NASCAR roars into "Thunder Valley" this week, as the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series run under the lights at Bristol Motor Speedway. The IZOD IndyCar Series heads to Sonoma, CA, while Formula One returns to action with the Belgian Grand Prix.
Sprint Cup Series
IRWIN Tools Night Race - Bristol Motor Speedway - Bristol, TN
Kyle Busch has figured out Bristol Motor Speedway so well lately that no one has been able to beat him at this half-mile, high-banked track. Busch has won the last five NASCAR national series races at Bristol, and he's hoping his streak continues here this week, beginning with Wednesday's Camping World Truck Series race.
One year ago, Busch became the first driver to win a Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Truck Series race at the same track on the same week.
"It was pretty cool, because when you come so close and then don't get it, it's pretty frustrating," he recalled. "In 2009, we won the truck race, and we were leading the Nationwide race, and we got crashed out, and then we ended up winning the Cup race. So, it was probably a year delayed. There have been some other times we've come close to getting it done at other places, too. It was pretty special. It was cool to be able to put it all together in a complete weekend, with the truck, with the Nationwide car and with the Cup car."
Busch continued his winning ways at Bristol in March by taking the Sprint Cup and Nationwide races.
After winning last Sunday's race at Michigan International Speedway, Busch clinched a spot in the 12-driver field for the championship Chase. He is the only driver to qualify for the playoffs so far based on his Sprint Cup season- high four wins. Bristol, Atlanta and Richmond are those races remaining before the Chase begins.
"Certainly we've built ourselves into championship contenders this year, and that's where our strong suit has been up to this point," Busch said. "There's a great opportunity for us to win three more races before the Chase starts. We'd love nothing more than to see that, of course carry on our strong runs through the final 10 weeks. It's just a matter of being consistent."
Busch, his elder brother, Kurt, and Jeff Gordon have five wins each at Bristol, which is the most among active drivers.
Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth, Gordon, Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch, all of whom are currently ranked top-10 in points, have the opportunity to secure their spots in the Chase at Bristol. Any driver who has at least a 97-point lead over the 11th-place person after Bristol will clinch a position.
Brad Keselowski is perhaps the hottest driver in the series right now. Since he suffered a broken left ankle and a sore back from an accident while testing at Road Atlanta earlier this month, Keselowski has won at Pocono, finished second at Watkins Glen and then third at his home track in Michigan.
Keselowski has climbed from 21st to 12th in points during the past three races.
"I'm feeling pretty good about it, but nothing is ever a certainty until it's done, and I think if you look at it, we're obviously not mathematically locked in," he said. "Until you're mathematically locked in, then it doesn't really matter. I think we're going to continue on the same path we've been on, trying to win races, trying to be smart and trying to be stronger for the Chase."
Right now, Keselowski holds the first wild card spot by virtue of his two wins so far this season, while Denny Hamlin, who is ranked 14th in points, occupies the second wild card position. Hamlin won the June race at Michigan.
Other drivers contending for a wild card spot include: Paul Menard (18th in points) and David Ragan (20th). Menard and Ragan have one victory each this year. Marcos Ambrose and Regan Smith also have one win apiece, but both drivers are now outside the top-20.
Tony Stewart and Clint Bowyer are 10th and 11th in points, respectively. Both drivers have yet to win this season. While Stewart presently has a 24-point advantage over Bowyer for the coveted 10th spot, the two-time Sprint Cup champion has not been thoroughly pleased with his team's performance in recent weeks.
"I will be perfectly honest, at this point of the deal, if we are going to run this bad, it really doesn't matter whether we make the Chase or not, because we are going to be occupying a spot in the Chase that somebody else that actually can run for a championship is going to be trying to take," Stewart said. "Since our stuff is so bad right now, we're wasting one of those top-12 spots right now."
Forty-six teams are on the preliminary entry list for the IRWIN Tools Night Race.
Food City 250 - Bristol Motor Speedway - Bristol, TN
After running on the road courses in Watkins Glen, NY and Montreal the past two weeks, the Nationwide Series returns to short track racing with Friday night's 250-lap event at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Stenhouse started on the pole and finished 14th when the series last competed at Bristol in March. He finished 22nd and 25th in his first two races here last year.
