Martinsville, VA (SportsNetwork.com) - NASCAR is back on the short track this weekend, as the Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series run at Martinsville Speedway. The Verizon IndyCar Series begins its 2014 season in St. Petersburg, Fla., while Formula One is in Kuala Lumpur for the Malaysian Grand Prix.
Sprint Cup Series
STP 500 - Martinsville Speedway - Martinsville, Va.
When the Sprint Cup Series competes at Martinsville Speedway, it's a pretty good bet that a Hendrick Motorsports driver will be going to victory lane.
HMS is celebrating its 30th anniversary in NASCAR this year. On April 29, 1984, the first season for the team then known as All-Star Racing, Geoffrey Bodine won at Martinsville, driving the No. 5 Chevrolet for team owner Rick Hendrick. The team changed its name to Hendrick Motorsports the following year.
In three decades, Hendrick has accumulated 219 wins in NASCAR's premier series. Twenty one of those victories have come at Martinsville, a 0.526-mile oval, which is the shortest racetrack on the series' schedule.
Hendrick drivers Jimmie Johnson, the six-time and defending Sprint Cup champion, and Jeff Gordon, a four-time titleholder in the series, lead all active drivers with eight wins each at Martinsville.
With an average finish of 5.333, Johnson has scored 21 top-10 finishes in 24 races at this track. His eighth win here came in last year's spring race.
"Martinsville is one of those races on the schedule I always want to win," Johnson said. "Last year, we had great runs at Martinsville, and it would be an honor to win there once again for Hendrick Motorsports."
Gordon claimed win number-eight at Martinsville last October when he passed Matt Kenseth for the lead with 21 laps to go and then held off Kenseth at the finish by just 0.6 seconds. Gordon has posted 34 top-10 finishes in 42 races here. His average finish at this track is 6.833.
"You have to be aggressive, but you have to be patient," Gordon said of racing at Martinsville. "Martinsville has fairly long straightaways - at least for a half-mile track - with extremely flat, tight corners. You really want to 'roll' into the corners, but it's very easy to overdrive the entry and use too much brake. You also have to 'roll' the center of the corners while getting traction up off [the corners]. Even when you hit a lap perfectly, chances are you are dealing with traffic the very next lap since there are 42 other drivers on this tight track with you."
Gordon, who is currently third in the point standings, and Johnson, sixth in points, have yet to win a race this season.
Last Sunday in Fontana, Calif., Kyle Busch became the fifth different winner in as many Sprint Cup races in 2014. Busch joined Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Daytona 500), Kevin Harvick (Phoenix), Brad Keselowski (Las Vegas) and Carl Edwards (Bristol) as those drivers who have all but guaranteed themselves a berth in this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
Will there be a sixth different winner this weekend at Martinsville?
Six different winners to start the season would be a Chase-era record.
Matt Kenseth had struggled at Martinsville throughout his Cup career until last year, his first season with Joe Gibbs Racing. Kenseth led a total of 96 laps before finishing 14th in the spring race and then followed up with a second-place run after leading 202 laps in the fall event.
"Both races were really good here last year," Kenseth said. "We led a few laps in the spring, thought we had a top-five car, but then we pitted [late in the race] and we didn't go anywhere after we pitted," Kenseth recalled. "In the fall race, we ran good. We did everything we could do. We just got beat by somebody [Gordon] that was a little bit better."
Kenseth's teammate, Denny Hamlin, is expected to race at Martinsville after missing last weekend's event in Fontana. Hamlin, the driver of the No. 11 Toyota for JGR, was sidelined due to what the medical team onsite at Auto Club Speedway originally termed a vision problem stemming from a sinus infection. He was taken to a local hospital where doctors found a small piece of metal in his eye. Doctors were able to remove the object, and he felt immediate improvement to his condition. A CT Scan found no other complications.
Hamlin was then evaluated by a doctor in the Charlotte area on Monday. He had a follow-up examination on Wednesday, at which time he was cleared to resume all racing activity without restriction. Hamlin, a Virginia native, has won four Sprint Cup races at Martinsville.
