This Week in Auto Racing Sept. 6 - 8

The Sprint Cup Series concludes its regular season this weekend at Richmond International Raceway. The Nationwide Series also will be at Richmond, while the Camping World Truck Series will race at Iowa Speedway. Formula One heads to Monza for the Italian Grand Prix.


Sprint Cup Series

Federated Auto Parts 400 - Richmond International Raceway - Richmond, Va.

It's now or never for several drivers who are trying to clinch a spot in this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.

The 12-driver field for the Chase will be determined after Saturday night's 400-lap race at Richmond International Raceway. Six drivers already have clinched a top-10 spot in the playoffs -- Jimmie Johnson, the current points leader, Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch, who won last Sunday's race at Atlanta, and Matt Kenseth, who has the most wins this season with five. Kasey Kahne has secured at least a wild card position due to his two victories this year. Kahne fell from eighth to 12th in points after finishing 36th at Atlanta.

Richmond will decide the five remaining spots in the Chase.

Right now, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Joey Logano, Greg Biffle and Kurt Busch are seventh through 10th, respectively, in the point standings. Those four drivers control their top-10 clinching destiny.

Regardless of any other driver's performance, Earnhardt will clinch a top-10 spot if he finishes 32nd or better, and Logano will lock down his position if he places 11th or higher. Biffle earns a spot if he finishes ninth or better. Busch secures a top-10 in the Chase if he wins the race, comes in second with at least one lap led or takes third after leading the most laps.

Busch, who won the inaugural Chase championship in 2004 when he drove for Roush Racing, could become the first driver from a single-car team to qualify for the playoffs. He is driving for Furniture Row Racing this season before he moves over to Stewart-Haas Racing next year.

"We're in position to make history, and that's pretty exciting for everyone associated with Furniture Row Racing," said Busch, who has scored four top-10 finishes in the last five races. "It's been our goal at Furniture Row Racing from the beginning of the year to make the Chase, and we enter the final pre- Chase race controlling our own destiny. We need to get it done on our own Saturday night and not worry about what the other Chase contenders are doing."

While Busch has a good shot of making the Chase, two other former Sprint Cup Series champions are in danger of not qualifying, particularly Brad Keselowski, who won the title last year. Keselowski finished 35th at Atlanta after suffering engine failure in the closing stages of the race. He dropped four spots in points to 15th.

"We don't dictate our own fate, which is never good," said Keselowski, who is presently 28 points behind 10th-place Busch. "We have the speed and performance to get there, but we haven't put together the execution or the luck. There's only so much you can control."

Keselowski has yet to score a victory this season. He definitely needs to win at Richmond in order to be in contention for a wild card spot. Mathematically, there will be at least two drivers outside the top-10 with wins. Martin Truex Jr. holds the second wild card based on winning one race and sitting 13th in points. Ryan Newman has one victory but is 14th in the standings, just five points behind Truex.

To clinch, Keselowski would need to win the race as well as outpoint Truex by 13 and Newman by eight. If Kahne were to displace a winless driver from the top-10 (Earnhardt or Busch), then Keselowski would only need to outpoint one of those drivers. If Truex or Newman manages to displace Busch from the top-10, Keselowski can get in the Chase if he finishes higher in points than the other one-win drivers remaining outside the top-10.

"I'm ready to go to Richmond and win the race," Keselowski said. "I'm not going to worry myself with where this car is or that car is during the race. We're going to win the race, and when it's over, we'll see if that was good enough to get us in."

Keselowski's best finish in eight starts at Richmond is seventh, which came one year ago.

Gordon, a four-time Cup champion, is just six points behind Busch in 11th place. He has gained ground in points by finishing sixth and seventh in the last two races. Gordon will clinch at least a wild card spot if he wins at Richmond.

"Winning is our goal this weekend; it's what we want to do every weekend," Gordon said. "Through practice, during qualifying and during the race, we're doing every thing we possibly can to win.

"I've said all along that I think (Chase berths) will come down to the last lap at Richmond, and we're going to battle all the way to that checkered flag to try and earn one of those spots."

Gordon has won at Richmond twice, but his most recent victory here has been since September 2000.

If Truex wins at Richmond, he will earn at least a wild card spot. It's the same scenario for Newman. Both drivers have an opportunity to secure a top-10 position.

Jamie McMurray (16th in points) and Paul Menard (17th) remain in the Chase hunt, but each driver is a long shot.

Forty-four teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Federated Auto Parts 400.

Nationwide Series

Virginia 529 College Savings 250 - Richmond Int'l Raceway - Richmond, Va.

NASCAR's second-tier series, now known as the Nationwide Series, will celebrate a milestone on Friday at Richmond International Raceway -- its 1,000th race.

There have been 999 races run since the inception of the series in 1982. Dale Earnhardt won the series' first event 31 years ago at Daytona International Speedway. Who will have the honor of being the winner of the 1,000th race?

Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski and Jamie McMurray are those Sprint Cup Series regulars competing in the Nationwide race at Richmond. Busch and Keselowski have won here in the past.

Busch holds the series record for most victories with 60. Four of them have come at Richmond, including his first career win on May 14, 2004. He finished third at this track in April.

"In the spring, we came with a good car, then couldn't get the handling right in the end, finished top-five, but wanted a win," Busch said. "Richmond is still a good track for me."

Busch already has nine wins in Nationwide this season. His most recent victory came two weeks ago at Bristol. He finished second to Kevin Harvick in last Saturday's race at Atlanta.

Keselowski won the spring event at Richmond. Can he make it a season-sweep here this weekend?

