Kansas City, KS (SportsNetwork.com) - The NASCAR Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series are racing under the lights at Kansas Speedway this weekend. IndyCar is running on the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the first time, and Formula One begins its "European season" with the Spanish Grand Prix.
Sprint Cup Series
5-Hour Energy 400 - Kansas Speedway - Kansas City, Kan.
Clint Bowyer has had quite a week already, and he's hoping it will end with a victory at Kansas Speedway, his home track, on Saturday night.
On Monday, Michael Waltrip Racing announced that Bowyer as well as crew chief Brian Pattie and sponsor 5-Hour Energy have signed multiyear contract extensions with the team in the Sprint Cup Series. Bowyer, who hails from Emporia, Kan., has been driving the No. 15 Toyota for MWR since the start of the 2012 season.
Bowyer also revealed on the same day as his contract extension that he and his wife, Lorra, are expecting a baby boy. The couple got married in the Bahamas the third weekend in April -- the first off-week for the series.
Now Bowyer is looking forward to racing at Kansas, where he will make his 300th career Sprint Cup start. Ironically, 5-Hour Energy is the title sponsor of the 400-mile race at Kansas.
"It's been a helluva week," Bowyer said on Friday. "We've had a lot of fun. Coming back to Kansas first and foremost is always big for me."
This will be the first time the series competes under the lights at this 1.5- mile track. Kansas and Darlington switched their Mother's Day weekend dates for the 2014 season.
Speaking of Mother's Day, Bowyer's mom, Jana Bowyer, is scheduled to wave the green flag for the start of Sprint Cup race at Kansas.
"It's pretty cool that they asked her to wave the green flag," he said. "We are a pretty close family, so we've all been ragging her a little bit, saying, 'Don't drop the flag, Mom, just whatever you do, do not drop the flag.' I hope there's not a caution."
Last Sunday, Denny Hamlin celebrated his 300th start in the series by winning at Talladega Superspeedway. Hamlin joined Ned Jarrett, Rusty Wallace, Kasey Kahne and Kyle Busch as the drivers who won on their 300th starts.
Can Bowyer be the next one to do it?
Bowyer made his Cup debut on April 23, 2005 at Phoenix, where he started 25th and finished 22nd in a Richard Childress Racing car. He drove for RCR until the conclusion of the 2011 season before moving over to Michael Waltrip's team.
In 299 career starts, Bowyer has scored eight wins, 52 top-five finishes, 140 top-10s and two poles. He hasn't won a race since October 2012 at Charlotte (51 races ago). Bowyer has qualified for the championship Chase five times, including the past two years. He finished second in the point standings in 2012.
"To be around this sport for 300 starts and announce that you're going to be around for a lot more starts is pretty special," he said. "It's weird that it all comes down at Kansas Speedway, last race before the cutoff to get into the All-Star race [May 17 at Charlotte], and all the stars are aligning. It's been a good week."
Bowyer endured a rough start to this season, as he sat 23rd in points after the March 23 race in Fontana, Calif. He finished 42nd in the Feb. 23 Daytona 500 after suffering engine failure. Bowyer has scored three top-10 finishes in the last five races, including a season-best third-place run at Talladega. He is currently 18th in points.
"I think Daytona kind of set our season when we started with a barrel roll - flipped on the front straightaway at the end of the race [in the second Daytona 500 qualifier]," Bowyer said. "And then the very next attempt [Daytona 500], the engine blew up halfway through the race. I'm like 'Can we skip this year? This is not starting very good.'
"Last weekend at Talladega was a lot of good news. A lot of good momentum and mojo around our 15 team. It couldn't come at a better time."
Bowyer has yet to win a Cup race at Kansas. He has earned five top-10 finishes in 11 starts here. His best finish at this track is second, which came 2007.
Forty-four teams are on the entry list for the 5-Hour Energy 400. Ryan Blaney, a Camping World Truck Series regular and 20-year-old son of NASCAR veteran Dave Blaney, is making his Sprint Cup debut in this race.
Camping World Truck Series
SFP 250 - Kansas Speedway - Kansas City, Kan.
