It's a busy weekend of auto racing in North America. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series runs at Pocono Raceway, while the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series joins IndyCar at Texas Motor Speedway. Formula One heads to Montreal for the Canadian Grand Prix.
Sprint Cup Series
Pocono 400 - Pocono Raceway - Long Pond, PA
Pocono Raceway has long been known as "The Tricky Triangle," but this time, the unique 2.5-mile, three-turn racetrack in Pennsylvania will likely be more tricky for Sprint Cup Series teams to figure out.
The track has received a new coat of asphalt since the series last competed there 10 months ago. It's the first time Pocono has been repaved since 1995.
Furthermore, the race distance at Pocono will be shorter than it normally has been in the past. NASCAR and track officials announced last year that both races there during the 2012 season would be trimmed from 500 miles to 400. Each event at Pocono had been scheduled for 500 miles since the series began competing at this track in 1974.
Track activities at Pocono will begin sooner than normal, since NASCAR is allowing teams to test there on Wednesday and Thursday. Teams will practice again on Friday and then qualify Saturday. The race is scheduled for Sunday at 1 p.m. (ET).
"I'm nervous heading to Pocono, because I have no idea what to expect," said Roush Fenway Racing driver and current points leader Greg Biffle. "We have a day and a half of testing, which is good, but I have no idea how fast it will be, or how different it will drive through the corners. I'm excited it was repaved and also think that the race being shortened to 400 miles will create some excitement with the fans."
Biffle comes to Pocono with only a one-point advantage over his teammate Matt Kenseth.
Six weeks ago, Goodyear Tire held a two-day test session at Pocono. Seven drivers representing teams from the Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series participated in the test. Jamie McMurray from Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates was one of them.
"I'm looking forward to the race," McMurray said. "I hated this place. This was my least favorite track to come to. I never really cared for Pocono. And after the few laps, with the speed and the grip that it has, from my perspective, I think most guys will like this a lot more."
Kasey Kahne currently holds the track qualifying record at Pocono with a lap at 172.533 mph, which he set in June 2004. Kahne, in his first season with Hendrick Motorsports, took part in the tire test as well. He's expecting his record to be easily topped.
"I would say it's definitely going to get broke," he said. "It's just by how much. It should be a good bit."
Jeff Gordon, who is Kahne's teammate, won his fifth race at Pocono one year ago, which placed him in a tie with Bill Elliott for most victories at this track. Gordon has also scored two poles, 17 top-10 finishes and 27 top-10s in 38 starts at Pocono. His total of 957 laps led there is tops among all drivers.
Gordon believes the setups at Pocono this time will be different, but he's looking forward to the challenge.
"There really is no comparison from last year to this year, because nothing compares to a repave," Gordon said. "We'll probably have very little in our setup this weekend compared to what we ran here last year.
"Even if the track didn't change, Goodyear could bring a different (compound of) tire. If we used the same tire, a year-old setup still probably wouldn't be fast enough, even if you dominated the race the previous year. The sport evolves that much every year."
With 13 races remaining before the start of the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship, Gordon desperately needs a win to get back into playoff contention. The four-time series champion is now 21st in the point standings. He is 94 points behind 10th-place Clint Bowyer but only one marker outside the top-20 and "wild card" territory.
Hendrick Motorsports has been dominant within the past month. Jimmie Johnson won at Darlington and Dover, as well as the all-star event at Charlotte. Kahne scored the victory in Charlotte's 600-mile race.
Johnson won both races at Pocono during the 2004 season but has not driven into victory lane there since then.
"Granted we haven't won at Pocono in quite some time, but we have led a lot of laps at the old surface," he said. "I tend to like old surfaces, but that's gone. Kasey was up there for the tire test. He had a lot of positive things to say about how the tire reacted to the surface."
Kahne won the June race at Pocono in 2008 when he drove for Gillett Evernham Motorsports.
Forty-four teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Pocono 400.
Camping World Truck Series
WinStar World Casino 400k - Texas Motor Speedway - Fort Worth, TX
Todd Bodine loves Texas Motor Speedway.
He has six wins at this fast 1.5-mile racetrack, which is the most victories by any driver in all three of NASCAR's national touring series there.
Bodine won last Friday's rain-shortened Camping World Truck Series race at Dover. It was his first victory in the series since September 2010 at Kentucky (38 races ago).