Forty-four teams are on the preliminary entry list for the STP 500.
Camping World Truck Series
Kroger 250 - Martinsville Speedway - Martinsville, Va.
Five weeks after running its season-opener at Daytona International Speedway, the Camping World Truck Series resumes its 2014 schedule this weekend at Martinsville Speedway.
When the Truck Series most recently competed at this 0.526-mile oval in Southwest Virginia last October, Darrell Wallace Jr. made history when he became just the second African-American driver to win a NASCAR national touring series race. Wendell Scott was the first African-American driver to win a NASCAR national event, doing so on Dec. 1, 1963 at Jacksonville (Fla.) Speedway Park.
After his win at Martinsville, Wallace celebrated with members of Scott's family, who live in nearby Danville, Va.
Wallace finished eighth in the point standings last year, his rookie season in trucks. He started this season with a 26th-place finish at Daytona. Wallace was one of 16 drivers involved in a huge crash late in the race. He's hoping to rebound at Martinsville.
"I have the same feeling, if not a better feeling, as I did heading in to the October race at Martinsville last season," Wallace said. "Our season really starts this weekend. We didn't have the finish we wanted at Daytona, but we've regrouped and definitely have confidence on our side as we go back to Martinsville."
Wallace, a former NASCAR Drive for Diversity competitor, racing in the K&N Pro Series East from 2010-11, is in his second year as driver of the No. 54 Toyota for Kyle Busch Motorsports. Kyle Busch won at Daytona. He is not entered in the Martinsville race.
Thirty-seven teams are the preliminary entry list for the Kroger 250.
VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES
Firestone GP of St. Petersburg - Streets of St. Pete. - St. Petersburg, Fla.
The IndyCar Series -- with new title sponsor Verizon -- begins its 2014 season this weekend on the streets of St. Petersburg.
Juan Pablo Montoya also begins a new chapter in his racing career.
After spending the past 12 years in Formula One and NASCAR, Montoya is racing Indy cars again. The 2000 Indianapolis 500 winner and 1999 CART champion is driving for team owner Roger Penske, rather than Chip Ganassi, for whom he raced in CART and NASCAR.
Montoya competed in Formula One from 2001-06, driving first for Williams and then McLaren. He spent the past seven years racing full-time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Last September, Montoya signed with Team Penske to drive the No. 2 car for the 2014 IndyCar season. He had announced the month prior that he was leaving Ganassi's Sprint Cup team at the conclusion of the 2013 season.
Montoya is the only driver who has won the Indianapolis 500, the Monaco Grand Prix and the 24 Hours of Daytona. The 38-year-old Colombian had four street course wins in CART competition. This will be his first time on the streets of St. Petersburg.
"I've never been on the St. Petersburg course before, so I'm going to have to get up to speed quickly," Montoya said. "But I'm with a fantastic team, the best team there is in Team Penske. I have the support of a sponsor like Verizon Wireless that came on board with us. It's been a long offseason, and I'm just ready to get back to racing. I'm sure the first lap of practice will get rid of any nerves that I will have, and it will be business as usual."
To prepare for his upcoming full season in IndyCar, Montoya participated in several test sessions with his Team Penske teammates, Will Power and Helio Castroneves, during the offseason. Starting last November, Montoya tested at Sebring (Fla.) International Raceway, Phoenix International Raceway, Auto Club Speedway (Fontana, Calif.), Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway and Barber Motorsports Park (Birmingham, Ala.).
But what has Montoya done to prepare for the race in St. Petersburg?
"I've seen about a hundred videos of it," he said. "I watched the races. That's one of the hardest challenges, getting ready for the first time on a street course, like at St. Petersburg. I think it's going to be eye-opening. I think it's going to be a slow-building weekend, getting comfortable in the car. It's something I've been getting better at - work on the car. Going fast, it's easier. If you're not comfortable in the car the chances of getting it wrong are big and it will be very hard to try and figure it out."
