This Week in Auto Racing April 19 - 21

3:37 PM, Apr 18, 2013   |    comments
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Kansas City, KS (Sports Network) - The NASCAR Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series are running at Kansas Speedway this weekend. The IZOD IndyCar Series returns to action in Long Beach, Calif., while Formula One heads to Sakhir, Bahrain.

NASCAR

Sprint Cup Series

STP 400 - Kansas Speedway - Kansas City, Kan.

Kyle Busch has been on a roll the last several races, and he's hoping his momentum continues this weekend at Kansas Speedway.

Since finishing 34th and 23rd in the first two races (Daytona and Phoenix), Busch has scored five consecutive top-five finishes, including victories in two of the last three events. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver led 125 of 200 laps to win last month's race in Fontana, Calif. He won again this past Saturday at Texas after running in front for 171 of 334 laps.

Kansas has not been one of Busch's best racetracks in the past. He has finished no better than seventh in 11 Sprint Cup starts at this 1.5-mile track. His only other top-10 finish here came one year ago when he placed 10th.

"I thought we were running decent there last year," Busch said. "I was leading, and I spun myself out while I was leading so, that was dumb. So hopefully we have a good car like that this time around. I don't make a mistake like that."

After its spring race last year, Kansas received a new coat of asphalt on its surface. The track was also reconfigured with variable banking of 17-20 degrees in all four turns.

When the series most recently competed here last October, every driver in the qualifying field eclipsed Matt Kenseth's track record of 180.856 mph, with Kasey Kahne topping out at a blistering 191.360 mph.

But Kahne's record at Kansas might be "dust in the wind" with NASCAR's new Sprint Cup race car, the Gen-6, running at this track for the first time.

"Kansas is newly repaved, and it's got a winter on it now, so we'll see how that changes things," Busch said. "I still expect it to be fast. It's a place that you want to run well at, because it is a Chase race. So we've got to develop our notes in Kansas (this) weekend."

Since the Gen-6 made its competition debut at the start of the season, there have been new track qualifying records set at Bristol, Martinsville and Texas.

Roush Fenway Racing driver Carl Edwards, who hails from nearby Columbia, Mo., recently tested at Kansas, which he considers his home track.

"Kansas is a really tough racetrack right now to figure out where you need speed, because it's so smooth, and it's so fast," Edwards said. "We saw 208 miles an hour or something like that in testing. That's a very fast racetrack, especially since it doesn't have a lot of banking. It's not a really high- banked track. It's just very smooth and has a ton of grip. It's very, very fast."

Martin Truex Jr. has been perhaps the best driver at Kansas lately. Truex finished second in both races here last year. In the spring event, he put on a dominating performance by leading 173 of 267 laps, but Denny Hamlin passed him for the top spot with 31 laps to go. Hamlin went on to score the victory.

Six months ago, Truex challenged Matt Kenseth for the lead in the closing laps, but Kenseth held him off at the finish by 0.5 seconds for the win.

Truex also finished second at Texas. He held the lead late in that race, but Busch beat him off of pit road during the last round of pit stops with 20 laps left. Truex has finished in the runner-up spot six times now since his lone Sprint Cup win almost six years ago at Dover.

"It seems like our mile and a half big track program is pretty good and kind of like Kansas, so I look forward to going there," Truex said. "I think it's going to be a lot different from last year, but it's the same racetrack."

Brian Vickers will once again drive the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota in place of Hamlin, who continues to recover from a compression fracture in his lower back. Hamlin suffered the injury during an accident on the final lap of last month's race at Fontana.

Forty-five teams are on the preliminary entry list for the STP 400.

Camping World Truck Series

SFP 250 - Kansas Speedway - Kansas City, Kan.

Defending Camping World Truck Series champion James Buescher is hoping Saturday's race at Kansas Speedway will help jump start his somewhat sluggish beginning to the season.

Buescher, who is attempting to become the first driver to win back-to-back titles in the Truck Series, has yet to post a top-10 finish in the first three races this year. He sat eighth in the point standings after last Sunday's race at Rockingham, N.C., but Ron Hornaday Jr.'s loss of 25 points as part of his penalty for wrecking Darrell Wallace Jr. during a caution at Rockingham, allowed Buescher to move up to seventh in the rankings. He is 42 points behind leader Johnny Sauter.

"There's no question the season hasn't started off the way our team was hoping," Buescher said. "It's not because we haven't run well. I feel like we are always in contention for a win, but we've just been bitten by some bad luck so far and don't have the end result to show for it."

Kansas has become a special place for Buescher. The Turner Scott Motorsports driver recorded his first career truck win at this 1.5-mile racetrack. He won three more races during the 2012 season to capture the series championship.

"Kansas is definitely a special place to me and getting my first Truck Series win there was a dream come true," he said. "With the track being repaved last summer, I feel like it is a totally different track, but I feel like we can get a handle on the new surface and get the finish this team deserves."

While Buescher might be a little bit behind at this point of the season, rookie Jeb Burton isn't. The 20-year-old Burton has won the pole for the last two races -- Martinsville and Rockingham. He has finished no worse than seventh this year and is presently second in points (-16).

"This season has started out just the way we wanted it to, and I'm ready to keep the momentum going," Burton said. "Getting my first pole award at Martinsville Speedway was awesome, but doing it two weekends in a row really shows how hard my team is working for the results we're getting. I don't have a lot of experience at Kansas Speedway, so I'm definitely looking to gain more this weekend and walk away with another solid finish."

