(SportsNetwork.com) - After taking a week off, NASCAR returns to action this weekend with the Sprint Cup and Xfinity Series racing at Texas Motor Speedway. IndyCar is competing at NOLA Motorsports Park for the first time, and Formula One is holding the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai.
Sprint Cup Series
Duck Commander 500 - Texas Motor Speedway - Fort Worth, Texas
The Sprint Cup Series is back on track at Texas Motor Speedway following its first off-weekend of the season.
This 500-miler at Texas is the first Sprint Cup points race to run at nighttime this season. It's the fourth time in five years the spring event here is scheduled for Saturday night. Last year's race at this track was scheduled for Sunday afternoon since the national semifinals of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament (Final Four) took place on Saturday at nearby AT&T Stadium in Arlington. But rain on Sunday forced a delay until Monday.
Joey Logano is the defending race winner. Logano passed Jeff Gordon for the lead on the final lap and then beat Gordon to the finish line by a half-second for his first of five wins during the '14 Sprint Cup season.
"I'm pretty excited to go back to Texas and try to defend our win," Logano said. "That place has quickly turned into one of my favorite tracks on the circuit. It's just a place that suits me and my driving style well, and we as a team have excelled at since I came over here to Team Penske.
"The track is rough and fast. That seems to be where we excel for sure. It will be interesting to go there with the new rules package. We are finally starting to iron some things out, and we are making strides in what we need in the car. We just need to keep getting better. I think we can go there and back up the win again."
Logano started this season by winning the Feb. 22 Daytona 500. He is currently second in the point standings, 24 points behind leader and defending series champion Kevin Harvick.
This will be the 29th time NASCAR's top series has competed at Texas. Jimmie Johnson has won four Cup races here, which is more than any other driver. Johnson's most recent victory at this track occurred five months ago. It was the eighth race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
"Texas is a lot of fun to drive," Johnson said. "I really like how the track has evolved, the bumps the wear that the track promotes for the tires, and all that really puts it back into the teams hands of having a drivable race car.
"Being able to comfortably stay in the throttle there is really important to sort out. It's not an easy thing to do. You have to focus on the aero package, even though you want to soften things up in the car for mechanical grip to make it drive smoother. The hardest part of the track to figure out is the long green flag runs."
On Friday, Martin Truex Jr. led the way in the first practice session with a lap at 191.096 mph. Kasey Kahne topped the charts in final practice (190.975 mph).
Truex, who drives the No. 78 Chevrolet for Furniture Row Racing, is presently third in the point standings (-32). He has finished eighth or better in each of the first six races this season.
"If I could pick a track to continue a positive streak, Texas Motor Speedway would be high on the list," Truex said. "A couple of years ago, I nearly had the race locked at Texas, but I didn't get out of the pits quick enough and had to settle for second.
"Speaking of second, the last time our Furniture Row Chevrolet raced at a mile-in-a-half track was last month when we were runner-up in Las Vegas. It's been a great start to the season by posting six straight top-10s. And what makes it even better is that we have run well at different types of tracks - superspeedway, intermediate and a short track."
Kyle Larson returns to racing this weekend after he was forced to miss the Sprint Cup event at Martinsville on March 29 due to a fainting spell. Larson fainted during an autograph session the day prior to the Cup race and had been hospitalized for several days as he underwent extensive testing and observation. Regan Smith substituted for him in the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.
"It's never good when you have to miss a race," but it was good to get all those tests ran on me to know that I am 100 percent healthy," Larson said. "Missing one race sucks, but at least it wasn't more than one."
O'Reilly Auto Parts 300 - Texas Motor Speedway - Fort Worth, Texas
Texas Motor Speedway has become a special place for defending Xfinity Series champion Chase Elliott.
One year ago, Elliott, the son of NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, became a first-time race winner in the series after beating Sprint Cup Series regulars Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, Kevin Harvick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. at this 1.5-mile track. Elliott drives the No. 9 Chevrolet for JR Motorsports, which is co- owned by Earnhardt, his sister Kelley Earnhardt Miller, and Sprint Cup team owner Rick Hendrick.
