NASCAR heads to the heartland of America this weekend, with the Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series running at Kansas Speedway. Formula One will be in Sakhir, Bahrain for the Bahrain Grand Prix.
Sprint Cup Series
STP 400 - Kansas Speedway - Kansas City, KS
It's hard to believe, but 13 races have passed since Hendrick Motorsports' last win in the Sprint Cup Series.
Jimmie Johnson gave team owner Rick Hendrick his 199th and most recent victory in NASCAR's premier series on October 9, 2011 at Kansas Speedway. Six and a half months later, the series returns to the 1.5-mile track. And Hendrick is hoping this will be the weekend he gets his long-awaited 200th win in the series.
The 13-race winless drought is the longest for Hendrick since the latter part of the 2002 season and the beginning of 2003, when the racing organization went 15 races without a victory. That streak, nearly a decade ago, coincidentally began after Jeff Gordon's win at Kansas.
Since last fall's race at Kansas, a Hendrick driver has finished in the runner-up spot four times, including Johnson's second-place run last Saturday night at Texas.
Earlier this month, Johnson was denied the victory at Martinsville. The five- time series champion held the lead late in that race but was involved in a multi-car crash during a green-white-checkered finish. He wound up finishing 12th.
"Whenever it happens is going to be very special for the company," Johnson said. "I just want to win. I don't care where it is, whatever reason. There's 36 [races] a year, and I want to take home a bunch of trophies. Second is nice, but winning is everything."
Hendrick has the most car owner wins at Kansas with four -- two with Johnson and two with Gordon.
Whenever Johnson, Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Kasey Kahne wins another race, HMS will become just the second team in NASCAR's top racing circuit with 200 or more victories. Petty Enterprises holds the record with 268 wins.
Hendrick is guaranteed at least one milestone on Sunday at Kansas. The team will make its 3,000th start, becoming the first one to reach that achievement. Its first Cup start came with driver Geoff Bodine in the 1984 Daytona 500.
Johnson dominated most of the 500-mile race at Texas by leading 156 laps, but Greg Biffle passed him for the lead with 30 laps remaining and then held it for the win. Biffle captured his 17th career Sprint Cup victory but his first since October 2010 at Kansas (49 races ago). He also gave crew chief Matt Puccia his first win in the series.
Biffle has had a superb season so far. He currently holds a 19-point lead over his Roush Fenway Racing teammate, Matt Kenseth, and Earnhardt Jr.
"Kansas is a great track, and I have two wins there," Biffle said. "We are coming off the win at Texas, and I'm ready to go. Kansas and Texas might be the same distance, but they are extremely different tracks. Kansas is much flatter, and the track is more uniform from one end to another."
Biffle's first victory at Kansas came in September 2007.
Brad Keselowski won last year's inaugural spring race at Kansas. While gambling on fuel late in the race, Keselowski took the lead for the first time with nine laps remaining when his then Penske Racing teammate, Kurt Busch, the pole sitter, was forced to pit and relinquished the top position. He then coasted his No. 2 Dodge as much as he could during the last nine laps to claim his second career Sprint Cup win.
Keselowski enters this race 15th in points, which is significantly better than one year ago when he sat outside the top-20.
Forty-six teams are on the preliminary entry list for Sunday's STP 400.
SFP 250 - Kansas Speedway - Kansas City, KS
Camping World Truck Series
After racing at Rockingham Speedway for the first time this past Saturday, the Camping World Truck Series will join the Sprint Cup Series at Kansas Speedway this weekend.
Timothy Peters enters Saturday's 250-mile race at Kansas as the points leader. Peters' Red Horse Racing teammate, John King, held the top spot in the standings for the first two races -- Daytona and Martinsville -- but King, a rookie in the series this year, dropped to eighth in points after his 33rd- place finish at Rockingham. He was involved in an early-race accident there.
This isn't the first time that Peters has gone to Kansas with the points lead. He did so in May 2010. Peters finished 23rd at Kansas but continued to hold the top spot. He lost it one week later at Dover.
"Our season has been going well," said Peters, who has finished no worse than fifth in the first three races. "At this point, I would rate our season as an 'A-plus,' and we're running up front. If we keep executing, our win will come."
