This Week in Auto Racing October 13 - 16

Published October 12, 2011

| Sports Network

It's a busy weekend in auto racing. While the finale at Las Vegas. Formula One travels to South Korea for the Korean Grand Prix.

NASCAR

Sprint Cup Series

Bank of America 500 - Charlotte Motor Speedway - Concord, NC

Here comes Jimmie Johnson. The five-time defending Sprint Cup Series champion is once again on the move in the Chase.

After sitting tenth in the point standings two weeks ago, Johnson has climbed up seven positions following his second-place finish last week at Dover and then his win this past Sunday at Kansas.

Johnson's attempt to win a record-extending sixth straight title appeared to be in jeopardy when he finished 18th at New Hampshire and fell 29 points out of the lead. That's no longer the case, as he has moved to within four points of leader Carl Edwards.

Last year, Johnson finished 25th in the Chase-opener at New Hampshire, but went on a tear from there, winning at Dover and then finishing second at Kansas before placing third at his home track in Fontana, CA.

Johnson claimed his second win of the season with a dominating performance at Kansas, leading 197 of 272 laps on that 1.5-mile track. He ended a 21-race winless drought. Johnson also collected his 55th career victory, which placed him in a tie with Rusty Wallace for eighth on the series' all-time race winners list.

The Chase continues on Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Charlotte is the third of five 1.5-mile tracks on this year's playoff schedule. And Johnson runs very well on those tracks.

"I'm very excited going forward into the remaining mile-and-a-half tracks, starting with Charlotte," Johnson said. "This thing isn't going to be over until Homestead. We came a long way from the opening race [Chicagoland], or New Hampshire for that matter, but there's still a lot of racing left."

Charlotte has been one of Johnson's best tracks. He is tied with Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip for most wins at this track with six. Johnson finished 28th in the 600-mile race here in May.

The next win by a Hendrick Motorsports driver (Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and Johnson ) will mark the 200th win for the racing organization in NASCAR's premier series. HMS would become just the second team in series' history with 200 or more wins. Petty Enterprises accumulated 268 during a six-decade span.

"When I look through all the pictures, since the beginning of Hendrick Motorsports, and I look at the wins, and I remember the celebrations, I can remember vividly that I didn't know if I'd ever win one race," team owner Rick Hendrick recalled. "I know there were some years where I thought, 'Are we going to win a race this year?' When you say you've won a race in the Cup Series, you've accomplished something, but when you think about 200 wins, it's unbelievable."

Hendrick leads all team owners with 16 wins at Charlotte. Petty has the second most victories here with eight.

Right now, 20 points separate leader Edwards from eight-place Kyle Busch. Edwards had a remarkable comeback at Kansas. After dealing with an ill- handling car and a host of other issues, he rallied late in the race to finish fifth. The Roush Fenway Racing driver claimed sole possession of the points lead, holding a single-point advantage over Kevin Harvick, who finished sixth.

"I feel like we've had two weeks with very lucky breaks, this week [Kansas] and last week [Dover], to be able to come back from a bad position on the racetrack," Edwards said. "There's a lot that can happen in the next six races. I have a feeling there will be more moments that define this championship, all the way up until the last lap at Homestead."

Earning the nickname "The Closer" this year, Harvick prevailed in a thrilling fuel battle at Charlotte earlier in the season. Earnhardt Jr. was less than a half-mile away from ending his lengthy winless streak, but Earnhardt Jr. ran out of gas on the last turn of the final lap, allowing Harvick to drive past him and steal the win.

Kyle Busch finished second to Jamie McMurray in last year's fall race at Charlotte. Busch has yet to score a victory in a Sprint Cup event here. He has six wins in the Nationwide Series and four in the Camping World Truck Series so far at this track.

"Winning at Charlotte Motor Speedway, since it is my favorite track, would be really special, since I've been able to win there in other series and have been close a lot in the Cup car," Busch said. "It seems like the month of May at Charlotte just hasn't liked me too much. We got to win in the Truck Series race in the spring, so I'm hoping we can change that this weekend and get a fall Sprint Cup win."

Forty-seven teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Bank of America 500. Qualifying at Charlotte is scheduled for Thursday night.

Nationwide Series

Dollar General 300 - Charlotte Motor Speedway - Concord, NC

Charlotte Motor Speedway begins the final-four race stretch in the Nationwide Series.

The battle between Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Elliott Sadler for the driver's championship tightened up slightly after last Saturday's event at Kansas. Sadler finished third and gained two points on Stenhouse, who bounced back from an early-race speeding penalty to place fifth.

"It was up and down, but we did what a championship teams needs to do," Stenhouse said after his top-five run at Kansas. "We overcame our mistakes, had a top-five finish and made the most of what we had. We have four more to go, and I think we are capable of doing this thing."

Stenhouse enters Friday night's 300-mile race at Charlotte with a 20-point advantage over Sadler.