"It's just hard racing, and I feel like it's a driver's racetrack, and we were really fast there the last time," Stenhouse said. "We sat on the pole, and we were the only one that could run with Kyle [Busch] for 160 laps until we made a mistake and got a penalty there on pit road [under caution]. I'm really looking forward to getting back there. I think we've made our cars better since the last time we were there, and I think we've got a really good shot at winning that race."
Sadler made his debut with Kevin Harvick Inc.'s Nationwide team in last year's night race at Bristol. He started on the pole and finished third. Sadler placed fourth here earlier this year.
Bristol has been a special place for Sadler. His first Sprint Cup win came at this track in 2001. Sadler also won a Nationwide race here in 1998.
"Bristol Motor Speedway is special to me, because I went there as a fan when I was a kid," he said. "My dad used to take me there for many years in a row, and above all, I was a fan there first. To be able to race there years later, win a Nationwide Series race there in 1998, and to come back and win my first- ever Sprint Cup Series race there in 2001, is pretty special."
Sorenson has finished 33rd or worse in three of his last five races at Bristol. He posted top-10 finishes in both events here last year. Sorenson suffered engine failure and wound up placing 34th at this track in March. It's his worst finish so far this season.
Busch will attempt to become the first driver to win three consecutive Nationwide races at Bristol.
Camping World Truck Series regular Parker Kligerman will substitute for the injured Brad Keselowski in the No.22 Penske Racing Dodge.
Forty-eight teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Food City 250.
Camping World Truck Series
O'Reilly 200 - Bristol Motor Speedway - Bristol, TN
The Camping World Truck Series will run on Wednesday night at Bristol Motor Speedway, and what a treat this race should be. Kevin Harvick will attempt to win his third consecutive truck race, while his fellow Sprint Cup Series competitor, Kyle Busch, will try to win at Bristol for the fourth year in a row.
Harvick won at Pocono earlier this month and then followed up with another victory in the series last Saturday at Michigan. He has not competed in a truck race at Bristol since 2004.
His previous wins at Bristol include five in Nationwide and one in Sprint Cup.
"I really enjoy short track racing, and I've been fortunate to run well there in the past," Harvick said. "The main thing to remember about Bristol is that you have to be prepared for anything to happen. Like any other short track, the racing is tight, and you can get caught up in a wreck in a hurry. You need to go into this race ready to enjoy it while knowing that you might not have the outcome you were hoping for."
If Busch wins his fourth straight truck race at Bristol, he will tie Brendan Gaughan for most victories in a row at a particular track. Gaughan won both races at Texas during the 2002 and '03 seasons.
Busch and Harvick are the only Sprint Cup regulars competing in this race.
While Kyle Busch Motorsports and Kevin Harvick Inc. are battling for the owners' championship, the fight for the drivers' title is turning out to be a good one. Just 12 points separate leader Johnny Sauter from fourth-place Timothy Peters.
After finishing fourth at Michigan, James Buescher moved to within five points of Sauter for the lead. Buescher has scored 11 straight top-10 finishes. In February, he failed to qualify for the Phoenix race. No driver has ever won a Truck Series championship after missing a race during the season.
Austin Dillon held the points lead prior to Michigan, but after finishing 22nd there, Dillon fell eight points behind Sauter.
Peters has also been on a roll lately. He has claimed four straight top-10 finishes, including a win last month in Indianapolis. Peters finished second at Michigan.
"I still feel it is too early to be thinking about the championship, but it is always something that is on our minds," he said. "We have to race each race and let the points take care of themselves. Our goal is to take home the hardware in Homestead, but we are just taking it one race at a time."
Thirty-nine teams are on the preliminary entry list for the O'Reilly 200.
IZOD INDYCAR SERIES
Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma - Infineon Raceway - Sonoma, CA
After a very bizarre race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway last week, the IZOD IndyCar Series moves on to the Infineon Raceway road course in Northern California.
Will Power's fifth-place run coupled with a 20th-place finish for Dario Franchitti at New Hampshire allowed Power to trim Franchitti's lead from 63 points to 47. Just five races remain in the season.
Power is the defending race winner at Sonoma. He started on the pole and led all but two of the 75 laps in last year's event.
