking in turns).

Race distance: 400 miles, 267 laps.

Last race: Carl Edwards' victory at Dover was marred by a failed post-race inspection that cost him 25 points in the standings. The penalty drops Edwards from third in the Chase for the championship standings to sixth. He's now 28 points behind series leader Jeff Gordon.

Last year: Tony Stewart gambled on fuel mileage and barely crawled across the finish line to win the Banquet 400 race at Kansas Speedway. Meanwhile, Jimmie Johnson tried to play it safe to remain in championship contention, giving up the race lead to pit for an extra splash of fuel with four laps to go. But he was penalized for speeding on pit road and finished 14th. Gordon was running eighth when his car developed an apparent fuel-pressure problem with 29 laps remaining. He finished 39th.

Fast facts: Gordon leads Stewart by two points in the standings and Johnson by four. ... Edwards' win was the 100th for owner Jack Roush, who was also docked 25 points for the failed inspection. Roush, who started with Ford Racing in 1988, won his first career race with Mark Martin on Oct. 22, 1989. ... Denny Hamlin, who won the Busch race last weekend, placed 38th at Dover - the worst of all Chase drivers - and is stuck in 12th place in the standings, effectively ending his bid for a championship. ... Gordon is the only driver with multiple wins at Kansas (2001-02), but he finished 39th in last year's race. ... Juan Pablo Montoya has a 13-point lead over David Ragan in the Rookie of the Year race.

Next race: UAW-Ford 500, Oct. 7, Talladega, Ala.


Yellow Transportation 300 - Kansas Speedway - Kansas City, KS

Schedule: Saturday, qualifying (Speed Channel, 11 a.m.), race (ESPN2, 3:30 p.m.).

Track: Kansas Speedway (tri-oval, 1.5 miles, 15 degrees banking in turns).

Race distance: 300 miles, 200 laps.

Last race: Denny Hamlin shook off an illness and found the energy to dominate and win the caution-filled race at Dover International Speedway, his third victory of the season.

Last year: Kevin Harvick held off Matt Kenseth in a green-white-checkered shootout at Kansas Speedway. Harvick's victory in a caution-filled Yellow Transportation 300 also made him the first Busch driver to win seven races in a season since Dale Earnhardt Jr. did it en route to the 1998 title. Harvick had five victories when he won the title in 2001.

Fast facts: Carl Edwards upped his lead in the standings to 754 points over David Reutimann after finishing sixth at Dover. ... Jason Keller will try to qualify for his 417th career race, which would tie the career record set by Tommy Houston. ... Tony Raines was fined $15,000 and docked 25 points on Tuesday for throwing his helmet at Robby Gordon. Raines was angry that Gordon had knocked him out of last weekend's race, and he waited on the track for Gordon to pass by under caution. He then hurled his helmet at Gordon. ... There have been six different winners in as many Busch races at Kansas.

Next race: Dollar General 300, Oct. 12, Concord, N.C.


Japanese Grand Prix - Fuji Speedway - Oyama, Japan

Schedule: Saturday, qualifying (Speed Channel, 1 a.m.); Sunday, race (Speed Channel, Midnight).

Track: Suzuka Circuit (road course, 3.636 miles, 21 turns).

Race distance: 243.612 miles, 67 laps.

Last race: Kimi Raikkonen dominated from start to finish to win the Belgian Grand Prix on Sept. 16 for the third straight time, beating Ferrari teammate Felipe Massa. World champion Fernando Alonso took third ahead of McLaren teammate Lewis Hamilton to reduce the rookie's lead in the standings to two points with three races remaining.

Last year: Alonso won the Japanese Grand Prix, while Michael Schumacher dropped out on the 37th lap with a blown engine.

Fast facts: Accused of using leaked secret data from its main rival Ferrari, the McLaren team was hit with a record $100 million fine on Sept. 13 by the World Motor Sport Council in the biggest scandal to hit auto racing's premier circuit. Although McLaren drivers Hamilton and Alonso escaped punishment, the team was stripped of its constructors' points. McLaren decided against appealing the sanctions. ... Raikkonen, who won the 2005 event, is third in the standings with 84 points, while and Massa sits fourth with 77. ... India will hold its first Formula One race in 2010, the head of the Indian Olympic Association announced on Sept. 17.

Next race: Chinese Grand Prix, Oct. 7, Shanghai

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New Japanese GP track boosts Hamilton's title hopes
September 27, 2007

OYAMA, Japan (AP) -Lewis Hamilton is hoping the new track for this weekend's Japanese Grand Prix at Fuji Speedway will end a recent slump that has allowed McLaren teammate Fernando Alonso to gain ground in the drivers standings.

Alonso, the defending Formula One world champion, has beaten Hamilton in five of the last six races, and the British driver's one-time 14-point lead has shrunk to just two, 97-95, with three races left in the season.

``I think one or two of them were by luck. A couple issues I had with tires,'' Hamilton said. ``The other ones he just outperformed me.

``You are trying to get it right and I definitely didn't get it right the last couple races.''

Hamilton is clinging to the lead in an attempt to become the first rookie to take the F1 title amid a tumultuous two months that have seen McLaren embroiled in a dispute over possession of technical data belonging to rival Ferrari.

