This Week in Auto Racing May 11 - 13

The NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series are running at Darlington Raceway this Mother's Day weekend. Formula competes in Europe for the first time this season with the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona.


Sprint Cup Series

Bojangles' Southern 500 - Darlington Raceway - Darlington, SC

The lady in green is set to take on the "Lady in Black."

Danica Patrick is scheduled to make her second Sprint Cup Series start this weekend at Darlington Raceway. Patrick is guaranteed a starting position in Saturday night's 500-mile race since her No. 10 Tommy Baldwin Racing team is currently 33rd in the owner point standings.

David Reutimann's 22nd-place finish last Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway helped keep the No. 10 team in the top-35 in points.

Driving her green-colored Chevrolet, Patrick made her series debut in February at Daytona International Speedway. Patrick was involved in a multi-car crash that occurred on the second lap of the Daytona 500. She returned to the track 60 laps behind and wound up finishing 38th.

Darlington, a 1.366-mile oval, is one of the most challenging racetracks in NASCAR, with its unique egg-shaped layout. Patrick will certainly have her hands full, and she'll probably earn more than one Darlington stripe during the weekend.

"I know it's going to be hard," Patrick said. "I know there's going to be some frustrating moments and some moments that I'm probably going to feel a little embarrassed, but I'm there to get my Darlington stripes and move along."

After Darlington, Patrick is scheduled to compete at Charlotte (May 27), Bristol (August 25), Atlanta (September 2), Chicagoland (Sept. 16), Dover (Sept. 30), Texas (November 4) and Phoenix (Nov. 11). The 10th and final race on her 2012 Sprint Cup schedule has yet to be determined. Patrick is hoping to run in the series full-time next year.

"The point of this process and the point of choosing Darlington was to go to the toughest tracks and get the toughest ones out of the way, the ones that take a lot of tries before you really get comfortable there and just get the process going," she said.

Patrick has yet to compete in any race at Darlington. She will get familiar with the track during Friday's Sprint Cup practice and qualifying sessions. Patrick will then race in the Nationwide event there that night.

"I've got to do a few laps in anything around Darlington I've heard before I get out there in a car," she said. "I'll make sure I get there the day before and find someone who's going to let me out there, even if I have to be on a pedal bike. Get a rental out there and just kind of ride around."

While there is plenty of attention surrounding Patrick's next start in Cup, there's also a lot of hype about Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch returning to Darlington one year after their post-race brawl there.

In its advertising campaign for the Bojangles' Southern 500, Darlington Raceway is promoting this year's event as the rematch between Harvick and Busch.

Both drivers tangled multiple times during the closing laps in last year's race there. Harvick ended up hitting the wall the final time they made contact. After the race concluded, Harvick and Busch duked it out on pit road. NASCAR responded days later by issuing each one of them a $25,000 fine and a probation period of one month.

When asked about his thoughts of the track advertising this race as round two between Busch and Harvick, Busch replied, "I think it's dumb; it's pretty stupid."

In fact, both drivers would rather not be at the center of controversy.

"It's easier not to be in the middle of a controversy to tell you the truth," Harvick said. "With the way that the media and the things work now, it's just easier to not to have to answer the questions from your sponsors or your team. It puts all the guys on your team in a bad spot because everybody is answering questions."

When Harvick and Busch were exchanging pleasantries on pit road, Regan Smith was celebrating in victory lane at Darlington. Smith gambled on fuel late in the race and then held off Carl Edwards by 0.2 seconds at the finish for his first Sprint Cup win in his 105th start.

"Winning the Southern 500 last year was a memorable milestone for our team," Smith said. "It's still unbelievable that we pulled it off. I recently tweeted that I would rather win the Southern 500 then win the lottery, and I am not changing my stance on that."

Forty-six teams are on the preliminary entry list for this race.

Nationwide Series

VFW Sport Clips Help a Hero 200 - Darlington Raceway - Darlington, SC

After finishing third in last Saturday's race at Talladega, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. moved into the points lead in the Nationwide Series.

Stenhouse, the defending series champion, began this season with a 19th-place finish at Daytona. Since then, the Roush Fenway Racing driver has climbed his way to the top in points, thanks in part to his victories at Las Vegas and Texas.

Elliott Sadler held a 25-point advantage over Stenhouse following the March 17 race at Bristol, but after his 10th-place finish at Talladega, Sadler gave up the points lead for the first time this season. He is now five markers behind Stenhouse.

The points battle between the two moves on to Darlington Raceway this week.

Stenhouse finished 37th in his first Nationwide race at Darlington in 2010. He followed up with a 10th-place run there one year later.

"We were running really strong there last year, passing for third late in the race and got in the wall which messed up our race, but we were really fast," Stenhouse said. "I look forward to getting back there. I think we will have another strong top-five run, hopefully, or even go for the win."

