This Week in Auto Racing October 7 - 9

Kansas Speedway hosts round four in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship this weekend. The Nationwide Series is also at Kansas. And Sebastian Vettel can wrap up his second straight Formula One world championship in the Japanese Grand Prix.


Sprint Cup Series

Hollywood Casino 400 - Kansas Speedway - Kansas City, KS

After a dramatic shift in points at Dover, the Sprint Cup Series moves through the heartland of America to Kansas Speedway for the fourth race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. Kansas is the second of five 1.5-mile tracks on this year's playoff schedule.

Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards currently share the points lead, while the next seven drivers in the rankings are all within 19 points of the leaders.

Kurt Busch picked up a lot of momentum in the Chase by winning at Dover for the first time last Sunday. But Kansas might be more of a challenge for Busch, based on his past performances here.

"Tracks that we have notoriously struggled on, we've been doing really well," Busch said. "Tracks that we are expecting to do well on, we struggle. Kansas? I don't know. I usually struggle there, so that's the way we are going to look at it."

Busch and Tony Stewart are both nine points behind Harvick and Edwards.

When the series ran at Kansas four months ago, Busch scored his first top-10 finish here since '04, the same year he won the championship. In the June race, he started on the pole and led the most laps with 152 but was forced to pit for fuel while running in the top spot with nine laps remaining.

While Busch wound up finishing ninth, his Penske Racing teammate, Brad Keselowski, prevailed in a fuel battle. Keselowski took the lead when Busch pitted and then coasted his No.2 Dodge as much as he could during final nine laps for his first of three wins so far this season.

Keselowski is hoping to rebound in the Chase at Kansas following his 20th- place run at Dover, which dropped him to sixth in points (-14).

"I'm certainly looking forward to that one," he said about Sunday's race at Kansas. "I'm looking forward to all of them [remaining Chase races]. We've just got to keep digging."

Jeff Gordon has been impressive at Kansas since the series started competing here a decade ago. Gordon won the first two races at this track (2001 and '02) and has finished no worse than fifth in the last five Kansas races. He placed fourth here earlier this year.

"I feel like Kansas is where we really turned the corner with our 1.5-mile program this year," Gordon said. "We ran really strong, and I felt like we had a shot at winning that race."

Gordon sat 16th in points when he came to Kansas in June, but seven races later, he was up nine spots in the rankings and had gained 56 points on the leader.

With seven races to go, the four-time series champion is 19 points out of the lead.

Gordon, Tony Stewart and Greg Biffle are those drivers with multiple victories at Kansas. Stewart won here in 2006 and 09. Biffle took the checkered flag at this track in 2007 and '10.

Forty-six teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Hollywood Casino 400.

Austin Dillon, the current Camping World Truck Series points leader, will make his Sprint Cup debut at Kansas. Dillon will drive the No.98 entry for Curb- Agajanian Racing.

Nationwide Series

Kansas Lottery 300 - Kansas Speedway - Kansas City, KS

Following his fifth-place finish last Saturday at Dover, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is in command in the Nationwide Series championship points battle. Stenhouse holds a 22-point lead over Elliott Sadler with just five races to go.

The series now heads to Kansas Speedway, a track that became a turning point for Stenhouse during his rookie season last year. Stenhouse struggled for a majority of the season but a sixth-place finish at Kansas began his surge towards the rookie-of-the-year title.

Stenhouse has been atop the point standings since the July race in Indianapolis. Sadler moved to within five points of Stenhouse after the August event at Bristol, but the Roush Fenway Racing driver has put a distance between himself and Sadler since then.

"I'm really looking forward to Kansas," said Stenhouse, who turned 24 years old on October 2. "We got to do the Goodyear tire test there earlier this year, which will hopefully benefit us. Last year, that was one of the good races we really had heading down the homestretch."

While Stenhouse is contending for the driver's title, Roush Fenway's No.60 team is in a tight battle with Joe Gibbs Racing's No.18 team for the owner's championship. Carl Edwards won at Dover and moved the No.60 to within 13 points of the No.18.

Edwards, from nearby Columbia, MO, has 36 career Nationwide wins but has yet to score a victory at Kansas. He did win a Truck Series race at his home track in 2004.

"[Kansas] is not far from my hometown, and I will have several of my family and friends there," Edwards said. "It's a track I really want to win at. Our team has been on a roll, and we are coming off a strong win at Dover. I love the mile and a half speedways."

Edwards is scheduled to compete in each of the last five races. Kyle Busch has run 19 races in the No.18 car but is not entered in this event. Busch is slated for three more events this season -- Charlotte, Texas and Homestead.

Joey Logano, who has won the last two Nationwide races at Kansas, is back in the No.18 this week.

Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski, Paul Menard, Brian Vickers, Edwards and Logano are those Sprint Cup Series regulars competing in this race.

Earlier this week, Turner Motorsports announced that Vickers is replacing Reed Sorenson in the No.32 car for Kansas and Charlotte. Sorenson, who is presently third in Nationwide points (-27), has been released by the team.

"We are continuing to evaluate our racing program as we look to the 2012 season," team owner Steve Turner said in a statement. "Brian Vickers is a proven winner at NASCAR's highest level, in addition to being a driver at Turner Motorsports over the last four seasons. He has worked with [crew chief] Trent Owens in the past, which will allow us to immediately focus on the task at hand."

Turner Motorsports will announce its driver for Texas, Phoenix and Homestead at a later date.

Fifty teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Kansas Lottery 300.


Japanese Grand Prix - Suzuka Circuit - Suzuka City, Japan

What are the odds of Sebastian Vettel clinching his second straight Formula One world championship in Sunday's Japanese Grand Prix?

Very high.

All Vettel has to do is score a single point in any one of the five remaining grand prix on this year's calendar. The top-10 finishing positions in a F1 race award points.

Even if the Red Bull driver were to finish 11th or worse in the last five grand prix, his closest competitor in points, Jenson Button from McLaren, would have to win all of those races.

Right now, Vettel holds a 124-point lead over Button. Vettel has won nine of the first 14 races this season, including the last three. His worst finish so far in 2011 is fourth, which came in the July 24 German Grand Prix.

"Obviously with the races that we've had so far, it should not be a big problem, but it's over when it's over and not before," Vettel said. "Statistically, the chances are on our side, but generally in sports, there have been a lot of stories written, and this one also has to wait to be closed first."

By the way, Vettel has won the last two Japanese GPs from the pole position.

Many F1 drivers consider the 2.641-mile (5.807-kilometer) Suzuka Circuit to be their favorite track on the calendar. Teams are also eager to return to Japan and show their support for the people in wake of the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck the country earlier this year.

"The fans in Japan are special," Vettel said. "What they have been through in recent times is something I cannot begin to imagine, but they are so impressive. They are extremely patient and always polite and friendly and their stamina is amazing. I hope we can put on a good show for them this weekend."

Button heads to Japan after signing a new multi-year contract with McLaren. He won the F1 championship with Brawn GP in 2009 and then moved over to McLaren the following year.

"I've never felt more at home at a team than I do at Vodafone McLaren Mercedes," Button said in a team statement. "I've won four of the greatest races of my life here. I'm currently lying second in the drivers' world championship, and I feel that I'm driving better than ever. You can only achieve that with the right level of support, and I truly believe that the passion and determination to win are stronger here at Vodafone McLaren Mercedes than anywhere else."

Button has two wins so far this year and is presently 17 points ahead of teammate and 2008 titleholder Lewis Hamilton.