After being found guilty by the International Automobile Federation (FIA), McLaren is not only out of the constructors' title race and fined $100 million, but relations are strained within the team.

Alonso says he has been improving, especially in the Italian Grand Prix, which he won, and the Belgian Grand Prix where he was third and Hamilton fourth.

``You are learning every weekend. For sure I am better now than I was in Spa, and at Spa I was better than I was at Monza,'' Alonso said.

Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen and Felipe Massa will be out to challenge the McLaren duo.

Raikkonen won the last race in Belgium with Massa second. They now have 84 and 77 points respectively.

Hamilton refuses to give up his grip on a possible title.

``We still have three races to go and I think we should be able to turn that over a little bit and turn up the heat, maybe,'' he said.

Hamilton will be hoping to some heat on the new Fuji Speedway, a state-of-the-art track at the base of the Mount Fuji that boasts a nearly 1-mile main straight, the longest in the world. The last corner forms a hairpin turn where drivers could pass.

The 2.9-mile circuit obtained a Grade 1 license from FIA last year after hosting its last F1 race 30 years ago when James Hunt drove a McLaren-Ford to victory.

The Fuji Speedway originally opened in 1966. Toyota, which is trying to be more competitive in F1, completed renovations on the new course in 2006.

About 125 miles southwest of Fuji is the Suzuka circuit, owned by rival Japanese manufacturer Honda Motor Co. Ltd., which staged the Japanese Grand Prix since 1987 and will host it again in 2009.

Practice for the Japanese Grand Prix will be held on Friday and Saturday morning, ahead of qualifying Saturday afternoon. Sunday's race is 67 laps.

Even though Raikkonen and Massa trail the McLaren drivers in the driver standings, Ferrari took its 15th team title when McLaren's team points were withdrawn.

The drivers kept their points in return for providing evidence against McLaren during the meeting of the World Motor Council on Sept. 13 that was attended by Hamilton but not Alonso, who doesn't see eye-to-eye with team boss Ron Dennis.

``In Fernando's mind, there is the firm belief that our policy, whereby each driver receives equal treatment, does not properly reflect his status as world champion,'' Dennis said in transcripts released by FIA.

``He bases this assertion on the fact that his experience and knowledge, and what came to him from his former team (Renault), is such that he should receive an advantage.''

Regardless of whether Alonso wins the title for McLaren, he could be elsewhere next season despite a multiyear deal with the team reportedly worth $22 million this year.

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Hamilton wins pole in rain at Japan
September 28th, 2007

Oyama, Japan (Sports Network) - Battling rain and fog Formula One series points leader Lewis Hamilton captured the pole for Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix at the Fuji Speedway. The No.2 McLaren circled the 2.835-mile, 16-turn circuit in one minute, 25.368 seconds to take the top spot.

The pole victory was Hamilton's fourth of the season and of his Formula One career.

Starting on the front row with Hamilton will be Fernando Alonso who posted a second-best time of 1:25.438.

Kimi Raikkonen (1:25.516) and Felipe Massa (1:25.765) will make up row two.

Massa won the first session that saw the elimination of Rubens Barrichello, Alex Wurz, Anthony Davidson, Adrian Sutil, Takuma Sato and Sakon Yamamoto. Ralf Schumacher was effectively knocked out when he crashed with one of the Spyker cars (Yamamoto) in the final minutes of the session.

Hamilton won the second session setting up a great final qualifying session. Knocked out were: Giancarlo Fisichella, Heikki Kovalainen, David Coulthard, Jarno Trulli, Vitantonio Liuzzi and Ralf Schumacher.

Alonso put up the early time to beat in the final session which included Sebastian Vettel and Toro Rosso for the first time in their history. He held it until Hamilton's final lap when the youngster bettered his time by 0.070 seconds.

The Formula One championship has been a four-man race since the beginning, and it still is, with three races left in the season.

Hamilton, McLaren's rookie sensation, leads the series with three wins and 97 points. But after opening with nine consecutive podium finishes, Hamilton left the door open by finishing off the podium in three of the last five events.

Two-time World Champion Alonso, also of McLaren, has seized on the opportunity winning two of the last five events to close to within two points of Hamilton.

Ferrari's Raikkonen trails by just 13 points and teammate Massa is 20 points behind Hamilton.

The Japanese GP has been held at Suzuka International Racing Course for the last 20 years, but will return to the Fuji Speedway for the first time since 1977. Formula One has raced there two times.

In 1976, Mario Andretti won a rain-filled race in his Lotus, but James Hunt won the championship by out-pointing Niki Lauda. Lauda withdrew from the race after three laps citing dangerous conditions.

The next year, Hunt won the race, but Gilles Villeneuve was involved in a crash that killed two people on the side of the track. After the event, Japan would not hold another F1 race for 10 years and then the venue was shifted to Suzuka.

In 2003 the Fuji circuit was closed for redesign by Hermann Tilke. It reopened in 2005 with a 1.5 km straight, which will be the longest in F1.

The Japanese GP is scheduled to drop the green flag on Sunday at 12 a.m. (et).

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