Texas is next on the schedule, and the two-time series champion is hoping his winning momentum will continue there.
Friday's race will be the first for Bodine in anything but a Germain Racing- prepared truck. Bodine began this season with a one-race deal with Red Horse Racing for the season-opener at Daytona, but his driving duties with the team have continued, as he currently ranks sixth in the point standings. He is 37 points behind leader Justin Lofton.
"Winning at Texas Motor Speedway is a combination of many things," Bodine said. "You have to have a good crew, a good truck and good luck. We won the spring race of 2006 from the back of the field with about 30 laps to go. I passed Mike Skinner on a green-white-checkered finish, led the one lap, the most important one. That was one of the special wins there."
Five of Bodine's six wins at Texas have come in the spring race, which is 20 laps more than the fall event.
"The spring race is the longer of the two races at the track, which I am better at," he said. "I think we are able to wear everyone else out on the long runs. That's where I excel. The spring race is 167 laps and the fall is 147 laps."
Bodine had his worst result at Texas one year ago with a 31st-place finish. He placed 13th there last November.
Ron Hornaday Jr. is a three-time Texas race winner, including a victory in last year's spring race there. His first two wins at this track came during the 2008 season.
Hornaday drove for Kevin Harvick Inc. from 2005-11, but after KHI ceased its operations in the series at the end of last season, Hornaday moved over to Joe Denette Motorsports. The four-time truck champion is eighth in points (-49), following a 27th-place finish at Dover.
"We have a lot of ground to make up following Dover, and I've got a great group of guys behind me at Joe Denette Motorsports," Hornaday said. "I believe Texas is a track where we can rebound. We are bringing a new truck with all the updates that the guys have found in the wind tunnel, and I'm looking forward to a successful weekend."
Bodine, Hornaday and Brendan Gaughan are those drivers entered in this event that have previously won at Texas. Gaughan won four races in a row there from 2002-03.
Thirty-four teams are on the preliminary entry list for the WinStar World Casino 400k.
IZOD INDYCAR SERIES
Firestone 550 - Texas Motor Speedway - Fort Worth, TX
The IZOD IndyCar Series heads to Texas Motor Speedway this weekend, with drivers quite concerned about their safety on this fast 1.5 mile racetrack.
Texas is the first IndyCar race on a mile-and-a-half track since eight months ago at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where two-time Indianapolis 500 winner and former series champion Dan Wheldon lost his life during a horrifying 15-car crash. Texas and Las Vegas are very similar with its high banking in the turns. Speeds at these tracks can reach as high as 225 mph.
While in Fort Worth, Texas last week as part of his Indy 500-winning nationwide tour, Dario Franchitti addressed his concerns about the upcoming race at TMS.
"I'm not very comfortable with it," Franchitti said. "But I will do my absolute best to win the race. That's just the way it is."
Franchitti is particularly worried about the catch fence around the Texas track.
During the multi-car accident in the opening laps at Las Vegas, Wheldon's car went airborne and then made impact with a vertical post on the fence. The pole intruded the cockpit of his car, causing life-ending blunt force trauma to his head.
"I hope going forward that the series, all sanctioning bodies actually, the promoters, teams and drivers, everybody who works toward coming up with a better solution for stuff like fencing will just continue to make the sport safer," Franchitti noted.
One month ago, 11 drivers participated in IndyCar's one-day test session at Texas to confirm the aerodynamic baseline for the new 2012 Dallara car, the "DW12," which was named in honor of Wheldon. The test also examined the car's safety on this track. Franchitti and his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, Scott Dixon, were among those who took part in the session. So did all three of Team Penske's drivers -- Ryan Briscoe, Helio Castroneves and Will Power.
"I see three guys, two guys side-by-side in the race," Castroneves said. "It will be exciting, but more on the safe side. The car is much more safe."
Briscoe and KV Racing Technology's Tony Kanaan participated in a test at Texas in February to establish the aero baseline for the car at this track.
"We came back with a different aero package with less downforce that makes it a little more challenging to drive," Briscoe said. "You can find the limits of the tires sooner. We basically can get close to being fully trimmed out for the qualifying run, and then for the race, you'll have to gamble on what you want to put back in.
"Hopefully, that's on the right direction to not everyone running the least amount of downforce possible, resulting in too much grip, which creates to the pack racing we saw in Vegas. We'll have to really pedal the cars from mid-race on."