Last year, Sadler finished third in his first Nationwide race at Darlington since 1999.

"The track brings back a lot of memories for me," Sadler said. "I earned my first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series pole there in 2003 and earned a pole in the Nationwide Series early in my career in 1997. I really love the driving style at Darlington, and with so much history there, I always want to go there and do well."

Sadler also has two wins this season -- Phoenix and Bristol.

Darlington will mark the second race for Travis Pastrana. The 11-time X Games gold medalist made his Nationwide debut on April 27 at Richmond, starting 25th and finishing 22nd.

While competing in a NASCAR K&N Series event in March at Greenville-Pickens Speedway in Greenville, SC, Pastrana received some helpful tips from NASCAR Hall of Famer David Pearson on how to race at Darlington. Pearson won 10 Cup races and claimed 12 poles at Darlington.

"I really appreciate the time that Mr. Pearson spent with me at Greenville- Pickens," Pastrana said. "I'm still learning the sport of NASCAR, so to get some great advice from a legend like Mr. Pearson was extremely beneficial for me. It really has been amazing to see the people willing to help me each week.

"I have received help from Jimmie Johnson, Matt Crafton and Ryan Truex just to name a few. It's just amazing all these people are willing to help me when they have to race against me each week. In motocross, you never told another competitor your secrets. It just wasn't part of the culture."

Ryan Blaney, the 18-year-old son of NASCAR veteran Dave Blaney, will also make his second start in the series at Darlington. Blaney finished an impressive seventh in his debut at Richmond.

Eric McClure will not compete in Friday night's event at Darlington due to his injuries sustained during a late-race crash at Talladega. McClure, who drives the No. 14 Toyota for TriStar Motorsports, slammed head on into the inside retaining wall in turn three. The 33-year-old suffered a concussion and mild internal bruising. He was released from a Birmingham, AL hospital on Tuesday.

Jeff Green, the 2000 series champion, will substitute for McClure in the No. 14 car at Darlington. Green has scored one win and nine top-10 finishes in 18 Nationwide races there.

Forty-three drivers are on the preliminary entry list for the VFW Sport Clips Help a Hero 200.


Spanish Grand Prix - Circuit de Catalunya - Barcelona, Spain

With Australia, Malaysia, China and Bahrain now completed, the "European season" on this year's Formula One calendar begins this weekend with the Spanish Grand Prix.

Teams are already quite familiar with Circuit de Catalunya, since F1 pre- season testing is held at this 4.655-kilometer (2.892-mile) road course, located just north of Barcelona.

F1 held two of its three pre-season test sessions at this circuit. Lotus did exceptionally well in testing there two months ago. Kimi Raikkonen, who is in his first season with Lotus, posted the quickest time on the final day. His teammate, Romain Grosjean, also topped the time charts.

Raikkonen finished second and Grosjean placed third in last month's Bahrain Grand Prix. Sebastian Vettel from Red Bull picked up his first win of the season there.

"I expect Lotus to be very competitive at Barcelona," Raikkonen said. "It's going to be very, very close between the top teams. This is the only circuit where the teams have already tested with the new cars, and the set-up is crucial, as the track changes with the wind and temperature. All the teams have updates for the first European race, which makes it even more interesting and even tighter at the top.

"I have won here twice, and there's nothing better than winning in any grand prix. Those two wins are my only podiums in the event."

Raikkonen's first Spanish GP win came in 2005 when he drove for McLaren. His second victory in this race occurred in 2008 with Ferrari. Raikkonen started on the pole in both of those races.

Vettel is the defending winner of the Spanish GP. Starting second in last year's race, Vettel overcame issues with his KERS and then held off a furious challenge from McLaren's Hamilton Lewis in the closing laps for the win.

"Of all the current GP tracks, Barcelona is the one that we know the most, because we have done so much testing there in recent years," Vettel said. "The knowledge that you gain at the tests doesn't always help due to the changing wind direction that occurs there, which can sometimes give you a nasty surprise, especially into turn one. A car that functions well aerodynamically in Barcelona will work everywhere, so it will be an interesting weekend."

Vettel recorded the fastest lap in the first day of testing at Barcelona, but his car experienced its share of mechanical and engine issues in the days that followed there. He also went off course and broke the front wing on the car.

After winning in Bahrain, Vettel moved atop the championship standings for the first time this season. The two-time defending world champion currently holds a four-point lead over Hamilton.

"Our performance at Barcelona during winter testing looked promising," Hamilton said. "But the form of the season is still very hard to read, so it's difficult to predict who'll be at the front next weekend. Nonetheless, we had a great race there last year. I pushed Sebastian all the way to the finish. I think we have a comparatively stronger car this year, so I hope we can have another strong race."

Vettel's teammate, Mark Webber, is five points out of the lead. Webber started on the pole and finished fourth in last year's Spanish GP.