The Camping World Truck Series will run its third race of the season on Friday night at Kansas Speedway.
Matt Crafton, the defending series champion, won the most recent race on March 30 at Martinsville. The event there was delayed one day due to rain and ran immediately after the Sprint Cup Series race.
Timothy Peters and Johnny Sauter, who is Crafton's teammate at ThorSport Racing, are tied for the lead in the point standings, while Crafton and Ryan Blaney are both four points behind Peters and Sauter.
Crafton won the truck championship by a 40-point margin last year. During the 22-race season, Crafton scored 19 top-10 finishes but had only one victory, which came at Kansas. His Kansas win gave him the points lead, and he kept it for the remainder of the season.
"Kansas gave our team huge momentum last year," said Crafton, who drives the No. 88 Menards-sponsored Toyota Tundra for ThorSport. "That just took our momentum to a whole new level. After that, we went to Dover and finished second to Kyle [Busch], so we just had a really, really good beginning to our summer stretch."
Teams practiced at Kansas on Thursday. Crafton had the fourth fastest lap in the first session at 174.769 mph and was ninth on the charts in the second and final session at 174.222 mph. Blaney posted the quickest lap overall in practice at 176.148 mph.
The Truck Series has been racing at Kansas once each season since this 1.5- mile track was built in 2001, but this will be the first time this event is held at nighttime here. Teams aren't quite sure what race conditions will be like at night.
"Last year during the day, it got very slippery and the groove started moving around, so hopefully the groove will widen out at night as well, and we can get a second and third groove going," Crafton said.
Crafton is the only driver who has competed in each of the previous 13 truck races at Kansas. There have been 13 different race winners in the series here.
"They've never had a back-to-back winner here at Kansas, so I've got the monkey on my back this weekend to be able to try to do it and be a two-time winner here," he said.
Thirty-one teams are on the entry list for the SFP 250.
VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES
Grand Prix of Indianapolis - Indianapolis Motor Speedway - Indianapolis, Ind.
The month of May for the IndyCar Series at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is much busier than usual this year, thanks to the inaugural road course race here this weekend.
Saturday's Grand Prix of Indianapolis will be the first time the series competes on the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course at IMS. Immediately following this race, preparations begin for the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500. The 2.5-mile oval opens for the initial Indy 500 practice session on Sunday. The 500-mile race at IMS is scheduled for May 25.
Twenty-five teams are on the entry list for the GP of Indianapolis. Two practice sessions were held on the road course on Thursday and a final session on Friday morning. Teams also had a one-day test here on April 30.
The "new" road course at IMS took 70 construction crew members 35,400 hours to transform the "old" circuit for the GP of Indianapolis. Some IndyCar drivers have competed on the course here in the past. Sebastien Bourdais won the first sports car race (Grand-Am Series) at this track in 2012. Marco Andretti scored the victory in the inaugural Indy Lights event here in 2005. Takuma Sato earned his maiden Formula One podium at Indy in 2004.
This course incorporates portions of turns 1 and 2 as well as the frontstretch of IMS. The scheduled 82-lap, 200-mile race will feature a standing start and will run clockwise, the opposite of the Indy 500. Drivers will have at minimum four unique opportunities to pass, including the revised turn 1, a 90-degree right-hand corner.
Bourdais, a four-time Champ Car champion, was quickest in Thursday's P1 with a lap in 1 minute, 10.5150 seconds.
"We had a good test on the new road course last [week]," Bourdais said. "We made a lot of progress and learned some things. I raced here in Grand-Am, and that was fun, but that track was very slippery. I have to say I had some reservations early on because the corners [of the new racetrack] are very tight, but the grip more than makes up for it. The new asphalt that was laid down is very, very grippy and actually a lot of fun."
Scott Dixon, the defending IndyCar champion and 2008 Indy 500 winner, led the way in P2 (1:10.4654).
"It's obviously nice to have a home race," Dixon said. "It's been a real pleasure to be back at this place, starting the month a little bit earlier. They did a fantastic job on the track - one, with the grip level, and two, the way it's going to race with the long straights and big braking zones."