Power is the current points leader, but Dixon moved to within 26 point of Power after winning last Sunday's race at Detroit's Belle Isle. The race was scheduled for 90 laps but shortened to 60 due to a more than two-hour delay for track surface repairs. Chunks of asphalt were coming loose in certain areas on the track before IndyCar officials halted the event on lap 45.
Dixon started on the pole and led all 60 circuits around the 2.07-mile street circuit. Franchitti placed second to give Ganassi its second straight 1-2 finish. Dixon finished second to Franchitti in the May 27 Indy 500.
"There's no doubt that the last two weekends have been a big jump for us in the championship, and I think team morale," Dixon said. "We go into every weekend to try our best, and we try to achieve the maximum that we can. I'll continue on, and hopefully we can ride a bit of a wave.
"Will has still got a fairly decent lead. So second and (Franchitti) fourth in the championship now for us, we are not out of reach. That's the main thing. We still have a fighting chance, and I think between Team Target and Honda, we are definitely going to be pushing as hard as we can."
Last year's race at Texas was divided into two 275-kilometer events. Franchitti won the first event, while Power took the checkered flag for the second. It was the first time Power won on an oval.
Saturday night's race has been restored to its 550-kilometer distance.
Twenty-five teams are the preliminary entry list for the Firestone 550k.
Canadian Grand Prix - Circuit Gilles Villeneuve - Montreal, Canada
The 2012 Formula One season continues to be a thrilling one, as six different drivers have won in as many grand prix.
So the biggest question heading into this weekend's Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal is simply this. Will the streak of different winners this season reach seven?
Jenson Button (Australia), Fernando Alonso (Malaysia), Nico Rosberg (China), Sebastian Vettel (Bahrain), Pastor Maldonado (Spain) and Mark Webber (Monaco) are those drivers who have won so far this year. Red Bull, with drivers Vettel and Webber, is the only constructor with multiple victories.
Based on his previous performances in Canada, McLaren's Lewis Hamilton could keep the streak alive. Hamilton has started on the pole twice but has yet to win this season. He finished third in the first three grand prix.
Hamilton won qualifying for last month's Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona, but he was stripped of his pole position and had to start the event from the rear of the field due to a fuel violation. He finished eighth in the Spanish GP.
"This is turning into a unique season, one where every race provides new challenges and different outcomes," Hamilton said. "Even though everything hasn't gone right for us, I'm confident that myself and the team are doing everything we can to ensure we're in the best possible position to challenge for victory each and every weekend."
Hamilton has won two of the last four grand prix in Canada. His first career F1 victory came in the Canadian GP during his 2007 rookie season. F1 did not compete in that nation in 2009.
Right now, Alonso holds the lead in the championship standings. The Ferrari driver has accumulated 76 points, which is three more than Vettel and Webber. Hamilton is 13 points out of the lead.
"We are still very much in the hunt for this world championship, and I'm looking forward to bringing that fight to Montreal, which is one of my favorite races of the season," Hamilton said.
Button won last year's soggy but dramatic Canadian GP. He dealt with torrential rain conditions, overcame contact with Hamilton in the early going and then bounced back from a penalty for speeding behind the safety car before making a last-lap pass on Vettel to win the race.
Vettel appeared to be on the way to his sixth victory of the 2011 season, but Vettel locked up the rear and slid wide on the final lap, allowing Button to dart by and take the lead for good.
"Returning to Montreal will be an extremely proud and happy moment for me," Button said. "My win there last year was one of those rare occasions when everything just came right. It's still hard to believe that I was running in last place past half-distance and yet still managed to come through and take victory on the final lap. The memories of that win will always be with me."
Button is currently 21 points behind Alonso. He has failed to advance into the final round of qualifying (Q3) in the last two grand prix.
"This weekend, it's going to be important to get a handle on the car in qualifying," he said. "At the last two races, Q2 hasn't gone my way, so no matter what pace you have in the race, you're still compromised on Sunday afternoon, particularly as the pack is so tightly bunched at the moment. My aim for the weekend will be to have a stronger qualifying performance and to be able to build on that in the race."
Montreal's Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is considered as one of the most unique road courses on the F1 calendar. The long straightaways on the 2.709-mile (4.361-kilometer) course make for high-speed racing, but the its low-speed chicanes create wear and tear on the braking system.