This Week in Auto Racing September 2 - 4

All three of NASCAR's national touring series are running at Atlanta Motor Speedway, while the IZOD IndyCar Series competes on the streets of Baltimore for the first time on this Labor Day weekend.


Sprint Cup Series

AdvoCare 500 - Atlanta Motor Speedway - Hampton, GA

Who wants to be a millionaire this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway?

Four drivers -- Brad Keselowski, Paul Menard, Kyle Busch and Marcos Ambrose -- have a shot at winning $1 million in the "Sprint Summer Showdown" bonus program.

The winners of Indianapolis (Menard), Pocono (Keselowski), Watkins Glen (Ambrose), Michigan (Busch) and Bristol (Keselowski) qualified for the cash award at Atlanta. If Menard, Ambrose or Busch wins Sunday night's 500-mile race, $1 million each will go to that driver, his charity and one lucky fan.

If Keselowski wins, he and his charity will collect the bonus, but the fan's portion of the money will be divided evenly between two fans, since he won twice in the five-race eligibility period.

After winning last Saturday's race at Bristol, Keselowski jokingly asked if he would collect $2 million if he takes the checkered flag at Atlanta.

"We've got to do some better negotiating," he quipped. "Get [team owner] Roger [Penske] in here. Roger could get it to two. I'm serious, he could. But that's great. We're going to have fun with it either way."

Busch is the only one of the four drivers who has previously won a Sprint Cup Series race at Atlanta. He gave Toyota its first-ever victory in the series at Atlanta in March 2008. Busch has won four races so far this season.

"When Sprint announced the bonus plan for the Sprint Summer Showdown, all of us got excited, and we're pretty pumped up about it," he said. "It's a neat opportunity for us to have something to really shoot for and to go out there and try to win the race for it."

Busch, the current points leader, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Kevin Harvick have already clinched a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. The remaining seven positions in the Chase will be decided during the next two races -- Atlanta and Richmond (September 10).

Jeff Gordon will punch his ticket for the playoffs if he finishes 40th or better at Atlanta. Ryan Newman is guaranteed a spot with at least a 20th-place run, while Kurt Busch can lock down a position if he finishes seventh or better.

Any driver who leaves Atlanta with a 49-point lead or more over the 11th-place person in points has secured a spot in the Chase.

Keselowski is presently 11th in the rankings. Ninth-place Dale Earnhardt Jr. is 39 points ahead of Keselowski, while 10th-place Tony Stewart has a 21-point cushion. Both Earnhardt Jr. and Stewart have a mathematical shot at clinching a Chase spot this weekend.

Stewart is the defending Atlanta race winner. When the series ran under the lights at this track for the first time one year ago, teams were challenged with changing track conditions from start to finish in the 500-mile race.

"Just understanding what you're going to have at the beginning isn't what you're going to have at the end of the day," Stewart said. "You have to be patient until it gets dark and until that temperature cools down. And once it starts settling into the nighttime hours, you can kind of get a better idea on what you're going to have for the rest of the day."

Right now, Keselowski holds the first wild card position with his three wins so far this season. Denny Hamlin, 13th in points, occupies the second wild card due to his win in June at Michigan.

Hamlin rebounded somewhat at Bristol with a seventh-place run. He had finished 35th and 36th in the two races prior to Bristol -- Watkins Glen and Michigan.

"I know that we've got too much talent on the pit box, the pit crew and behind the seat that we belong in the Chase," Hamlin said. "If we can get in the Chase, we can be as dangerous as anyone, if we get things going in our favor."

Forty-seven teams are on the preliminary entry list for the AdvoCare 500.

Nationwide Series

Great Clips 300 - Atlanta Motor Speedway - Hampton, GA

There are only a few things left for Kyle Busch to accomplish in the Nationwide Series. One of them is winning at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Last Friday at Bristol, Busch surpassed Mark Martin for most all-time wins in the series with 50. His victory at Bristol came in the slimmest of margins, as he beat his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Joey Logano at the finish line by just 0.017 seconds. Busch tied Martin's record of 49 wins in July at New Hampshire.

"It was great to have Mark with us in victory lane at Loudon and take some photos with him for tying him, but [Friday] was our night in being able to beat him and get atop the all-time win list in the Nationwide Series," Busch said. "It was special for us as a team and for me as a driver."

Busch has finished second three times in seven Nationwide starts at Atlanta, including runner-up finishes in 2009 and '10. He has also led at least 25 laps in each of the last five races here.

Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick, Kasey Kahne, Brad Keselowski, Jamie McMurray and Busch are those Sprint Cup Series regulars entered in Saturday's 300-mile Nationwide race at Atlanta.

