(SportsNetwork.com) - NASCAR is on the short track for the first time this season, as the Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series compete at Martinsville Speedway. IndyCar begins its season in St. Petersburg, Florida, while Formula One is in Kuala Lumpur for the Malaysian Grand Prix.
Sprint Cup Series
STP 500 - Martinsville Speedway - Martinsville, Virginia
Defending Sprint Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick will try to extend his streak of finishing either first or second to nine races this weekend at Martinsville Speedway.
The last time Harvick finished outside the top-two was on Oct. 26, 2014 when he placed 33rd at Martinsville, a 0.526-mile track in Southern Virginia. He was involved in an accident with Matt Kenseth and Tony Stewart during the mid- stages of the race, which put him in the garage for repairs for more than 40 laps.
After last fall's race at Martinsville, Harvick finished second at Texas and then won the last two events of the '14 season -- Phoenix and Homestead -- to claim his first championship in NASCAR's premier series. In the first five races this season, he has won at Las Vegas and Phoenix and placed second at Daytona, Atlanta and Fontana, California.
Harvick is three races away from tying Richard Petty's 1975 record of finishing either first or second in 11 consecutive events. Petty's streak ended at Martinsville where he placed 22nd.
Martinsville is the first short-track race in the series this season. In 27 previous Cup starts at this track, Harvick has one win, which occurred in April 2011 when he drove for Richard Childress Racing. He is now in his second season as driver of the No. 4 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing.
"I think a lot of us grew up on short tracks, and Martinsville is a place where I've raced a lot, whether it be with the Trucks, or even the Xfinity Series, in which we were fortunate to win the one race we got to run there (2006 Goody's 250)," Harvick said. "It's a track where I feel like we could have won more races than we probably have in the record books. It's a place where you enjoy racing, and it's very similar to Talladega by the fact that you just never know when something's going to happen.
"It's just like last year - we were rolling well and qualified badly. We came up through the field and were in position to start getting into the top-five. The restart went kind of wacky, and we wound up backward into the fence. You just never know when it can turn, and that's really what short-track racing is all about. And it's something that happens a lot at Martinsville."
Harvick placed seventh in the spring race at Martinsville one year ago. His teammate, Kurt Busch, won the event. Busch has not been into victory lane for a Sprint Cup race since then.
This year, NASCAR made significant rule changes for the Sprint Cup cars, including lower horsepower and modifications to the cars' aerodynamic package. So teams are dealing with a lot of unknowns about the car at Martinsville.
"It's definitely going to be different, just for the fact that you're not going to have that acceleration due to the changes in the rules package," Harvick said. "It's going to be more like a Truck Series race, I guess you could say, in the way that you have to carry the momentum through the center of the corner and be able to carry that momentum with the car turning and be back in the throttle. So it will be interesting to see if it's harder to pass or not, but there's a good possibility that it will be."
Harvick is the current leader in the Sprint Cup standings, accumulating 225 points for the season, 28 more than his closest competitor, Joey Logano.
Forty-five teams are on the entry list for the STP 500.
Camping World Truck Series
Kroger 250 - Martinsville Speedway - Martinsville, Virginia
JR Motorsports will make its debut in the Camping World Truck Series this weekend at Martinsville Speedway, with Cole Custer driving the No. 00 Haas Automation-sponsored Chevrolet for the team.
JRM, which is co-owned by Sprint Cup Series driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., his sister, Kelley Earnhardt Miller, and Sprint Cup team owner Rick Hendrick, has competed at the regional late model level since 2002 and NASCAR's second-tier series (now known as the Xfinity Series) since 2006. Chase Elliott and Regan Smith drive full-time for JRM in Xfinity. Elliott won the championship in that series last year.
Custer, the 17-year-old son of Stewart-Haas Racing executive vice president Joe Custer, is scheduled to make his season debut in trucks after competing in nine races in the series last year. He became the youngest driver ever to win a NASCAR national touring series race by taking the checkered flag for truck event last September at New Hampshire. Custer is also the youngest pole winner in trucks, accomplishing the feat this past June at Gateway Motorsports Park.
"After a long offseason, I'm more than ready to get to the racetrack," Custer said. "It's exciting to be coming back at a track like Martinsville with Haas Automation and JR Motorsports. Our goal is to pick up where we left off last year.
"Martinsville is a place where we have shown speed before, and I feel like we can run fast again this weekend. It's still a learning experience for me. Managing the traffic there will be a challenge. That's something I'll be focused on."
Custer made his first career truck start one year ago at Martinsville. He started ninth and finished 12th in the race, which was delayed one day due to rain. Custer was involved in an accident and placed 29th there in October.
After Saturday's race at Martinsville, Custer is scheduled to compete in nine more truck events for JRM this season: Dover (May 29), Gateway (June 13), Iowa (June 19), Eldora (July 22), Bristol (Aug. 19), Canada (Aug. 30), New Hampshire (Sept. 26), Martinsville (Oct. 31) and Phoenix (Nov. 13).
Joe Shear Jr. will serve as Custer's crew chief throughout the season. Shear guided his efforts in the series last year.
When the series ran its last race on Feb. 28, Matt Crafton, the two-time defending champion, won at Atlanta and moved to within two points of leader Tyler Reddick, who scored the victory in the Feb. 20 season-opener at Daytona. Crafton won last year's spring race at Martinsville.
Thirty-six teams are on the entry list for the Kroger 250. Joey Logano and David Gilliland are those Sprint Cup regulars scheduled to compete in this race.
VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES
Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg - Streets of St. Petersburg, Florida
The 2015 IndyCar Series season kicks off this weekend on the streets of St. Petersburg.