Elliott made a bold move around Harvick, his JRM teammate, for the lead following the last restart with 16 laps to go. Elliott took command from there, crossing the finish line 2.7 seconds ahead of his closest competitor, Busch, who had won the spring race at Texas the year prior. Larson placed third, followed by Harvick, who had started on the pole and led the most laps with 101, and Earnhardt.
"It was an unbelievable night last season, and it meant the world to me that I was able to share the moment with my mom and dad," Elliott said. "Looking back on the final restart, I recall going to Kevin (Harvick) for a lot of advice that weekend and to pass him for the lead - I just couldn't believe it."
Elliott's maiden victory in NASCAR's second-tier series happened in just his sixth start. He became the second youngest driver to win a race in the series, doing so at age 18 years, 4 months and 7 days. Joey Logano holds the record. Logano was 18 years and 21 days old when he won at Kentucky in June 2008.
Elliott also won at Darlington, one week after Texas, and the July race at Chicagoland during his 2014 championship season in Xfinity. He is the youngest driver ever to win a title in any one of NASCAR's three national touring series.
Right now, Elliott is third in the Xfinity point standings. He is 15 points behind leader Ty Dillon. Elliott started the season with a 28th-place finish at Daytona and then had top-10 runs at Atlanta, Las Vegas and Phoenix before finishing 13th in Fontana, California. The series has been off the past two weeks.
Last month, Elliott made his Sprint Cup debut at Martinsville, starting 27th and finishing 38th. He is scheduled to compete in four more Cup races this season before he replaces Jeff Gordon in the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet next year.
Earnhardt is one of five Sprint Cup regulars competing in Friday night's O'Reilly Auto Parts 300. Austin Dillon, Denny Hamlin, Sam Hornish Jr. and Brad Keselowski are the others.
"I'm looking forward to getting to Texas in the Xfinity car again," Earnhardt said. "Our company, as a whole, has run really well at Texas the last few years, obviously with Chase getting his first win last year being the highlight."
Earnhardt's first career Xfinity win occurred at Texas in April 1998.
VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES
Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana - NOLA Motorsports Park -- Avondale, Louisiana
The IndyCar Series will race in the State of Louisiana for the first time this weekend.
NOLA Motorsports Park, located roughly 15 miles southwest of downtown New Orleans, will host the inaugural Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana -- the second race on the 2015 IndyCar schedule.
Sunday's 75-lap event at this new 2.74-mile, 13-turn road course will be the first major auto race to be held in Louisiana since a 1955 IMSA GT event in New Orleans.
Twenty-four drivers practiced on Friday. In the first session, Tony Kanaan, in his Chevrolet-powered Chip Ganassi Racing car, posted the quickest lap in 1 minute, 18.8753 seconds. Will Power, the defending IndyCar champion, had the second fastest lap, just 0.0539 seconds behind Kanaan. Scott Dixon, who is Kanaan's teammate, was third fastest, 0.0909 seconds behind the leader. KVSH Racing driver Sebastien Bourdais was fourth, and Simon Pagenaud, Power's new teammate at Team Penske, fifth.
Penske driver Juan Pablo Montoya, who won the season-opener two weeks ago in St. Petersburg, Florida, was 10th on the time charts.
"We had a really good first race (in St. Petersburg), but here (at NOLA Motorsports Park), we're trying different things because we're kind of struggling with the car right now. There's been some balance issues. We're trying to figure out what is the best condition for (Saturday's) qualifying."
Two months ago, 14 drivers representing six teams tested at NOLA Motorsports Park.
"It's always exciting racing on a new track," Bourdais said. "We have tested at NOLA twice, but we were only there once with the new aero kits. I think we have some good data and a decent baseline setup for NOLA, but track conditions always change so you have to be able to adapt to the conditions.