McMurray, who is the defending race winner, is driving the No.7 Chevrolet for JR Motorsports. He won last year's Atlanta event in JRM's No.88 car, which is now occupied full-time by Aric Almirola.

Keselowski, the 2010 Nationwide champion, is scheduled to make his first in the series since suffering a broken left ankle and a sore back from a crash while testing on August 3 at Road Atlanta.

Harvick will have a new crew chief for his No.33 team at Atlanta. On Tuesday, Kevin Harvick Inc. announced that Chris Carrier is taking over the role for the team. Carrier is replacing David Hyder.

In addition to his duties with the No.33 team, Carrier will continue his role as crew chief for the No.8 Chevrolet, with driver Nelson Piquet Jr., in the Camping World Truck Series. A crew chief for the No.8 team will be named at a later date.

Ryan Truex will make his debut in the No.20 Toyota for JGR at Atlanta. Truex, the two-time NASCAR K&N Pro Series East champion, recently signed with Gibbs to drive the No.20 car in six Nationwide races this season. He is also slated to compete at Richmond, Chicago, Dover, Kansas and Phoenix. He drove the No.99 Toyota for Pastrana-Waltrip Racing earlier this year.

Forty-five teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Great Clips 300.

Camping World Truck Series

Atlanta 200 - Atlanta Motor Speedway - Hampton, GA

The Camping World Truck Series will kick off NASCAR's triple-header weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Friday night.

Kevin Harvick will take a break from the series this week after winning the last three races -- Pocono, Michigan and Bristol. Clint Bowyer is scheduled to drive Harvick's No.2 Chevrolet at Atlanta. Bowyer has finished either first or second in his first three truck races this season. He won at his home track in Kansas three months ago.

Bowyer's only truck start at Atlanta came in 2007. He finished fifth in that race.

"The track is so fast and so slick; racing there is a feeling like no other," Bowyer said. "Atlanta is a lot of fun and very challenging, and I can't wait to get back there."

Bowyer, Kyle Busch and Ryan Newman are those Sprint Cup Series regulars competing in this race.

Busch leads all drivers with four truck wins at Atlanta.

Newman is making his first truck start since the March 2009 race at Atlanta. He is driving the No.08 Chevrolet for Turner Motorsports. When Newman made his series debut in 2008 at Atlanta, he became the fourth driver in series history to win in his first start.

Johnny Sauter comes to Atlanta with a seven-point lead over James Buescher and a 15-point advantage over Timothy Peters.

Sauter's second-place finish at Bristol allowed him to gain two points on Buescher and three on Peters. Nine races remain in the season.

"We all know we can make a championship run here, so we've just got to stay clean and make smart decisions all the way around from here on out," Sauter said.

Thirty-seven teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Atlanta 200.


Baltimore Grand Prix - Streets of Baltimore - Baltimore, MD

The IZOD IndyCar Series will run on the streets of downtown Baltimore for the first time this Labor Day weekend. The inaugural 75-lap Baltimore Grand Prix will be contested on a 2.4-mile, 12-turn temporary street circuit that incorporates the Inner Harbor area and Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

In June 2010, officials from IndyCar and the Baltimore Racing Development announced that the Baltimore Grand Prix will be part of the series' schedule for at least five years, beginning in 2011.

Race organizers expect to attract more than 100,000 people to the area during the weekend.

Baltimore is the only inaugural race on the 2011 IndyCar schedule. Sao Paulo, Brazil and Barber Motorsports Park near Birmingham joined the racing circuit last year.

After winning at Sonoma, CA for the second straight year, Will Power trimmed Dario Franchitti's lead from 47 points to 26. Power's Team Penske teammates, Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe, finished second and third, respectively, while Franchitti took the fourth spot.

"There's going to be days like this and hopefully days where we have the upper hand," Franchitti said after the Sonoma race. "The only way to deal with it is to go out and try to win the weekend after that."

In the last four seasons, two drivers went on to win the series championship after winning an inaugural event that year. Franchitti won the first race at Iowa in 2007, while his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, Scott Dixon, took the checkered flag for the inaugural race at Edmonton, Canada.

Four of Power's five wins this season have come on road/street courses. His first career oval victory came in June at Texas (the second of the twin 275- kilometer races there).

Power won last year's inaugural race at Sao Paulo.

"I always enjoy going to a new circuit," he said. "I usually do well on new circuits. I think that potentially could play into our strength. These races, especially the street courses, it's hard to predict what can happen with double-file restarts and how much mayhem happens. If you just keep it clean and have a good day, you can end up winning the thing."

Baltimore is the ninth and final road/street course race of the season. After Baltimore, the series will compete at Motegi, Japan (September 17), Kentucky (October 2) and Las Vegas (October 16).

Twenty-eight teams are on the entry list for the Baltimore Grand Prix.