Montoya looked impressive in last week's test session at Barber. He was second fastest on day 1 and ninth quickest on day 2. Power topped the time charts in both days there.
Castroneves has won an IndyCar race in St. Petersburg three times, which is more than any other driver. His most recent victory here came two years ago.
Last year, James Hinchcliffe from Andretti Autosport scored his first career IndyCar victory in St. Petersburg. Hinchcliffe passed Castroneves for the lead after a restart with 26 laps remaining and then held it to become the first Canadian driver to win an IndyCar race since Paul Tracy took the checkered flag for the 2007 CART event in Cleveland.
"I remember crying like a little girl as soon as I crossed the line, which wasn't expected," Hinchcliffe recalled of his win in St. Pete. "It was the highlight of the year; it was the highlight of my career, really. It's going to be tough to top that, because there were a lot of different elements that made that win particularly special. I can't wait to go back."
Twenty-two teams are entered for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
Malaysian Grand Prix - Sepang International Circuit - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
After the first grand prix of the season earlier this month in Melbourne, Australia, it appears that Nico Rosberg from Mercedes is a serious contender for this year's Formula One world championship.
Rosberg led all 57 laps and crossed the finish line almost 25 seconds ahead of his closest competitor, Red Bull newcomer Daniel Ricciardo, to win the Australian Grand Prix. Ricciardo, though, was disqualified and stripped of his 18 championship points for finishing second after race stewards determined his car had run with too high a fuel flow rate (exceeded consistently the maximum allowed fuel flow of 100 kg per hour) during the event.
The Australian GP marked the competition debut of the new 1.6-liter, V6 turbocharged power unit.
F1 is in Malaysia this weekend. The Malaysian Grand Prix will be a huge test for teams with the power unit. With air temperatures above 90 degrees and high humidity, this race has the potential to be the hottest one of the year, and with around two-thirds of a lap conducted at full throttle, cooling performance is expected to play a big part.
Rosberg scored his fourth career F1 victory in Australia. His best finish in Malaysia is third, which came in 2010. He finished fourth here last year.
"It's been a fantastic start to the season," Rosberg said. "I think the whole team has done a great job with these new regulations, with the car and engine and powertrain that they've built. It was great to win the first race, for sure."
Ricciardo, an Australian, is hoping to rebound from his incident in his home race.
"I've obviously had a bit of time to get over it, so I'm alright now," Ricciardo said. "It's not the news you want to hear when you're trying to celebrate."
Red Bull has filed an appeal to F1's governing body, the FIA, over Ricciardo's exclusion from the race results in Melbourne. The appeal hearing is scheduled for April 14, the Monday before the Chinese Grand Prix.
Regardless of the fuel discrepancy, Ricciardo had a very impressive debut with Red Bull in the Australian GP.
"I really feel proud how the weekend went, and whatever happened afterwards was not in my control," he said. "I am very happy with how I approached that weekend and how the team performed, especially coming out of a rather bumpy Bahrain [preseason] testing. So all in all, it was very promising.
"Whether or not I get the 18 points, it has given me a lot of confidence for the rest of the season. I somehow still feel that I came in second."
Ricciardo's teammate, Sebastian Vettel, the four-time defending F1 world champion, retired in the opening laps of the Australian GP when his power unit failed. But Vettel was encouraged with Red Bull's outcome in Melbourne, as the team showed signs of progress with the reliability of its cars. Red Bull experienced numerous technical issues in pre-season tests at Jerez, Spain and Sakhir, Bahrain.
"We still have a lot of work to do with the car, but it was encouraging to see that our pace was better than expected in Australia," Vettel said. "Hopefully, we can build on that and start collecting some strong points in the next two races."
Vettel has won three of the last four Malaysian GPs, including a victory in this race one year ago.
Formula One officials and Malaysian race organizers are planning a tribute to the 239 people aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which vanished March 8. Sepang Circuit, the site of the Malaysian GP, is located just moments away from Kuala Lumpur International Airport, where the ill-fated flight MH370 took off.