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NASCAR

This Week in Auto Racing October 1 - 2

The next race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship takes place this weekend at Dover International Speedway. The Nationwide Series is also at Dover. The Camping World Truck Series joins IndyCar at Kentucky Speedway.

NASCAR

Sprint Cup Series

AAA 400 - Dover International Speedway - Dover, DE

Tony Stewart is on fire in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship right now. After a winless 26-race regular season, Stewart has won the first two playoff races -- Chicagoland and New Hampshire.

One month ago, it looked as though Stewart might be absent from the 12-driver Chase field. In fact, the two-time Sprint Cup Series champion was almost ready to write himself off as a Chase contender after his disappointing 28th-place finish in the August 27 race at Bristol.

But things have changed for Stewart since then...big time.

"It's huge," he said. "When you talk about momentum, that racecar doesn't know anything about momentum...Momentum deals with people. It's not just these first two races of the Chase. It was the two weeks [Atlanta and Richmond] leading before it, too. We haven't finished outside the top-seven now in the last four weeks. That's huge for us."

Stewart began the Chase in the ninth seed, but after back-to-back wins, he has propelled to the lead, holding a seven-point advantage over Kevin Harvick.

"As much as we want to sit here and beat our chest and be proud of what we've done, and we are proud of what we've done these first two weeks, we got eight hard weeks to go here," Stewart said. "The celebrating isn't going to last long. We got a lot of work to do. I'm proud of our group. I'm confident that we've got a group of guys that are very focused right now."

Stewart joined Greg Biffle as the only drivers who have won the first two races in the Chase since NASCAR began its playoff format in 2004. Biffle accomplished the feat in 2008 but finished the season third in points that year.

Round three in the Chase takes place on Sunday at Dover International Speedway. If Stewart takes the checkered flag at Dover, it will be the first time in his 13-year Sprint Cup career that he has won three races in a row.

Stewart scored a season-sweep at Dover in 2000 but has not won a race here since then. He has finished 21st and 29th in the last two races at this one- mile, concrete-surfaced track.

Brad Keselowski is another driver who has been very hot lately. Keselowski has finished no worse than 12th in the last nine races. He began the Chase in the 11th seed (wild card), but after a fifth-place finish at Chicagoland and then a second-place run at New Hampshire, he is up to third in the rankings, just 11 points behind Stewart.

"We still have a long way to go, a really long way," Keselowski said. "There's eight big races left. Then, of course, you can throw in Talladega. I don't think anybody can tell you what's going to happen there."

If Jimmie Johnson is hoping to rebound in the Chase, Dover is where he can do it. Johnson's current 10th-place ranking is his lowest Chase position ever. He is 29 points out of the lead.

Dover has been one of Johnson's best tracks. He leads all active drivers with six wins here, including three in the last five races. Johnson finished ninth at Dover earlier this year.

"I look at Dover as a huge opportunity," he said. "It's been a great track for me over the years. We've won a lot of Chase races there. It's my favorite racetrack."

Denny Hamlin also needs a good run at Dover to bounce back in the Chase. Hamlin is a distant 66 points behind Stewart after finishing 29th and 31st in the first two races. He has posted just four top-10 finishes in 11 starts at Dover.

"In the position I'm in at this point, we're going out there and trying to win," Hamlin said. "That's what we need to do to get back on track for 2011 is to win a few races before the season is over, and I feel like a no-points- pressure situation is just what we need."

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

Nationwide Series

One Main Financial 200 - Dover International Speedway - Dover, DE

The Nationwide Series returns to action this weekend at Dover International Speedway. With six races to go, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. holds a 14-point lead over Elliott Sadler. Reed Sorenson is 47 points behind.

When the series competed at Chicagoland earlier this month, Sadler's sixth- place finish compared to an eighth-place run for Stenhouse allowed Sadler to chip two points away from Stenhouse's lead.

The points lead had swapped numerous times among Stenhouse, Sadler and Sorenson earlier in the season, but Stenhouse has been atop the standings since the July 30 race in Indianapolis.

"I think if you look at it over the whole season, no matter where you are in points, you just got to go out there and get all the points you can," Stenhouse said. "The way our series has been this year, whoever is leading always tends to have a bad race, and it brings everybody right back into it."

Stenhouse has finished fourth, 11th and 18th in his first three races at Dover, while Sadler has finished sixth and 31st in his previous two races here. Prior to last year's fall event, Sadler had not competed in a Nationwide race at Dover since 1998.

Sorenson has been exceptional at this track recently, finishing no worse than seventh in the last five races.

Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards, Kasey Kahne, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Jamie McMurray are those Sprint Cup Series regulars scheduled to compete in this race.

Bowyer is the only driver of the 46 entered for Saturday's One Main Financial 200 that has multiple Nationwide wins at Dover.