Peters' best finish in four truck races at Kansas is 14th, which came last June.
Justin Lofton is currently six points behind Peters, while rookie Ty Dillon is one marker behind Lofton.
Nelson Piquet Jr. comes to Kansas hoping for another impressive performance like he had at Rockingham. Piquet scored his first Truck Series pole there. The Brazilian native and former Formula One driver led a race-high 107 laps before a pit-road speeding penalty resulted in a seventh-place finish.
"After a weekend like we just had at Rockingham Speedway, I'm definitely ready to get back behind the wheel," Piquet said. "Last weekend really showed how competitive my team is, as well as Turner Motorsports as a whole."
Piquet started fourth and finished eighth in his first Kansas truck race last year. He drove for Kevin Harvick Inc. at the time. Piquet landed a ride at Turner for this season.
Brad Keselowski is the only Sprint Cup regular competing in this race. Keselowski has an opportunity to become the first driver to win a race in each of NASCAR's three national touring series at Kansas. Last year, he won the June Sprint Cup race and the October Nationwide event there.
Thirty-eight teams are on the preliminary entry list for the SFP 250.
Bahrain Grand Prix - Bahrain International Circuit - Sakhir, Bahrain
Despite continued civil unrest in Bahrain, this weekend's Bahrain Grand Prix will go ahead as planned.
Last year's Bahrain GP had been scheduled as the Formula One season-opener, but anti-government demonstrations in that Middle Eastern country forced race organizers to cancel the event. F1's governing body, the FIA, reinstated the race to its 2011 calendar in June, but later that month, organizers withdrew its rescheduled October 30 date due to concerns raised by various parties, mainly F1 teams.
There are still concerns from teams heading to the Gulf state. However, the FIA announced last Friday the Bahrain GP will go on as scheduled.
The FIA noted in its statement that, "[FIA] president Jean Todt led a fact- finding mission to the Kingdom in November 2011, meeting a large number of decision-makers and opinion formers, including elected Shia members of parliament, the president of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, ambassadors from the European Union countries, the Crown Prince, the Interior Minister and many members of the business community.
"All expressed their wish for the Grand Prix to go ahead in 2012, and since then, the FIA has kept in close touch with all these stakeholders. Away from the public eye, the FIA has received regular security briefings from the most senior diplomatic officials based in the Kingdom as well as from other independent experts."
The Bahrain GP is round four on this year's schedule. Last Sunday, Nico Rosberg scored his maiden F1 win in the Chinese Grand Prix. Rosberg also gave Mercedes its first victory since 1955 when Juan Manuel Fangio took the checkered flag for the Italian Grand Prix.
"I had a great race [Sunday], but that doesn't mean it's going to be like that at every race," said Rosberg, who also won his first F1 pole in China. "We still need to push hard and continue progressing. Bahrain could be a little bit of a different story again. We need to wait and see. It's difficult to predict."
Rosberg made his F1 debut in the 2006 Bahrain GP, driving for Williams at the time.
"I have really good memories of the Bahrain circuit," the 26-year-old German said. "I won the Formula Three Macau-Bahrain Cup, GP2 Championship and finished seventh on my F1 debut with the fastest lap of the race. I like the track a lot. It's quite low downforce with lots of big stops and some faster corners too."
Ferrari has won four of the first seven Bahrain GPs, including Fernando Alonso's victory in March 2010 when he made his debut with the Italian team.
"Both the Scuderia and I have a good record in Bahrain," Alonso said. "The team has four victories here, and I've got three, the last of which was also my debut race for the Prancing Horse. But the past counts for nothing in this sport, and this weekend will be all about damage limitation for us."
Alonso also won the Bahrain GP in consecutive years from 2005-06 when he drove for Renault.
After the first three grand prix this season, McLaren's Lewis Hamilton holds the lead in the world championship standings. Hamilton has accumulated 45 points so far, compared to 43 for his teammate, Jenson Button. Alonso has acquired 37, while Mark Webber from Red Bull is one marker behind Alonso. Webber's teammate, Sebastian Vettel, the two-time defending world champion, has 28 points.