This race marks the competition debut of aerodynamic bodywork kits designed, manufactured and supplied by Chevrolet and Honda. Cars will be differentiated by their shape on the street course as the manufacturers have designed separate aero kit specifications for road and street course/short ovals and speedways for the Dallara IR-12 chassis.
IndyCar teams have been familiarizing themselves with the new aero kit in preseason testing earlier this month. In Friday's first practice session for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Team Penske driver and reigning series champion Will Power, in his Chevy-powered car, topped the time charts with a lap around this 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit in 1 minute, 1.4709 seconds (105.416 mph). His teammates, Juan Pablo Montoya and Helio Castroneves, were second and third, respectively, on the charts. Jack Hawksworth, driving for A.J. Foyt Enterprises this season, was the quickest Honda driver, placing sixth.
"As we are starting to understand the new Chevrolet aero kits, it's clear that they have done a proper job in the design and development of them," Power said. "The kits produce massive downforce, low drag and the cars are absolutely glued to the track. Obviously as we go along in the year, we are going to learn more and more about what we need to push for wins."
Power won last year's season-opener in St. Petersburg and then went on to score two more victories during the year (Detroit/race 1 and Milwaukee), en route to his first IndyCar title.
"I'm really excited to get the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series started and represent the sport as the champion throughout the year," he said. "Even though I was able to break through last year and win my first title, I am preparing to go into this season just as hungry as I was before I became a champion. The drive to win multiple championships is just as strong as the drive to win one. To do that, it's important to get off to a good start at St. Pete."
Power won at St. Pete for the first time in 2010. He also claimed four consecutive poles here from 2010-14.
Castroneves is the only other driver with multiple victories at this track. He won here in 2006, '07 and '12.
"This is a track that has been very good to Team Penske and to me personally," Castroneves said. "A fourth win at St. Pete would be awesome."
Twenty-four teams are on the entry list for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Gabby Chaves from Bryan Herta Autosport and KV Racing Technology's Stefano Coletti are scheduled to make their IndyCar debuts in this race.
Malaysian Grand Prix - Sepang International Circuit - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Formula One is set to run its second grand prix of the season this weekend in Malaysia, where teams are dealing with extreme heat and humidity.
Two-time and defending F1 world champion Lewis Hamilton won the season-opener two weeks ago in Melbourne, Australia, but Hamilton had a frustrating start to his weekend of the Malaysian Grand Prix when he experienced engine problems with his Mercedes during Friday's first of two practice sessions.
After completing only four laps around Sepang International Circuit in the early going of P1, Hamilton came to a stop on track and radioed to his team that he had lost power. He missed the remainder of P1, as his team feverishly worked to resolve the engine issue.
Hamilton returned on track halfway through P2 and ended up topping the time charts in that session with a lap in one minute, 39.790 seconds. But he encountered more problems with his car when he lost telemetry.
"On Lewis' car, we had a failure of the inlet system on the power unit," said Paddy Lowe, the executive director (technical) at Mercedes AMG Petronas. "We also had a problem with the telemetry on his car that wasn't solved until just before the end of P2. This made managing the issue on his car doubly difficult."
Hamilton completed just 16 laps in P2. He is the defending race and pole winner of the Malaysian GP.
"It was an amazing job by the guys to get me back out this afternoon, particularly here in such tough conditions, so I'm very grateful to them," Hamilton said. "It's not an easy track, and the temperatures also make it difficult with the tires. So it never helps to lose such a big chunk of a session. But fortunately, I got a few laps in at the end on a longer stint."
Nico Rosberg, who is Hamilton's teammate and championship rival, led the way in P1 with a lap in 1:40.124. Rosberg was third quickest in P2. Kimi Raikkonen from Ferrari placed second in each of the two sessions.
"I had a good morning session, but I didn't get it right with the option tires in the afternoon, so I need to find out why that was," Rosberg said. "The conditions are really crazy out there. It's so hot. The temperatures are really unbelievable. So us drivers and the cars have to adapt to that which is a big challenge. We also learned that Ferrari is strong again, so it will be an interesting weekend."
Raikkonen was just 0.373 seconds behind Rosberg in P1. It was the same time gap between Hamilton and Raikkonen in P2.
"We did all we were supposed to do today," Raikkonen said. "In the morning, the feeling with the car was better, and in the afternoon, it was a bit more tricky. We had some handling issues and some problems with the wind and the heat, but the lap times were not so bad. The car is still not perfect, but I'm sure we can improve for (Saturday's final practice session and qualifying)."
Raikkonen's new teammate, Sebastian Vettel, the four-time world champion and three-time Malaysian GP winner, was third in P1 and seventh in P2.
McLaren driver Fernando Alonso, a three-time winner of this race as well, and Valtteri Bottas from Williams have both been medically cleared by the FIA to compete in Sunday's 56-lap event in Malaysia after missing the Australian GP.
Alonso suffered a concussion during an accident in preseason testing on Feb. 22 in Barcelona. Kevin Magnussen, the test and reserve driver for McLaren, took Alonso's place in Australia.
"It feels great to be back in the car," Alonso said. "I enjoyed driving so much today. Maybe I'm not quite 100 percent fit after two weeks on the sofa and two weeks out of the car, but I'm fit enough to enjoy it out there."
Bottas suffered a back injury during qualifying for the Australian GP, which sidelined him for the race.
"The changes that we have made to my driving position have been positive, and it was nice to be able to drive without any pain," Bottas said. "I am confident for the rest of the weekend that I won't be troubled by my back."