"[Charlotte] is definitely a track that I feel comfortable at because, I feel like it really fits my driving style well," Sadler said. "We only have four races left on the schedule, so things are heating up on the track, but I'm as confident as ever in this team."

Reed Sorenson is now a distant 70 points out of the lead. Sorenson was released from his driving duties with Turner Motorsports last week. He secured a ride in time for Kansas, finishing 26th in the No.82 Dodge for MacDonald Motorsports. He is entered in that same car at Charlotte.

This race will also be the fourth and final one in this year's "Dash 4 Cash" bonus program. Stenhouse, Sadler, Ryan Truex and Kenny Wallace are the drivers eligible for the $100,000 bonus from series title sponsor Nationwide Insurance. They gained eligibility based on their finishes in the most recent "Dash 4 Cash" race -- September 9 at Richmond. The highest finisher among the four at Charlotte will collect the cash award.

Wallace is scheduled to make his 519th career start in NASCAR's second-tier series this weekend. It will place him in a tie with Jason Keller for most all-time starts. Wallace is expected to top Keller's record in the November 5 race at Texas. The series is off for two weeks after Charlotte.

The 48-year-old Wallace made his Nationwide debut at Charlotte on May 27, 1989, finishing 12th. He is currently seventh in the point standings.

Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Kasey Kahne, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Paul Menard and Brian Vickers are those Sprint Cup Series regulars competing in this race.

Busch, a six-time Nationwide race winner at Charlotte, is back in the No.18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota after taking a three-race hiatus. Joey Logano returns to Gibbs' No.20 car after driving the No.18 at Chicago, Dover and Kansas.

Fifty teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Dollar General 300.

Camping World Truck Series

Smith's 350 - Las Vegas Motor Speedway - Las Vegas, NV

While the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series runs at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the Camping World Truck Series heads to Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Saturday's race will be the final stand-alone event for the series this season.

This race will also run in the afternoon. The series had run at nighttime here from 2003-10.

With five races remaining, Austin Dillon leads in the championship standings by just three points over James Buescher. Johnny Sauter is now 19 points behind.

At age 21, Dillon is attempting to become the youngest champion in the series' 17-year history.

"I'm very confident in winning this championship," he said. "I want to go to the next five races and do whatever it takes."

When the series ran at Las Vegas last year, the finishing order of the 219- mile (350-kilometer) race found each of the current title hopefuls among the top-three. Dillon won the race by 2.5 seconds over Sauter, while Buescher came in third.

"That should be a fun and exciting race for us, and the points battle will probably stay tight through the rest of the year, I think," said Buescher, who is seeking to win his first truck race.

Sauter finished 14th at Kentucky and lost some ground in the points battle. He was penalized for speeding on pit road during his last stop.

His first win in the series came in the 2009 Las Vegas race.

"We're not out of this championship hunt - actually, far from it," Sauter said. "This is just beginning, going into Vegas, where I won two years ago."

Timothy Peters and Ron Hornaday Jr. are a distant fourth and fifth in points, respectively, but both drivers are not out of the title bout just yet. Peters trails Dillon by 40 points, while Hornaday is 42 markers behind.

Hornaday captured his record-extending 50th win in the series at Kentucky. He has yet to win a race at Las Vegas.

"This is one of those tracks that I don't have a victory at, so that is definitely our priority this weekend," Hornaday said. "I am back with [crew chief] Bruce Cook and the No.2 truck team this weekend and really looking forward to getting on the track to see what we have. This team is on top of their game, and with five races to go in the season, it's game time."

Matt Crafton is expected to make his 268th straight truck start this weekend, surpassing Dennis Setzer for second on the series' all-time consecutive starts list. Terry Cook holds the record with 296.

And recently crowned NASCAR K&N Pro Series East champion Max Gresham is scheduled to make his truck debut here, driving the No.66 Chevrolet for Turn One Motorsports.

Thirty-one teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Smith's 350.

IZOD INDYCAR SERIES

IZOD IndyCar World Championship - Las Vegas Motor Speedway - Las Vegas, NV

Eighteen points, two drivers and one race to go.

That's the point separation between leader Dario Franchitti and second-place Will Power heading into this weekend's IZOD IndyCar Series season-finale at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. This will be the first time the series has competed at this 1.5-mile track since 2000.

Franchitti is attempting to win his third consecutive and fourth overall IndyCar championship. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver would become just the third person to win three titles in a row on the racing circuit, joining Sebastian Bourdais and Ted Horn. Franchitti would also join drivers such as A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Rick Mears and Bourdais with at least four championships.

"I think with the three we've won right now, I've always felt we had the capability to do it, but having the capability to do it and actually getting it done are two different things," Franchitti said. "I'm very proud of the achievement -- the championships and the Indianapolis 500s [wins]. As far as right now, I'm really just focused on this weekend and trying to make it four.

"The whole organization, the Target team, is very much of a similar thing. All the stuff that was done in the past, that's fun and everything, but this is about trying to get the job done this weekend."