There have been 12 different winners in as many truck races at Kansas. Todd Bodine (2005), Hornaday (2008), Sauter (2010) and Buescher (2012) are those drivers competing in this race that have previously won here.

Kyle Busch and Logano are those Sprint Cup Series regulars on the entry list for this event. Busch will drive his own No. 51 Toyota, while Joey Logano is behind the wheel of the No. 19 Ford for Brad Keselowski Racing. Logano finished second at Rockingham. Kyle Larson won the race there but is not entered for Kansas.

Thirty-six teams are on the preliminary entry list for the SFP 250.

IZOD INDYCAR SERIES

Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach - Streets of Long Beach - Long Beach, Calif.

The IZOD IndyCar Series heads out west for the first time this season to Southern California.

James Hinchcliffe kicked off the season on March 24 by winning his first career IndyCar race on the streets of St. Petersburg, FL. Ryan Hunter-Reay, the defending series champion, started on the pole and took the checkered flag for the April 7 event at Barber Motorsports Park.

With podium finishes in the first two races this year -- second at St. Pete and third at Barber -- Helio Castroneves holds a nine-point lead over Scott Dixon, who has a pair of top-five finishes. At this point of the season last year, Castroneves held a two-point advantage over Dixon.

Hunter-Reay started off the season with a disappointing 18th-place finish at St. Pete but moved up to third in points after his victory at Barber. He is presently 13 points behind Castroneves.

"In IndyCar, the momentum can swing at any point, because the competition is so close and the drivers are so talented," Hunter-Reay said. "You could be going to your best racetrack, have a little bit of a mistake in qualifying, be 10th or 11th. Your weekend is changed at that point."

The series will run its third race of the season this weekend on the 1.968- mile, 11-turn temporary street circuit in Long Beach. Hunter-Reay won this event three years ago, leading 64 of 85 laps.

"I'm really happy to have some much needed momentum going into one of my favorite race events of the year," he said. "We'll be looking to follow up a huge win at Barber with another big weekend in Long Beach. As past winners of this race, we know what we need to do to get the job done."

This year's race at Long Beach has been trimmed from 85 laps to 80. It is one of four events on the schedule this year that IndyCar is attempting to improve the competition. The sanctioning body wants to discourage teams from fuel- mileage racing, which would better match traditional fuel windows for each one of those races.

Will Power won here last year. Power qualified second but received a 10-grid position penalty for an engine change. The Team Penske driver conserved enough fuel in the late stages, driving the final 21 laps without pitting. He beat then rookie Simon Pagenaud to the finish line by just under a second.

Power has won the pole in three of the last four races at Long Beach. His first victory at this street circuit came in 2008 when Champ Car ran its final event ever before unification with IndyCar.

"Long Beach has a lot of history, and it's a great location," Power said. "Everyone loves going there. It's a very cool street circuit. I've won it twice now. The cool thing about winning that race is you get your face on the plaque (trophy) there in victory lane."

Power won three of the first four road/street course races during the 2012 season. He has finished 16th and fifth in the first two events this year. Power is currently eighth in points (-32).

Twenty-seven teams are on the entry list for Sunday's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. Mike Conway is scheduled to compete in his first race this season, driving the No. 17 car for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Conway scored his first career IndyCar win two years ago at Long Beach.

FORMULA ONE

Bahrain Grand Prix - Bahrain International Circuit - Sakhir, Bahrain

Fernando Alonso from Ferrari comes to one of his best tracks on the Formula One schedule after winning last Sunday's Chinese Grand Prix.

This weekend's Bahrain Grand Prix is round 4 on the 2013 calendar, and Alonso has won this event more times than any other driver. The Spaniard has claimed three victories in Bahrain since F1 started competing in this Middle East country in 2004.

Alonso won the Bahrain GP in consecutive seasons from 2005-06 when he drove for Renault. His most recent victory there came three years ago when he made his maiden start for Ferrari. Bahrain was the 2010 season-opener for F1.

In China, Alonso passed Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton for the lead early in the race and then dominated from there. He finished 10 seconds ahead of Lotus' Kimi Raikkonen for his 31st career F1 win but his first since the German Grand Prix last July (13 races ago).

Alonso started his season with a second-place finish in Australia but had a retirement in Malaysia after he damaged his front wing during an accident on the opening lap.

"I don't think we are the car to beat at the moment, just because we have this one victory," Alonso said. "In Australia, we were clearly not the quickest, and in Malaysia, we struggled a bit. In China, on race pace, Sebastian (Vettel) was quickest in all the stints but had chosen a strange strategy for qualifying.

"We need to keep improving and to be a little bit faster. There are some new pieces for this race and new components coming to Barcelona (May 12) and Monaco (May 26). So hopefully in the next month and a half, we can be at the level of the best cars."

Right now, Vettel from Red Bull leads the world championship standings with 52 points, followed by 49 points for Raikkonen and 43 for Alonso. Vettel, the three-time defending F1 champion, finished fourth in China. He placed third in Australia and then won in Malaysia.

"We need to be consistently on the podium if we want to fight for the championship," Alonso said. "Not having Sebastian on the podium in China is good news at the moment, only because he is currently leading the championship. I would feel the same if it was Lewis or Webber, for example, in the lead. It's not because it's Sebastian the person, it's because he's leading."

Vettel won the Bahrain GP for the first time last year.

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