A light rain fell on the course for Friday's 45-minute morning practice session. Qualifying is scheduled for the afternoon. Simon Pagenaud topped the charts in final practice with his lap in 1:23.1597.
"It's a nice racetrack," Pagenaud said. "It's flowing. There's a nice rhythm to it. It's in Indy, and it's at home."
The GP of Indianapolis is the fourth IndyCar event of the season. There have been three different race winners this year: Will Power (St. Petersburg, Fla.), Mike Conway (Long Beach, Calif.) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (Birmingham, Ala.).
There have been three different pole winners as well: Sato (St. Petersburg), Hunter-Reay (Long Beach) and Power (Birmingham).
Power currently holds an 18-point lead over Hunter-Reay and a 33-point advantage over Pagenaud. Dixon is 38 markers behind.
Spanish Grand Prix - Circuit de Catalunya - Barcelona, Spain
The Spanish Grand Prix is the fifth round of the 2014 Formula One world championship, but it begins the European leg for the racing circuit.
Mercedes has been the dominant team this season, with Nico Rosberg claiming the victory in the season-opener in Australia and then Lewis Hamilton winning the next three grand prix -- Malaysia, Bahrain and China. Rosberg has finished second in the past three races.
Hamilton is attempting to win his fourth straight grand prix, and he's right on track to accomplish that feat based on Friday's two practice sessions at Barcelona's Circuit de Catalunya. The Brit topped the time charts in P1 with a lap in 1 minute, 27.891 seconds and had the quickest lap again in P2, doing it in 1:25.524.
"It's been a great day today, and I'm happy to be back in the car after what feels like quite a long break," Hamilton said. "I can feel the positive step forward that we've made with the car, so a big thank you to everyone back at our factories for all of their hard work since China.
"Our two practice sessions today went very smoothly. In fact, I've not had such a good Friday for a very long time. Barcelona is a difficult circuit in terms of the tires, so our running was all about trying to see how long the tires would last. We we were able to make some positive changes with that during P2 this afternoon."
Hamilton has yet win a race at this 2.892-mile, 16-turn circuit. He finished second here in 2007, his rookie season, and in 2011.
Rosberg, the current leader in the championship standings, had the fifth quickest lap in P1 and then placed second on the charts in P2.
"It looks like we are very quick again; however, I personally didn't feel very comfortable in the car today, especially as I had limited running in P1," Rosberg said. "We still have a lot of work to do, and I will be working closely with my engineers to find my perfect setup for the weekend."
One year ago, Rosberg won the pole position for the Spanish GP. Rosberg ran in front for the first 12 laps before Spaniard Fernando Alonso from Ferrari delighted his home crowd by taking the lead. Alonso took command from there, as he crossed the finish line 9.3 seconds ahead of his closest competitor, Kimi Raikkonen from Lotus. Raikkonen is now with Ferrari. Rosberg ended up finishing sixth.
Hamilton enters Sunday's 66-lap Spanish GP just four points behind Rosberg.
Alonso is third in the standings, a distant 38 points behind. He finished third in the April 20 Chinese GP, giving Ferrari its first podium of the season. Alonso was fourth in both practice sessions for the Spanish GP.
"There wasn't much grip on track today, and in general, we struggled a bit more, which was down to a series of factors, including the track being less rubbered-in than usual," Alonso said. "On top of that, we have less aerodynamic downforce than in the past, and in my opinion, the tire choice here is too conservative for this track. Now we face a lot of work to try and optimize the balance of the car and get the most out of it, even if the circumstances are not that favorable to us."
Alonso leads all active drivers with seven podium appearances in the Spanish GP. His first victory here came in 2006 when he drove for Renault.
The start of this weekend for four-time defending F1 world champion Sebastian Vettel was not a good one, as the Red Bull driver made only four laps during P1 due to an electrical problem. The issue continued throughout the day, forcing Vettel to sit out P2.
"We had a simple failure in one of the looms this morning, which caused a short and meant the car stopped," Vettel said. "We had to change the chassis loom, which is a big job, so I wasn't able to go out this afternoon. It's a small failure but a big consequence. There was nothing new on that part of the car. It was something new that happened in that area."
Vettel's teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, was third quickest in both sessions.