"I love Dover; it's like Bristol, just a bigger, faster and meaner Bristol," he said. "I have two Nationwide Series wins at Dover, and I'd love to make it three."

Logano will once again drive the No.18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Kyle Busch, who won this race one year ago, is focusing his efforts on the Chase.

Ryan Truex, who hails from nearby Mayetta, NJ, will be behind the wheel of Gibbs' No.20 car.

Camping World Truck Series

Kentucky 225 - Kentucky Speedway - Sparta, KY

The Camping World Truck Series runs at Kentucky Speedway for the second time this season on Saturday night. The series competed here in July, with Kyle Busch taking the checkered flag in his No.18 Toyota. Busch is not entered in this race.

With six races remaining, only six points separate the top-three drivers -- Austin Dillon, James Buescher and Timothy Peters.

Last week at New Hampshire, Dillon's second-place finish coupled with a seventh-place run for Buescher allowed Dillon to take a two-point lead over Buescher.

It's been a seesaw battle among these three drivers for the points lead throughout the season.

"That's what we're all out here trying to do is win the championship," Dillon said. "I feel like we've had a great truck to beat each and every week but just been beating ourselves a lot this year. We're finally putting some finishes together. We're really focused on these last six races, so we'll just go fight in these next six."

Buescher held the points lead after this month's races at Atlanta and Chicagoland -- both 1.5-mile tracks that are similar to Kentucky.

"[Crew chief] Michael [Shelton] and [team engineer] Hal [Ralston] have been working really hard on our mile-and-a-half program, and we seem to have hit on a couple of things that I think will help us in Kentucky," Buescher said.

Buescher has yet to win a race in the series.

Finishes of fifth and sixth in the last two races have helped Sauter rebound in points.

"I've said it all year - wins bring championships, and consistent finishes help tick up the points lead," Sauter said.

Dillon's younger brother, Ty, who is the current points leader in the ARCA Series, is scheduled to make his NASCAR national series debut at Kentucky, driving the No.21 Chevrolet for Kevin Harvick Inc.

In a swap of seats at KHI for this race, Ron Hornaday Jr. is moving over to the No.2 Chevrolet, while Cale Gale is behind the wheel of the No.33 truck, normally occupied by Hornaday.

Brian Ickler will drive Busch's truck at Kentucky. It will be Ickler's first start in the series since July at Iowa.

Thirty-one teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Kentucky 225.

IZOD INDYCAR SERIES

Kentucky Indy 300 - Kentucky Speedway - Sparta, KY

The IZOD IndyCar Series will run its penultimate race of the season on Sunday at Kentucky Speedway. And the championship battle in the series is at its best right now.

After finishing second in last week's race at Motegi, Japan, Will Power reclaimed the top spot in the point standings. Dario Franchitti's eighth-place run there put the two-time defending series champion 11 points out of the lead.

Power also earned the Mario Andretti Trophy for winning this year's road/street course title. It's the second straight year the Team Penske driver has won the honors.

"It's an honor to win the Mario Andretti road course award again," Power said. "Now we need to keep going and finish the season strong on the ovals."

Luckily for Franchitti, the last two races of the year are contested on 1.5- mile ovals. The season concludes October 16 at Las Vegas.

Franchitti held a comfortable 62-point lead over Power after last month's race at Mid-Ohio, but Power has progressively gained on Franchitti since then, doing so on the road/street courses (Sonoma, Baltimore and Motegi).

"If you win or if you lose, you always look at the championship as a whole," Franchitti said. "[Motegi], Loudon, Texas, Indy and on and on, you always look at these things, but Will can do the same with his races."

Last year, Franchitti trailed power by 59 points late in the season, but he bounced back in the final four races -- all of them on ovals -- to steal the title from Power by just five points.

Franchitti has yet to win an IndyCar race at Kentucky but has finished no worse than ninth in his last four races here, including a fifth-place run in 2010.

Power's best finish in three races at Kentucky is eighth, which came last year. He led 83 of 200 laps in that event.

Dan Wheldon will race in the series for the first time since his surprising victory in the May 29 Indianapolis 500. Wheldon is scheduled to drive the No.77 Sam Schmidt Motorsports car in place of Alex Tagliani.

Kentucky will be an opportunity for Wheldon to prepare for Las Vegas -- a race in which he would collect a $5 million bonus if he takes the checkered flag.

"I can't thank Alex enough for letting me drive his car in Kentucky and to work with the team in preparation for Las Vegas," Wheldon said. "I'm really excited about this opportunity and look forward to working with everyone at Sam's team. They were a large part of our winning effort in May, and I'll do my best to get back to victory lane."

Wheldon has posted five top-five finishes in eight starts at Kentucky. He started and finished third in last year's race here.

Twenty-nine teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Kentucky Indy 300.