This Week in Auto Racing Oct. 11 - 14

Round five in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship takes place this weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The Nationwide Series will join the Sprint Cup Series at Charlotte. Formula One heads to South Korea for the Korean Grand Prix.


Sprint Cup Series

Bank of America 500 - Charlotte Motor Speedway - Concord, N.C.

Now that Talladega is in the rearview mirror, all 12 drivers in the Chase for Sprint Cup championship can breathe a sigh of relief.

The Chase "wild card" race at Talladega is done, and now it's time to move on to the "homecoming" event on Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Four of the last six races this season will be contested on 1.5-mile racetracks, beginning with Charlotte. Kansas (Oct. 21), Texas (Nov. 4) and Homestead (Nov. 18) are the others.

After finishing seventh at Talladega, Brad Keselowski increased his points lead from five to 14 over Jimmie Johnson, who finished 17th. Johnson was among those involved in the 25-car crash that occurred on the final lap.

For many years, Johnson had been dominant at Charlotte. The Hendrick Motorsports driver and five-time Sprint Cup Series champion has earned six victories in points-paying races at Charlotte, including four in a row from May 2004 to Oct. 2005. His last win in a points race there came in the 2009 fall event.

Johnson struggled at Charlotte in 2011. He finished 28th in the Coca-Cola 600. In last year's Chase race there, his chance of winning a record-extending sixth straight series title essentially came to an end when he crashed hard into the outside wall in the closing laps and finished 34th. He had kept his title hopes alive when he won the week prior at Kansas.

But Johnson has had better luck at Charlotte this season. He won the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race (non-points). Days before the all-star event, Johnson's No. 48 team claimed the victory in the Sprint Pit Crew Challenge. He concluded the spring festivities at Charlotte with an 11th-place run in the 600.

"I love that track," Johnson said. "We won the all-star race and ran very well in the 600, so I feel like we'll be there and be a threat, and I need to be at this time of the year. We need to be on top of things."

Martinsville, a 0.526-mile short track, is scheduled for Oct. 28, while Phoenix, a flat one-mile oval, is slated for Nov. 11. Johnson has performed very well at those two tracks in the past.

"I love the races in the Chase," he said. "They are very good tracks for us. When I look down the lineup, I get very fired up for all of them. Martinsville isn't too far away. At Texas, we were really strong in the spring there. Phoenix is good. Homestead has been good to us. So I feel like we've got a lot of great racetracks coming up."

Two of Keselowski's five victories this season have come on the mile and a halfs. The Penske Racing driver won the June 30 race at Kentucky and the first Chase event on Sept. 16 at Chicagoland.

"Our record this year on the intermediate tracks is very solid," Keselowski said. "With 1.5-mile tracks making up the majority of the rest of the Chase schedule, I'm pretty happy that we were able to come out of Talladega with a nice lead, because I think we are set up for a good second half to the Chase."

Keselowski has only one top-10 finish in six races at Charlotte. He placed fifth there earlier this year. Keselowski does have two Nationwide Series victories at this track -- Oct. 2010 and May 2012.

Heading to Charlotte, Denny Hamlin is 23 points behind Keselowski, while Kasey Kahne trails by 36, Clint Bowyer 40 and Jeff Gordon 42.

Seventh through 12th in the Chase rankings are: Tony Stewart (-46), Martin Truex Jr. (-48), Greg Biffle (-49), Kevin Harvick (-49), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (-51) and Matt Kenseth (-62).

Earnhardt Jr. will not compete at Charlotte and Kansas after being diagnosed with a concussion following the Talladega race. He was involved in the last- lap crash. Regan Smith will substitute for Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet for both of those races.

Kenseth, who is in his last year with Roush Fenway Racing, bounced back in the Chase by winning at Talladega. He had finished 14th, 18th and 35th in the first three postseason races.

"We had a really rough few weeks in the Chase, with parts breaking and following off and not getting good finishes and not running good, and everybody was getting close to being at each other's throats and things like that," Kenseth said. "So it's important for me to try to keep that whole unit as a cohesive front-running championship-contending unit. So I'm hoping in the next six weeks we can continue this momentum, hoping we can get another win or two and finish as high as we can in the points and end this thing on a high note."

Kenseth won last year's Chase race at Charlotte. He passed Kyle Busch for the lead with 25 laps remaining and then held off Busch after a restart with a dozen laps left to win there for the first time since his rookie season in 2000.

Before he heads to Joe Gibbs Racing for the 2013 season, Kenseth is hoping his No. 17 Roush Fenway team will end the year on a high note.

"They've been working really hard, especially on our stuff for Charlotte and our intermediate stuff," he said. "So I think everybody at Roush Fenway was disappointed in our performance at Atlanta, Chicago, and really even Dover, for that matter.

"They've been really on it. They've been working really, really hard to try to get our stuff better. And I'm really looking forward to getting on the track and seeing the progress that we made, and hopefully being competitive this weekend."

