It's back to short-track racing in NASCAR, with the Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series competing at Martinsville Speedway. The IZOD IndyCar Series runs its second race of the season at Barber Motorsports Park.
Sprint Cup Series
Goody's Fast Relief 500 - Martinsville Speedway - Martinsville, VA
Jeff Gordon is having perhaps his worst start to a season in his illustrious 20-year career, but the four-time Sprint Cup Series champion is hoping that will change this weekend at Martinsville Speedway.
With five races completed so far this season, Gordon sits 25th in the point standings. He finished 40th in the Daytona 500 after suffering engine failure midway through the race. He rebounded somewhat with an eighth-place run the following week at Phoenix. But the 40-year-old driver has finished no better than 12th in the last three races.
Earlier this month at Bristol, Gordon crashed late in the race when he cut a tire after making contact with his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. He ended up finishing 35th.
Gordon had a good run going through the first half of last Sunday's race at California, but on lap 107, Gordon was hit with a stop-and-go penalty on pit road for leaving his stall with the gas can still attached to his No. 24 car. He finished 26th after the race was called 71 laps short of its scheduled distance due to rain.
"We've had some good performances this year hurt by engine issues or accidents or pit road miscues," Gordon said. "But we've had fast race cars, and that is always encouraging. We just need to have a complete race. And then another one, and then another one. We have a team capable of stringing together a lot of good finishes."
Martinsville is indeed a racetrack where Gordon can turn his season around. He leads all active drivers with seven wins at the flat 0.526-mile track. Gordon has also posted 17 top-10 finishes in the last 18 races there. He placed 20th in the fall 2010 event.
"The one place on the schedule that has changed the least is Martinsville," he said. "I believe the track, the setups and the tires have changed the least here compared to other tracks over the course of 20 seasons. And that's where experience can really pay off."
When the series competed at Martinsville one year ago, Earnhardt Jr. was just a handful of laps away from finally ending his lengthy winless streak in the series. Earnhardt Jr., who started 26th, took the lead for the first time when he nudged Kyle Busch out of the way with 21 laps remaining. Busch had led 151 laps up to that point.
Most in the estimated crowd of 60,000 were jumping for joy when Earnhardt Jr. made it to the front, but Kevin Harvick crashed the party when he passed Earnhardt Jr. for the lead with four lap remaining. Harvick went on to win a Sprint Cup race at Martinsville for the first time.
"We've been fast at Martinsville a lot and to be able to put together a complete day like we did last [spring], at the end of the race, we were able to capitalize on a fast car and win the race. We had a lot of things to overcome on that particular day and were able to pull out a win."
Earnhardt Jr. has not won a Sprint Cup race since June 2008 at Michigan (134 races ago).
"I look forward to Martinsville and always have a lot of fun there," he said. "We've had some good success there, so I'm hoping to have a good race like we did last year, and maybe have an opportunity to try and battle for the win."
Greg Biffle heads to Martinsville with a seven-point lead over Harvick and 17 points ahead of Earnhardt Jr. After winning California, Stewart moved from seventh to fourth in the standings. He trails Biffle by 18 markers. Stewart won the most recent race at Martinsville last October.
Forty-five teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Goody's Fast Relief 500.
Camping World Truck Series
Kroger 250 - Martinsville Speedway - Martinsville, VA
John King has been treated with royalty since winning the Camping World Truck Series season-opener five weeks ago at Daytona.
Just days after his surprising victory at Daytona, the rookie driver in trucks this year appeared on CNN's "John King USA." The duo had exchanged messages on Twitter following his win.
King also received the keys to his native hometown, Kingsport, TN, two weekends ago during the Sprint Cup Series pre-race ceremonies at Bristol.
King's first truck win came in just his eighth start. He is driving the No. 7 Toyota for Red Horse Racing this year.
After a four-week hiatus, the series will run its second race of the season on Saturday at Martinsville Speedway. King comes to Martinsville with a five- point lead over second-place and teammate Timothy Peters.
"It's pretty cool to be the points leader for five weeks," said King, who will celebrate his 24th birthday on April 1. "The win at Daytona is good for the whole organization and gives us a lot of confidence and a lot of momentum going into this next race. We've got some really nice trucks for Martinsville and the rest of these races."
King has competed in one truck race so far at Martinsville, starting 27th and finishing 19th in the October 2010 event. He also has three late model starts at this 0.526-mile track, with his best finish of 12th coming in 2009.
Peters, who hails from nearby Danville, VA, claimed his first win in the Truck Series in Oct. 2009 at Martinsville.
Johnny Sauter won last year's spring race at Martinsville. Kyle Busch held the lead late in the race, but after the final restart with four laps remaining, Sauter, who started on the pole, chased down Busch and then passed him for the lead right before the white flag was displayed for the final lap. He beat Busch to finish line by a half-second for the win, collecting the track's famous grandfather clock trophy.
"My roots are in short track racing, so this is always a track I enjoy racing at, and I look forward to it even more now that we've got a win there," Sauter said. "Anytime you return to a track where you have a win or a pole, you go in with a certain amount of confidence, because you know you've conquered it, that you can conquer it.
"We had two really great races in Martinsville last year, and we're bringing back the same truck, so we know we're going in with something that works. Now the goal is to make it even better and bring home another grandfather clock trophy."
Sauter finished fourth at Martinsville last October. Prior to the 2011 season, he had finished no better than 15th in his first six truck races there.
Forty-two teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Kroger 250. Kevin Harvick and David Reutimann are the only Sprint Cup regulars competing in this race.
IZOD INDYCAR SERIES
Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama - Barber Motorsports Park - Leeds, AL
After finishing a somewhat disappointing seventh in last Sunday's IZOD IndyCar Series season-opener in St. Petersburg, FL, Will Power is certainly looking forward to this weekend's race at Barber Motorsports Park.
One year ago, Power had an absolutely dominating performance on the 2.38-mile road course, which is located just outside of Birmingham. The Team Penske driver started on the pole and led all 90 laps. He also fended off challenges from Target Chip Ganassi drivers Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti late in the race.
Power became the first driver to lead wire-to-wire in an IndyCar event since Franchitti accomplished the feat in August 2009 at Sonoma, CA.
"It was one of those days where everything just came together," Power recalled. "I was very comfortable in the car the entire race."
Power started on the pole and led the first 11 laps at St. Petersburg, but his early-race pit strategy backfired, as he fell deep into the field and never fully recovered from there. He is hoping to return to his winning ways at Barber.
"When I come to Barber Motorsports Park, it feels like home," he said. "I really enjoy this place. It's probably the best facility we go to as far as road courses. It's very well laid out and very well presented in every way."
When IndyCar came to Barber for the first time in April 2010, Power was attempting to become the first driver in the series' 15-year history to win the first three races of the season. He claimed the victory at Sao Paulo, Brazil and St. Petersburg prior to Barber.
Power finished fourth, while his teammate, Helio Castroneves, took the checkered flag for the inaugural race at Barber. Castroneves conserved enough fuel and then held off Dixon in a two-lap shootout to the finish for the victory.
Marco Andretti led 58 of 90 laps, but Andretti had to make his third and final pit stop with eight laps to go, allowing Castroneves to take the lead for good. He made just two stops during the race.
Castroneves put behind him a frustrating 2011 season by winning at St. Petersburg. It was his first victory since September 2010 at Motegi, Japan.
"It's a great boost for the next race, to go out there and repeat what we can do," he said.
Twenty-six teams are on the entry list for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.