Last week, 20 IndyCar teams participated in a one-day test session at Sonoma, with Power turning in the quickest lap time of one minute, 19.04 seconds on the 2.303-mile, 12-turn course. Scott Dixon was second fastest in testing, followed by Franchitti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, who won at New Hampshire, and E.J. Viso.
"We are trying to find our pace," Power said after the Sonoma test. "We've been struggling on road courses lately, but this track is pretty consistent, and that will help us. I always enjoy coming out here."
Power's win at Sonoma came one year after he suffered multiple injuries during a serious crash in practice at this track. He suffered two broken vertebrae and a concussion when his car hit the stalled car of Nelson Philippe, who spun exiting the blind, downhill corner.
There have been six different winners in as many IndyCar races at Sonoma. Tony Kanaan (2005), Marco Andretti (2006), Dixon (2007), Helio Castroneves (2008), Franchitti (2009) and Power (2010) have won here.
Sonoma is a very challenging road course. It features more than 160 feet of elevation change, from the highest point of 174 feet at turn 3a to the lowest point of 14 feet at turn 10.
"We experience the biggest elevation changes there than anywhere else on the IndyCar calendar," said Sam Schmidt Motorsports driver Alex Tagliani. "There's the big climb in turn one with lots of compression. It's one of those tracks where you really feel the grip and what a downforce car can do on a track that really allows the car to perform at its maximum potential.
"If you have any doubt on what an Indy car can do, just see them go through turn one at Sonoma, and you'll understand what I'm talking about. It's a track with fast corners that allows you to take the car to another level."
Twenty-eight teams are on the entry list for the Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma.
Giorgio Pantano from Padua, Italy will substitute for the injured Justin Wilson in the No.22 Dreyer and Reinbold Racing car at Sonoma and the September 4 inaugural race on the streets of Baltimore. Wilson continues to heal from a back injury he sustained during a practice crash earlier this month at Mid- Ohio.
Ho-Pin Tung from Wenzhou, China will attempt to make his first IndyCar start this weekend, driving the No.88 entry for Dragon Racing.
Belgian Grand Prix - Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps - Spa, Belgium
After a three-week vacation during the month of August, Formula One teams are back on course this weekend with the Belgian Grand Prix at the Spa- Francorchamps circuit.
Defending world champion Sebastian Vettel holds a commanding 85-point lead over his Red Bull Racing teammate Mark Webber. McLaren's Lewis Hamilton trails Webber by three points, while Fernando Alonso from Ferrari is only one marker behind Hamilton. After winning last month's Hungarian Grand Prix, Jenson Button from McLaren moved to within 100 points of Vettel.
In last year's Belgian GP, Hamilton dealt with rainy conditions and overcame a slip off the track and into the gravel to win at Spa for the first time. He started second but immediately pulled head of polesitter Webber on the opening lap. Hamilton led from start to finish in the 44-lap race.
"After a month out of the cockpit, I think every driver on the grid is really looking forward to racing on a track like Spa-Francorchamps, which is easily one of the greatest circuits in the world," Hamilton said.
Spa-Francorchamps is located in the heart of the picturesque Ardennes' countryside in Belgium. The 4.352-mile (7.004 km), 19-turn road course boasts some of the most famous corners on the racing circuit. Spa has always been one of the most atmospheric and popular rounds. It has been a firm fixture on the F1 calendar since 1950. The race was absent from the 2006 calendar to allow for extensive improvement work to both the track and its facilities.
"The Spa circuit has everything that a driver dreams of -- unbelievably fast corners and slow chicanes," Vettel said. "It can be full of surprises due to the weather. It can be raining one minute and then the sun can be shining the next."
Sunday's Belgian GP will be a special one for Mercedes GP's Michael Schumacher. It will mark the 20th anniversary of Schumacher's first start in F1. The German made his debut on the racing circuit in the Belgian GP on August 25 1991. Driving for the Jordon-Ford team at the time, he retired on the opening lap of the race due to a clutch problem.
Since then, Schumacher has won seven world championships and 91 grand prix, both records in F1.
"It's hard to believe this was such a long time ago," Schumacher said. "A lot has changed in those 20 years, but one thing has not, the track is still sensational. I just love the great nature of the location and the resulting layout with all the ups and downs. To me, Spa remains my 'living room,' because it has been the stage for so many things which have been remarkable for my sporting career."