"The NOLA track is challenging and fun. It has everything between slow-speed and medium-and high-speed corners, and I think it is going to be hard on the tires. I think it is going to be a challenging race for the drivers, which means it should be a fun race for the fans to watch."
Penske drivers have shined in inaugural IndyCar races over the years. A driver from that team has won three of the last four series debuts at new venues. Power prevailed on the streets of Baltimore in 2011 and Sao Paulo, Brazil in 2010. Helio Castroneves won the first race at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama five years ago.
Last May, Simon Pagenaud scored the victory in the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis held on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. Pagenaud drove for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports at the time. He is now with Penske.
Chinese Grand Prix - Shanghai International Circuit - Shanghai, China
The 2015 Formula One season is looking like it will be a fierce battle between Mercedes and Ferrari for the drivers' and constructors' championships.
Two weeks ago, new Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel outran Mercedes teammates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg to win the Malaysian Grand Prix. Vettel, in just his second start with Ferrari, scored his 40th career F1 victory but his first since the 2013 season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix -- 21 races ago -- when he drove for Red Bull. He also gave the Italian team its first win in nearly two years.
Hamilton, the two-time and defending F1 world champion, won the March 15 season-opening grand prix in Australia, while Vettel, the four-time titleholder, placed third there. But Vettel's victory in Malaysia allowed him to move to within three points of Hamilton in the championship standings.
In the constructors' title standings, Mercedes has accumulated 76 points for the season compared to 52 for Ferrari.
"I think we are realistic about where we are and what we want to achieve," Vettel said. "It was a great victory we had in Malaysia and great for us as a team, and especially for myself, a very emotional day - my first win with Ferrari."
Round 3 on this year's F1 calendar takes place this weekend in Shanghai. Hamilton posted the quickest lap time in each of the first two practice sessions for the Chinese Grand Prix on Friday. During P1, he made a lap around Shanghai International Circuit in 1 minute, 39.033 seconds, and in P2, his best lap was clocked in 1:37.219.
Vettel was third quickest in P1 (1:40.157) and fourth in P2 (1:38.339)
"Generally I feel happy in the car, but I think we can improve it for (Saturday, final practice and qualifying)," he said. "That is usually what Friday is for, so ideally, I would have loved to do more laps, but all in all, it was a solid session, for the team as well. I think we can do a step forward tomorrow and then we can see what we can do."
Though Hamilton's best lap times in both Friday practices were more than a second quicker than Vettel, Hamilton is expecting another hard-fought battle between Mercedes and Ferrari in the Chinese GP.
"It was quite close between us and Ferrari," Hamilton said of Friday's practices. "They look just as fast as they were last time out (in Malaysia), and Nico was quick as well, so we definitely have a race on. I feel like I've got some improvements to make, and I think we've got the pace to stay ahead."
Conditions in Malaysia were hot and humid, whereas temperatures in China are much cooler.
Rosberg had the second fastest lap in P1, 0.541 seconds behind Hamilton, while Vettel's teammate, Kimi Raikkonen, was second quickest in P2, just 0.443 seconds in back of the leader.
"On a long run, we need to analyze the data to see where we are, but the Ferraris seem to be very strong again," Rosberg said.
Mercedes recorded their quickest lap times on short runs, but over the longer runs, the times for both Hamilton and Rosberg diminished significantly due to tire wear. Vettel and Raikkonen appeared to have better tire wear on their longer runs.
"Performance-wise, we look competitive over one lap, but Ferrari are close - and closer still on the long runs," said Toto Wolff, the Head of Mercedes-Benz Motorsports. "We saw in Malaysia that we need to get every detail right to put together a winning weekend, so this will be our focus (Friday) as we do our analysis and tomorrow in preparation for qualifying. It will be an exciting battle."
Hamilton won the Chinese GP for a record third time last year. Rosberg claimed his maiden F1 race and pole wins in China three years ago. Vettel has one victory in this event (2009) and so does Raikkonen (2007).