Forty-seven teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Bank of America 500. Kurt Busch will make his first start in the No. 78 Chevrolet for Furniture Row Racing. Smith previously drove that car.

Qualifying for this race is scheduled for Thursday at 7:10 p.m. (ET).

Nationwide Series

Dollar General 300 - Charlotte Motor Speedway - Concord, N.C.

After taking this past weekend off, the Nationwide Series resumes its schedule on Friday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

A fourth-place finish for Elliott Sadler coupled with a ninth-place run for Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in the Sept. 29 race at Dover allowed Sadler to take a nine-point lead over Stenhouse. There are five races remaining.

In commemorating Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Nationwide teams and sponsors will "go pink" for the 300-mile event at Charlotte. Sadler will run a special pink paint scheme in honor of his mother, Bell Sadler, who is a breast cancer survivor. He will also wear a fire suit and shoes of the same color.

"The October race at Charlotte Motor Speedway always means so much to me and my family," Sadler said. "It is definitely my mom's favorite race, because of all the survivors that come out, and she just loves the pink paint scheme. This year, the trophy is pink, so it would be a storybook ending to be able to share that with her."

Danica Patrick's car will feature a pink paint scheme for this race as well.

Sadler has finished no worse than 10th in his last three races at Charlotte. He placed fifth there in May.

Even though Stenhouse had a disappointing 26th-place finish at Charlotte earlier this year, the defending series champion has done quite well on the 1.5-mile tracks this season. Four of his five wins have come on the mile and a halfs -- Las Vegas, Texas, Atlanta and Chicago.

Rookie Austin Dillon comes to Charlotte trailing Sadler, his Richard Childress Racing teammate, by 25 points. Dillon started second and finished 11th in his first start at Charlotte earlier in the season.

While Sadler, Stenhouse and Dillon continue their Nationwide title bout, Mike Wallace will celebrate a career milestone at Charlotte. Wallace, who drives the No. 01 Chevrolet for JD Motorsports, is expected to make his 750th start among NASCAR's top three series -- Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Truck. He currently has 444 Nationwide starts, 190 in Sprint Cup and 115 in Trucks.

"That is still baffling that I have been around this sport long enough to make 750 starts across the board," Wallace said. "I'm very fortunate to still be getting paid to do something I truly love to do week in and week out."

Forty-six teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Dollar General 300. Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano are those Sprint Cup regulars competing in this race.


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

Look out Fernando Alonso, here comes Sebastian Vettel.

After winning the past two grand prix -- Singapore and Japan -- Vettel has moved to within four points of Alonso for the lead in the Formula One world championship standings. Just five races remain in what is appearing to be another epic battle between the two for the title.

Two years ago, Alonso held a 25-point lead over Vettel with two races to go, but Vettel won in Brazil and Abu Dhabi to clinch the championship by four points over Alonso.

Vettel, who is attempting to win his third consecutive F1 championship, has gained 35 points on Alonso since the Sept. 9 Italian Grand Prix.

Last Sunday, Vettel put on a dominating performance in the Japanese Grand Prix. The Red Bull driver started on the pole and led all 53 laps around the 3.6-mile Suzuka course. He crossed the finish line 20.6 seconds ahead of his closest competitor, Felipe Massa, who is Alonso's teammate at Ferrari.

"In terms of the championship, this race was a big step and it helped us, but we see how quickly things can change," Vettel said after his win in Japan. "I want to be very careful, because it's still a long way ahead, and there's a lot of things that can happen."

While Vettel was unstoppable in the Japanese GP, Alonso crashed on the opening lap. He suffered a punctured tire and spun around in the first corner after Kimi Raikkonen from Lotus made contact with him.

"Clearly, we must work a lot on the development of the car," Alonso said. "I'm not worried, but we must react to the step forward that the other competitors have made. Now we start a sort of mini-championship run over five grands prix. The aim will be to score at least one point more than all the others. What happened to us (in Japan) could happen to the others next time. The wheel turns, and that is what races are all about."

Sunday's Korean Grand Prix is the next round on the 2012 F1 calendar.

After Korea, F1 moves on to India (Oct. 28), then Abu Dhabi (Nov. 4) and Austin, Texas (Nov. 18) before the season wraps up in Brazil (Nov. 25).

This will be the third time F1 competes at the 3.49-mile, 18-turn Korean International Circuit in Yeongam, South Korea. Alonso won the inaugural race in 2010, while Vettel is the defending winner of the event.

When the racing circuit ran in Korea one year ago, Vettel had already clinched his second straight title. But Red Bull had yet to wrap up the constructors' champion. Vettel's victory there gave allowed the team to secure the championship for the second year in a row.

Right now, Red Bull leads in the constructors' standings with 324 points, compared to 283 for McLaren and 263 for Ferrari.