"It's probably going to take a bit more speed than we had a Bristol," Keselowski said. "Kyle (Busch) was really hooked up there, and I couldn't do a whole lot with him. Richmond has definitely been a good track for us, though. I've always enjoyed the challenge of racing there because you can really charge the corners and be aggressive."

After finishing third at Atlanta, Sam Hornish Jr. widened his lead in the point standings to 10 over Austin Dillon. Hornish has been atop the rankings for the past three weeks. There are nine races to go.

"We are in a decent place right now," Hornish said. "This team has had its ups and downs, yet we have come back better than ever."

Elliott Sadler, a Virginia native, is 26 points behind Hornish, while Regan Smith trails the leader by 29 points.

Forty-four teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Virginia 529 College Savings 250.

Camping World Truck Series

Iowa 200 - Iowa Speedway -- Newton, Iowa

Chase Elliott made history in the Camping World Truck Series last weekend with a dramatic victory in the inaugural race at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park.

At age 17, Elliott became the youngest driver to win a race in the series. He surpassed the previous record set by Ryan Blaney, who won at Iowa Speedway one year ago when he was 18. Elliott, the son of former NASCAR Cup Series champion Bill Elliott, bumped into the side of leader Ty Dillon and spun him out on the final turn of the last lap for the victory. It was the series' maiden visit to Canada and the first road-course race in 13 years.

Four different drivers under the age of 21 have won a truck race this season: Kyle Larson (Rockingham), Jeb Burton (Texas), Blaney (Pocono) and Elliott. Dillon, who is 21 years old, won at Kentucky in June.

Elliott is scheduled to make his seventh career truck start on Sunday at Iowa. He finished fifth here in July. For the second year in a row, the series is competing at this 0.875-mile racetrack twice during the season.

"I think we learned a lot during our last trip to Iowa, setup-wise, and that gives us a better starting point in practice," Elliott said. "Now that we have one run here under our belts, the guys at the shop were able to make better preparations to fight the things we struggled with last time. Coming off a win (in Canada) and returning to an oval doesn't hurt either."

Timothy Peters won the first race at Iowa this year. Peters started 10th and led 39 of 200 laps, including the final 27. He is the only driver with multiple truck victories at this track. His first win here came in July 2012.

"It's kind of cool to say that I am in that category of the 'first'," Peters said. "I'm looking forward to getting back to a racetrack where we won at earlier this year and capitalize on another good run and try to keep gaining in the championship point standings."

Matt Crafton comes to Iowa with a 47-point lead over second-place and defending series champion James Buescher. Dillon is 63 points behind. Burton is fourth in the standings (-65), followed by Miguel Paludo (-68), Peters (-70) and Blaney (-82). Crafton has finished in the top-10 in each of the first 14 races this season.

Thirty-six teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Iowa 200.


Italian Grand Prix - Autodromo Nazionale Monza - Monza, Italy

The European tour of the 2013 Formula One season concludes with this weekend's Italian Grand Prix in Monza.

After Italy, F1 will compete in Singapore, Korea, Japan, India, Abu Dhabi and then Austin, Texas before the season wraps up in Brazil.

Sebastian Vettel from Red Bull won the most recent grand prix two weeks ago in Belgium and increased his lead in the world championship standings to 46 points over Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, who moved to second after his second- place finish. Lewis Hamilton, in his first season with Mercedes, is 58 points behind Vettel, while Kimi Raikkonen from Lotus trails by 63. Raikkonen dropped from second to fourth in the standings after his retirement just past the halfway point in the Belgian GP.

Vettel returns to Monza five years after he claimed his maiden F1 race and pole victories here. When Vettel was 21 years old in 2008, he became the youngest race and pole winner in F1 history. The German drove for Toro Rosso at time. He moved over to Red Bull in 2009.

"This track brings back great memories for me, mainly from my first win there in 2008 with Toro Rosso," Vettel said. "I can't describe the feeling of standing on the top of the podium for the first time, and Monza was one of the best places to experience it because of the thousands of passionate fans that stand beneath. It gives you goose bumps."

Red Bull has struggled at Monza over the years. Since its F1 debut in 2005, Red Bull has scored only one podium finish in 16 starts at this 3.6-mile, 11- turn course. Vettel won the Italian GP in 2011.

"We had painful years in a way, where we just get hammered down the straights, and we've had years where the loss down the straight was limited, so we could come back in the corners, and for sure if you look back, the 2011 experience was great in that regard," Vettel said. "How it turns out to be this year is difficult to say. I think we can be quite confident."

Since 1950, a Ferrari driver has won the Italian GP 18 times. Alonso most recently did it in his first year with the team in 2010. This is the home race for Ferrari. Its headquarters are located in Maranello, Italy, which is roughly 125 miles southeast of Monza.

In last year's Italian GP, Alonso finished third and held a 37-point over Hamilton, who won the race. Vettel trailed Alonso by 39 points after he was forced to retired due to a mechanical issue with six laps to go.

But Vettel came roaring back in the championship battle by winning four consecutive grand prix -- Singapore, Japan, Korea and India. He won his third consecutive F1 title by just a three-point margin over Alonso.

Can Alonso turn the tables on Vettel this year?

"I'm optimistic, for sure," Alonso said. "I think in Spa (Belgian GP), we saw some steps forward for us, and we hope to continue that direction and keep improving here in Monza. The characteristics of the track should help our performance as well. We have everything in place to have a good weekend. We need to deliver when comes the time in Sunday in the race, but we arrive with some good confidence and ready to fight.

"I think for us it will be a stronger test at the Singapore race when we come back to the maximum level of downforce, etc., and there, we will see how much of a step forward we did. But let's concentrate on this weekend. Let's try to do the maximum, and let's try to finish in front of our main rivals."

Alonso also won the Italian GP for the first time in 2007 when he drove for McLaren.