Last year, Power held a comfortable 59-point lead over Franchitti with four races to go. The last four were contested on 1.5-mile ovals. Power finished 16th (Chicago), eighth (Kentucky), third (Japan) and 25th (Homestead) in those races and lost the championship by five points.

"I think the biggest difference for me this year is just I'm a lot further along on ovals," Power said. "I feel as though every time I go into a weekend I have a chance of winning them. Obviously, we're coming from behind this time, but at the end of the day, I feel as though we've done everything as a team to prepare for this race. I think that we're in very good shape.

"Obviously, no one knows what the outcome is, but we know that we've put everything into it this year, and hopefully we can come away with a win."

Power held an 11-point lead over Franchitti heading into last week's penultimate race of the season at Kentucky. Power started on the pole and led the first 48 laps, but during the first round of pit stops, the Team Penske driver made contact with Ana Beatriz while entering his stall, causing damage to his car. He had to pit several times for repairs and ended up finishing 19th. Franchitti finished a very close second to Ed Carpenter, who claimed his first IndyCar win by a margin of just 0.0098 seconds.

There will be more than the series championship at stake in Sunday's 300-mile race at Las Vegas.

Reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Dan Wheldon has an opportunity to share a $5 million bonus with a lucky fan if he wins at Las Vegas. Wheldon, who has competed in just two races this season, is the only driver eligible for the "GoDaddy IndyCar Challenge" cash award. He will drive the No.77 car for Sam Schmidt Motorsports. He was also behind the wheel of that car at Kentucky, starting 28th and finishing 14th in the 29-car field.

Wheldon has a tough task ahead of him at Las Vegas. He will have to start from the rear of the expected 34-car field.

"When you look at the depth of the field, it's going to be incredibly tough," Wheldon said. "I think we all know what this team is capable of and what everybody that's been part of the team has helped do for tracks like Vegas. I feel we'll have a very fast race car."

Nine of Wheldon's 16 career IndyCar wins have come on 1.5-mile ovals.

Las Vegas will also mark the end of Danica Patrick's seven-year career in IndyCar. Patrick, the only female to win a race in the series (Japan, 2008), is moving over to NASCAR full-time in 2012, running a full schedule in Nationwide and a partial one in Sprint Cup.

"There will definitely be things and people that I miss about IndyCar," Patrick said. "I'm especially sure on frustrating weekends [in Sprint Cup and Nationwide competition], I'll think, 'When I came here in IndyCar, maybe it was much easier.' I'm excited about the change, and I'm not afraid of change."

Patrick is currently 10th in the point standings, with her season-best finish of fifth coming at Milwaukee.

FORMULA ONE

Korean Grand Prix - Korean International Circuit - Yeongam County, South Korea

One week after running the Japanese Grand Prix, Formula One will continue its Asian tour with Sunday's Korean Grand Prix.

Sebastian Vettel from Red Bull has already clinched his second straight world championship, but there is still another matter at hand -- the constructors' title. Red Bull will likely wrap up the constructors' championship for the second year in a row this weekend. The team has accumulated 518 points so far, compared to 388 for McLaren.

"It's still open, so we obviously still have to get that one, and it's looking pretty good at the moment," Vettel said. "We are leading the point table, but I don't think we can allow ourselves to get too excited. We still have to get the job done. We are looking forward to the next four races. We have a great car under our belt and a great team."

Vettel has nine wins so far, while his teammate, Mark Webber, has yet to score a victory this season.

Jenson Button comes to Korea fresh off an impressive win in Japan. Button, who signed a new multi-year contract with McLaren prior to the Japanese GP, notched his third victory of the season.

"Winning in Japan was one of the most satisfying and emotional victories of my career, and I'm really looking forward to carrying that momentum into this weekend," Button said.

Button is hoping for a better performance in this year's Korean GP. He finished a disappointing 12th in the 2010 inaugural race.

"Although last year's Korean Grand Prix wasn't one of my greatest performances -- we just couldn't get the car hooked up properly -- I think that, given the current pace of the car and the form the team has at the moment, I'm going into this year's race feeling much more positive."

Fernando Alonso from Ferrari had the honors of winning the first F1 race on the 3.49-mile (5.621-kilometer), 18-turn Korean International Circuit. Alonso survived monsoon-like conditions in the early going. He then benefited from Vettel and Webber failing to finish the 55-lap event. Vettel ran in front all the way up to lap 46 before he suffered engine failure. He wound up finishing 17th. While running second on lap 19, Webber experienced a suspension problem, which caused him to spin around and hit the wall. He placed 23rd.

Alonso crossed the finish line 15 seconds ahead of his closest competitor, McLaren's Lewis Hamilton, for his fifth win of the season. Alonso has only one victory so far this year, which came in the British Grand Prix. He is currently third in points, trailing second-place Button by eight markers.

"I prefer a win and finish fifth in the championship than finish second and not win one of the remaining races," Alonso said.

Four grand prix remain on this year's F1 calendar -- Korea, India, Abu Dhabi and Brazil.

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